Mountains with a Difference
Mountains with a Difference, by Geoffrey Winthrop Young. A volume in “The New Alpine Library,” edited by Arnold Lunn. 282 pages, 14 illustrations. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1951. Price, 18/-.
All who know Mountain Craft and On High Hills are sure to want to read Mountains with a Difference. Here, as the author explains in a Foreword, are “stories of some of the different aspects” in which mountains have appeared to him. The greatest single “Difference,” a reader is bound to conclude, was the one brought about by a shell in 1917. Geoffrey Young was serving on the Isonzo front, with the First British Red Cross Unit for Italy; he was called, in a citation which he does not quote, “mirabile esempio a tutti di coraggio e di filantropia.”1 During the assault on Monte San Gabriele, he was severely wounded in the left leg, which had to be amputated above the knee.
The earlier years had been, as he calls them, “golden.” In this book he supplements what he wrote in On High Hills by recalling mountains and friends in Wales, Ireland and Scotland, and by telling of a pilgrimage to Troy and Mount Ida. The chapter about climbing “As It Was in Wales” makes a memorable introduction. With greatly-gifted friends, Geoffrey Young delighted in the richness of life lived fully and harmoniously—“No spirit feels waste,/Not a muscle is stopped in its playing…” (Browning’s David comes thus irresistibly to mind; and, in the next moment, lines in Geoffrey Young’s own Freedom that make clear his deep enjoyment of rock and pool and sun.) “I climbed all my life only for enjoyment,” he writes, “and abandoned myself to it. If I learned much of value to my life by the way, it was without intention.”
After 1917 Geoffrey Young contrived a really useful “peg” (his own term)—and returned to the hills. “Instead of a downhill progress,” he decided, “I could make a progressive uphill fight of the last phase.” Here was a spur to new achievement, to efforts that would quite distinctly not be mere repetitions of those already carried to a high point in the past. (Wonderfully Browningesque, again: “Strive, and hold cheap the strain!”) He studied different principles of motion and balance; he adjusted his ideas of pace; he pressed himself toward understanding of fatigue. In 1919 he climbed the Gashed Crag on Tryfan and “made some dignified ascents in the Lakes.” He kept on. Some of the old friends were gone; others, who had come through, were with him again. In 1927 he again watched dawn breaking over the snows of the Valais. He climbed Monte Rosa that year. More Alpine ascents were yet to come. His last was in 1935: the Rothorn. On the summit he decided that this was to be the last; on the way down he experienced a serious fall; as the party descended to the valley, in darkness, he meditated further on his decision and found it right.
A “Difference,” yes. How can one think of it otherwise? And yet the abiding impression in a reader’s mind is less of difference than of oneness. It is perhaps not quite fair to apply to a writer words that he has used himself in praise of others. Just the same, Geoffrey Young is one of those “men who had the great heart and stayed valiant into age.”
D. A. Robertson, Jr.
1A.J.,XXXI (1917), 339. It is interesting to read—after Chaps. V and VI of Mountains with a Difference—G.M. Trevelyan’s Scenes from Italy’s War (1919), and then to turn to Book I of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Same battlefront, same sort of work; but how unlike Hemingway’s character Frederic Henry were G.W.Y. and the author of the great Garibaldi books!