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Men, Women and Mountains

Men, Women and Mountains, by Sir Claud Schuster, G.C.B., C.V.C. Pp. 143. Ivor Nicholson and Watson, Ltd., London, England, 1931. 12/6.

“It is a paradox that mountaineering, whose spiritual impulse is a Wordsworthian desire for solitude, should depend for half its exercise on comradeship.… There are solitary climbers. But the ordinary (and may we not add, the prudent?) mountaineer is dependent upon his companion (sometimes in the most literal sense). In action, as in sleeping and waking, every member of the party acts on every other member.” Thus writes the author at the beginning of the chapter (pages 56-75), which gives the title to his book. Interesting descriptions are forthcoming of some of the older members of the Alpine Club with whom he climbed in Switzerland, and of one whom he accompanied on his 250th ascent of the Riffelhorn.

A delightful opening chapter entitled “The Middle Distance,” while necessarily retrospective, is chiefly concerned with the perennial question, “What is mountaineering?” and, “Why do it at all?” Partly, answers the author, to satisfy two instincts which are presumably atavistic ; the desire to get to the top, and the appetite for a little mild discomfort, suggesting the pleasure of a normal child in standing on the top of a sand heap and in covering itself with dirt. “To these I would add a third, which, though common, seems not to be universal ; the desire for the other side, to look into a strange land or a new valley.” In mountaineering, epic and romance are strangely compounded. The experiences clear the mind and enable it to see things as they are. One’s new knowledge may only concern one’s digestive apparatus, or it may illumine one’s guesses about the governance of the universe.

The rather brief closing chapter, “The Joys of Mountaineering,” stands in close connection with the first. Another chapter is concerned with “Walks in the Central Pyrenees.” “A Day’s Pleasuring,” “Maloja,” and “Recollections of a Derby Dog” describe skiing experiences in the Oberland and Bernina districts. The admirably printed, charmingly written, although somewhat slender volume, contains some good pictures, including a striking photograph of Edward Whymper in his later years.

J. W. A. H.