Give Me the Hills, by Miriam Underhill. London: Methuen & Co., 1956. 252 pages; ills. Price 25 s.
This book will be enthusiastically received by all who respond with a hearty "For me, too!" to Miriam Underhill’s exclamatory "Give me the Hills!" Hardly anywhere in the literature of mountaineering can one find such a joyous tale of first-class climbing, coupled with nostalgic description and chuckling humor. That the climbing is first class is amply demonstrated by such virtuosities as the first ascent of the Aiguille de Roc and the traverse of the Aiguilles du Diable and by climbs in the Dolomites, culminating in the "Via Miriam" on the Torre Grande. It was no chivalrous concession that admitted Miriam to the élite Groupe de haute montagne.
Miriam O’Brien was fortunate in her initiation to mountaineering. It was fostered by her mother, who herself was an ardent mountaineer— she became a member of the A.A.C. about the same time Miriam did. The choice playground of New Hampshire’s White Mountains gave Miriam her "first taste of the wild, uncrowded places of earth," and "even at six years old" she liked it. Her introduction to the Alps was gradual, at first by a series of family visits; but in 1926 she began her series of difficult climbs, first in the Dolomites, then among the Chamonix aiguilles, followed a few years later by big climbs in the Oberland. The most distinctive part of her Alpine experience was a series of "manless" climbs, notably a traverse of the Grépon with Alice Damesme. After a manless climb of the Matterhorn, in 1932, also with Alice, Miriam went to the Eastern Alps, "to join Florence and Dean Peabody and Robert Underhill for some guideless—not manless—climbing. After that, for nineteen years, my constant companion on every climb was Robert Underhill. Manless climbing is fun for a while, but this other arrangement is better!"
The latter part of the book is in a different key, a more enjoyable one for the reader as well, it seems, as for the climbers. Alpine techniques give way to Western ways and the pack animal makes his appearance. There is some first-rate pioneering in the mountain regions of Idaho and Montana, together with a number of first ascents among hitherto unapproached summits. Ranchmen and woodsmen are introduced and prove themselves close kin to the villagers and guides of the Alps. And the bears: " 'Look down there!' I gasped. 'Grizzlies, all right,' said Bob in a whisper. … At once I was keenly conscious that there were no bars or barriers of any sort between them and me. No zoo, this. Here the Underhills and the grizzlies stood on an equal footing, each of us free to go wherever we like all over this mountain and the country around."
Finally, there are some thoughts, well put, for us to share and keep with us on our own journeys among the hills: "I enjoyed once more that glorious sight of miles upon miles of rosy peaks. I like to be high. Why is it that climbers feel uplifted in spirit as well as in body when they have climbed to heights? … Perhaps there is a relationship between the satisfaction gained and the effort expended." The book closes on a characteristic O’Brien-Underhill note: "Some time it would be fun to be with Adolf [Adolf Rubi, Grindelwald guide] in Montana and watch him cope with the underbrush and the pack-horses. We have been trying our best, with tales, to put him in the proper frame of mind—terror—about those grizzly bears." Thanks for the book, Miriam.
Francis P. Farquhar