Climbing Days, by Dorothy Pilley (Mrs. I. A. Richards). 340 pages, 69 illustrations, and index. London: G. Bell and Sons, Ltd., 1935. Price 16s.
Mrs. Richards says she started writing this book in China, far from her beloved Alps and homesick for them; she wanted to recapture the “feel” of all that makes up Alpine climbing, and to pass it on to her readers. In this aim she has succeeded admirably. We climb with her. The story is one not only of great climbs accomplished—although there is plenty of that, of course, including the magnificent north ridge of the Dent Blanche—but the other sides are in, too, the smaller climbs that you always do when the weather is not suitable for big things, and even the trips up to the huts that, perforce, go no farther. Sights, smells, sounds, all the graphic details bring out the picture so clearly. A description of bread and cheese after a long and exhausting climb was so vivid that a longing for that bread and cheese swept through me—it was minutes later before I realized that I had just finished an adequate dinner.
The workings of the climber’s mind are there, too—for instance, the night before a serious climb “that queer dishonest halfhope of broken weather.”
The book covers climbing experiences in the Alps of Switzerland, France, and Italy, with an Easter trip to Corsica, and two trips to the Pyrenees. The first hundred pages—much the least interesting part—are devoted to minute descriptions of climbing in the British Isles, while ten later pages cover Christmas at Mürren, climbing in the High Tatra, and a two-year tour of the world, with climbing in Canada, the United States, Japan and the Himalayas. At first glance this seems curiously unbalanced, but I rather suspect that this volume is in reality but part of Mrs. Richards’ “climbing days,” and that subsequent volumes will cover these other regions. I happen to know that the diaries are voluminous ! At the A. C. C. camp in 1925 long after everyone was in bed, Mrs. Richards’ light would be going, and she would write to within an hour or two of starting to climb again the next morning. No doubt it is this immediate writing of fresh impressions that makes the book so graphic and such a joy to the climbing reader.
The illustrations are excellent and well reproduced (I speak of the English edition, not having seen the American). Quite a considerable portion of those of Alpine regions are professional photographs that we have seen before ; still, they are always striking.
There are a few slight errors—or perhaps they are better called differences of opinion. Americans do not call crampons “creepers,” creepers being something different again. Mts. Baker and Shuksan are not in the Coast Range, but in the Cascades. Arctic explorers tell us that to rub frost-bitten hands “hard and long with snow” is about the worst treatment. And on the earth-shaking question of the proper clothing for feminine climbers, Mrs. Richards’ views and mine are as far apart as the poles! These and similar trivialities, however, do nothing to detract from the excellence of the book, and I heartily recommend it to all as a very good substitute for being in the act of climbing.
M. E. U.