American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

The Early Alpine Guides

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  • Publication Year: 1950

The Early Alpine Guides, by Ronald Clark. 208 pages, with 27 illustrations, four maps and index. London: Phoenix House, 1949 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons). Price, 15/-.

The biographer of Vittorio Sella, now engaged in the more formidable task of doing a similar work on W. A. B. Coolidge, has in the interval written the best modern book about the Alpine guides who were friends of the eminent Victorians. This book replaces the rare Pioneers of the Alps, long out of print, and stands worthily beside Carl Egger’s authoritative Pioniere der Alpen (Zürich, 1936).

Lord Schuster makes it clear, in an introduction, that guided climbing has gone out of fashion among mountaineers who like doing things for themselves and who can find, in the ?50 now allowed for a Swiss holiday, no margin for the payment of guides. But the older generation, he writes, took pleasure in the company of their guides and saw no reason why, coming to the mountains from sedentary occupations, they should make their pleasure more toilsome than they had to.

Mr. Clark supplies the background to the scene, contrasting the guide systems of the Oberland and Chamonix, and showing clearly the superiority of the Oberland guides. Three chapters are devoted to Melchior Anderegg and Christian Aimer. There are further chapters on famous Italian guides, on specialists and on travellers; there are biographical notes on amateur climbers and a table of principal ascents. Most of the illustrations are portraits made by Captain Abney during 1886–87—the finest of their kind. One is

pleased also with a key to Whymper’s engraving of “The Club Room of Zermatt in 1864,” although no one seems to remember that the little lady leaning against the doorpost was Lucy Walker.

When a book is of such excellence, it is not pedantic for a reviewer to ask questions and to point out errors. Not all the latter are avoidable. But the German names are not done well: “Scheutzer” for “Scheuchzer” (pp. 25, 172); umlauts omitted from such names as Güssfeldt, Köderbacher, Mönch, Häsli and Zäsenberg; “Est Spitze” for “Ost Spitze” (p. 169); “Wald-huhn” for “Wald-huhn” (p. 58); “Blatière” for “Blaitière” (p. 69). One can not countenance such odd forms as fuehrerbücher and Engländerjuehrer (pp. 23, 59). The “Staubach” Hut (p. 109) is doubtless the Schaubach Hut on the Order.

What is the authority for saying (p. 26) that Jacques Balmat lost his life on the Mer de Glace? It is generally held (Fastes du Mont-Blanc, pp. 299-302) that this gold-seeker met his end in a gorge of the Sixt valley.

Guido Rey is the source of the statement (p. 139) that Luc Mey- net, the hunchback, reached the top of the Matterhorn. But is this true, or has Luc been confused with the Salamon Meynet who accompanied Grove in 1867? The name of Luc Meynet does not occur in Whymper’s list of those who gained the summit (Ascent of the Matterhorn, p. 316).

“Sandbach and Parker” (p. 141) should be “Alfred Traill Parker and Samuel Sandbach Parker,” two brothers, both members of the A.C., who were the first to attempt the Matterhorn from the Zermatt side (1860).

Aside from such minor points as these, the book is one that you will want on your shelf—if you can keep borrowers away from it.

J. M. T.

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