American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

The Centenary of the Alpine Club

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1958

The Centenary of The Alpine Club

John C. Oberlin, Henry S. Hall, Jr., Francis P. Farquhar

Some Englishmen made an ascent of the Finsteraarhorn on August 13, 1857 and talked over a favorite project as they went along—the formation of an Alpine Club. As a result of their decision to proceed, a dinner was held in Birmingham on November 6 and the organization of the Alpine Club was started on its way. Exactly 100 years later a dinner was held in London to commemorate the event—the founding of the first mountaineering club.

The Centennial celebration, however, included much more than a dinner, although that was indeed the climax. Preparations were begun well in advance and were carried on with remarkable thoroughness. One was almost led to believe that the Everest achievement itself was a well-planned preliminary. Certainly the undimmed luster of that event was a noticeable ornament of the occasion, agreeably brought to mind by the presence at the dinner of Sir John Hunt and the ever-smiling Tenzing.

To give permanence to the celebration several notable publications were brought to fruition at this time, all showing thoughtful planning, a vast amount of devoted work, and a very high standard of presentation. The editors of the Alpine Journal produced a special number consisting of a historical review, suitably illustrated with portraits, sketches, photographic views, and antique color-prints.* This was matched by "A Century of Mountaineering,” written by Sir Arnold Lunn and presented by the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research as "A Centenary Tribute to the Alpine Club.” The third member of the trilogy of centenary publications consists of a monumental work by T. Graham Brown and Sir Gavin de Beer, "The First Ascent of Mont Blanc.”

Another feature was an exhibition of pictures, manuscripts, and historic objects. Among the latter were the ice axe recovered in 1933 at an altitude of 27,650 feet on Mount Everest and presumed to have been Mallory’s, the ice axe used by Tenzing on the 1953 Everest climb, and stones from the highest rocks of Everest, Nanda Devi, and Kangchenjunga. A number of historic diaries and letters were shown. The paintings, drawings, and photographs were very well chosen. There were portraits of past presidents of the Alpine Club, of royal mountaineers, and of guides and other famous climbers. North America was represented by photographs of Mount McKinley, Mount Logan, and Mount St. Elias. A group of action pictures of modern mountaineering rounded out the illustration of the century’s developments. An informative catalogue was printed.

The international aspect of the celebration began with a meet held at Zermatt, August 19 to 29. On the 19th about 130 members and guests assembled for cocktails at the Hotel Mont Cervin at the invitation of Alfred Zürcher, a vice-president of the Alpine Club. The party then walked up the street to the Monte Rosa Hotel, where the village people gathered in welcome and the band played. John Hunt presided over the festive occasion and, calling on representatives of local, cantonal, and Swiss federal bodies as well as representatives of other mountaineering clubs, for remarks, responded to all in their respective languages. Wives of members dined with Lady Hunt at the Hotel Mont Cervin.

Brilliant weather the next noon saw a large gathering of members and their wives on the terrace of the Riffelalp Hotel as guests of the Seiler family for a raclette party—slabs of cheese melted before open fires onto boiled potatoes, with accompanying wines and delicacies. Climbing parties on the Matterhorn and other peaks were visible through field glasses and telescope. During the 12 days of the meet considerable climbing was done by many of the members, despite the variable weather. Hunt did several high climbs, among them the Younggrat of the Breithorn with a party that included Albert Eggler of the Swiss 1956 Everest Expedition. The meet did a great deal to promote good-fellowship among mountaineers from many lands.

The Centenary Dinner at the Dorchester Hotel, London, on November 6, was a brilliant affair. Over 400 members of the Alpine Club and guests attended. There was a large representation of mountaineering clubs from all over the world, including Switzerland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Norway, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada. Yuko Maki, leader of the successful ascent of Manaslu, came from Japan. The American Alpine Club was remarkably well represented: of the 30 members who are also members of the Alpine Club, 13 were present at the dinner.* The responses to the toasts were of an unusually high order. Toasts and responses were as follows:

The Queen—Proposed by the President, Sir John Hunt.

The Royal Family—Proposed by the President.

The Alpine Club—Proposed by General Sir James Marshall-Cornwall,

President of the Royal Geographical Society.

Response by the President.

The Mountain Clubs of the World—Proposed by Sir Arnold Lunn.

Response by Monsieur Lucien Devies, President, Club Alpin Français.

The Guests—Proposed by the Rt. Hon. the Viscount Hailsham, Lord President of the Council.

Response by Mr. John C. Oberlin, President of the American Alpine Club.

The President—Proposed by Dr. Tom G. Longstaff, Past President of the Alpine Club.

The Centenary celebration was concluded on a high note with a reception in the Great Hall of Lincoln’s Inn on the evening of December 9. Between six and seven hundred attended, members and their ladies in full dress. The Queen and Prince Philip were escorted by President Sir John Hunt and the Honorary Secretary J. H. Emlyn Jones.

*Sir John Hunt, "After a Hundred Years”; J. Monroe Thorington, "As It Was in the Beginning”; D. F. O. Dangar and T. S. Blakeney, "The Rise of Modern Mountaineering, 1854-65”; H. E. L. Porter, "After the Matterhorn, 1865-80”; Geoffrey Winthrop Young, "Club and Climbers, 1880-1900”; R. L. G. Irving, "Unclouded Days, 1901-14”; Jack Longland, "Between the Wars, 1919-39”; A. K. Rawlinson "Crescendo, 1939-56”; together with "Fifty Years Ago,” by T. G. Longstaff, and "Alpine Controversies,” by Sir Arnold Lunn.

*Eric C. Brooks (who represented the Alpine Club of Canada), John C. Case, O. Eaton Cromwell, Arthur B. Emmons, 3rd, Francis P. Farquhar (who represented the Sierra Club of California), Henry S. Hall, Jr., Charles S. Houston (a vice-president of the Alpine Club), Joseph E. Johnson, John C. Oberlin, Edward C. Porter, J. Monroe Thorington, Walter A. Wood, and Noel E. Odell. At Zermatt, John Case, Eaton Cromwell, Henry Hall, and Bradford Washburn were present besides Noel Odell and Bernard Pierre; at the December reception, besides Odell and Pierre, there were Case, Cromwell, and Terris Moore.

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