Andrew James Gilmour, 1871-1941

Publication Year: 1942.



As the years slip by and one’s erstwhile climbing companions pass over the Great Divide, it becomes increasingly difficult to pen one’s final tribute of respect and affection. A deepening sense of bereavement saddens the memories of great days on the heights shared with them and makes the written word seem empty indeed.

Particularly is this true of one who, though no longer young, always suggested youth and optimism; who was ever a cheery, buoyant companion, shattering gloom with a quip and remaining quite undaunted, no matter how grim the vicissitudes of trail, pack, or peak.

As such a mountaineer many will remember Andrew Gilmour, whose death occurred on March 9th, 1941, in New York after an illness of nine months. By vocation a dermatologist, his avocation was travel and alpinism and for thirty years his activity ranged through the Alps, the Pyrenees, the American and Canadian Rockies, Wales and the Lake District, Mexico, the Cascades and the lesser peaks of the eastern United States.

Born in Fulton, New York, of Scotch and Dutch parentage, he attended Falley Seminary of which his father was principal, until the school closed in 1883. Entering Yale from Phillips Andover, he graduated from Sheffield Scientific School in 1895, where despite a rather frail physique, he was a member of the gymnastic team, excelling on the horizontal bar and trapeze as well as in pole vaulting, for which he took a prize. His degree in medicine was received from the College of Physicians and Surgeons (Columbia) in 1899 and after interning at St. John’s Hospital, Brooklyn, and at Sloan Maternity Hospital, New York, he studied at the University of Gottingen and in hospitals in Vienna. Shortly after commencing practice in New York in 1903, he enlisted in the hospital corps of the Thirteenth Regiment, National Guard, and became captain. He was a crack shot with the revolver and with the rifle qualified as a “distinguished expert” in a group of seventeen out of the thousand men of the regiment. He was associated for years with Cornell Medical College and a consultant to the Englewood Hospital and the Manhattan State Hospital.

Although his climbing interest manifested itself as early as 1905 with an ascent of the Gross Glockner, it was not until 1914 that it ripened with full-fledged mountaineering. That summer he joined Prof. E. W. D. Holway and Frederic K. Butters in a month’s arduous back-packing trip in the southern Selkirks, during which guideless ascents of Mts. Sugarloaf and Duncan were effected, as well as the first ascent of a nameless 10,500-ft. peak at the easterly margin of the unvisited Battle Range. Unfortunately, no full report of this very enterprising and successful exploration has ever been printed.

The close friendship thus formed between Professor Holway and Dr. Gilmour led to further important explorations and first ascents: in 1915, of Mt. Edith Cavell and the entirely unknown country at the headwaters of Small River and Horse Creek, with a nearly successful ascent of Mt. Longstaff, and, in 1916, to the capture of the latter together with Mt. Phillips, the approach being made from the Swiftcurrent River side. Twelve days were consumed on the Cavell trip and about three weeks on each of the Longstaff trips. In 1916 also, this intrepid pair devoted a fortnight to a reconnaissance of the forbidding Cariboo Range, then entirely unknown. Although bad weather precluded attempting any major climbs, two 10,000-ft. summits at the head of Sand Creek Glacier were attained and they gained the honor of being the first mountaineers to enter this magnificent group.

These expeditions by Holway and Gilmour were personal “backpacking” enterprises into virgin territory. They were performed without Swiss guides or pack-trains, although an occasional horse might assist in the preliminary stage. Their main reliance was upon local men who helped to pack the party in and then acted in support by relaying provisions and sometimes by hunting game. The hardships and difficulty of this type of mountaineering are not appreciated among the generality of climbers, so they need to be stressed, particularly in this day, when the baffling incubus of the “unknown”—the real bête noire of the pioneer—has largely disappeared.

Dr. Gilmour’s list of ascents is far too extensive to recite in detail. It represents a varied assortment of the best peaks in Europe and southwestern Canada. Equally at home on ice or rock, he was at all times a steady and accomplished climber. Many guideless and first ascents grace his record. Particularly notable was that of the remote Mt. Sir Alexander, monarch of the northern Canadian Rockies, made with Newman D. Waffl and Helen I. Buck in the summer of 1929. The story is admirably told in the Canadian Alpine Journal for 1929, one of the few mountaineering articles from his pen.

A member of this society for a quarter of a century and serving one term on the Council, he worked continuously in its behalf. The library and club rooms owe much to his attention. Wide social contacts afforded opportunities for a host of gracious acts such as welcoming distinguished mountaineers from abroad at the pier or entertaining them at our rooms. An enthusiastic photographer of mountain scenery, he possessed a fine collection of colored lantern slides which were used to illustrate a series of one hundred lectures that he delivered at the instance of the Board of Education of the City of New York.

Apart from membership in several medical societies and social clubs, he belonged to the Canadian, Swiss and French Alpine Clubs, the Appalachian Mountain, Fresh Air and Explorers Clubs and was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London.

H. P.