No Sport in the World to Equal Mountaineering

George D. Abraham in the World's Work Magazine August 1 1908

No Sport in the World to Equal Mountaineering

George D. Abraham in the World's Work Magazine August 1 1908

No Sport in the World to Equal Mountaineering

George D. Abraham in the World's Work Magazine

Although the Recreation is Participated in by Comparatively few People—The Exhilaration of Making an Ascent up the Steep Incline — Some Excellent Rules for the Guidance of the Novice in the Exciting Pastime of Revelling in Nature’s Most Stupendous Handiwork.

THERE is no sport in the world like mountaineering. Its pleasures are not marred by the slaughter of innocent animal life, nor discomfiture to any of our fellow beings, and perfect health and physical fitness, such as no other sport can give, are numbered among its greatest rewards. But its pure joys and benefits are shared by relatively few people, for mountain climbing for the sake of recreation is a sport of comparatively recent times. The ascent of the Wetterhorn in 1854 by Mr. Justice Wills is generally recognized as the beginning of the genuine sporting side of mountaineering. In recent years, however, mountain clubs have been formed in many parts of the world and the number of those who appreciate the pure joys and benefits of mountaineering is increasing. Fortunate are those who have tasted of these and renewed health and strength far above the cares and troubles of the world, among the crags and silent snows of the everlasting hills.

It is a mistake for the American to imagine that he must go to the Alps or the Himalayas in order to find peaks worthy of

his ambition. A vast range of mountains stretches across North America from far south of the United States to Alaska. Mount St. Elias (18,092 feet) is the most notable culminating point in the icy North, and its ascent was the object of the Duke of Abruzzi’s expedition in 1897. A tremendous expanse of slightly sloping glacier had to be crossed in order to reach the peak. Its ascent required a month of strenuous exertion, but on July 30th of that year his party stood on the longed-for summit, and the Italian flag was left floating in the Arctic breezes.

Mount McKinley, which rises in Alaskan territory to a height of nearly 20,500 feet above sea-level, is supposed to be the loftiest peak in North America. Dr. F. A. Cook, who was a member of the Peary Arctic Expedition, succeeded in reaching its summit in 1906. In his book. “To the Top of the Continent.” he describes it as the steepest and the most Arctic of the great mountains of the world.

The Canadian Rockies have been called “the Switzerland of North America” on

account of their natural beauties and attractions. Dr. Norman Collie has organized a number of American climbing clubs for expeditions among these first-class peaks. One of these, Mount Assiniboine, is 11,839 feet above the sea, and has been described as the Canadian Matterhorn.

As a stimulus to American interest in the vigorous sport of climbing, it is worth while to recall that the Rockies are in extent vastly greater than the Alps, and that it is not at the present time known which is the highest peak. The average height of the mountains is from 10,000 to 11,000 feet. Mount Forbes, in the northerly part of the group, is generally supposed to be the loftiest, the summit reaching nearly 14,000 feet above sea-level. There is also rare sport to be found in the Appalachians and in other parts of the United States.

There is, of course, especial interest in being the first to reach the summit of a great mountain, but there is always sufficient interest awaiting anyone who scales a lofty peak for the first time. It matters little, for instance, how many people have strode the crest of such a peak as the Matterhorn. Its individuality is still there, and to each climber who makes his first acquaintance with its snow-covered slabs and shattered ridges the element of novelty is scarcely wanting. After all, the climbing is the main thing.

For climbing foothills and for work in the lower altitudes of the more majestic peaks, little advice is needed, even by the novice. There it is simply a question of physical fitness, of endurance, and of some ingenuity. But the conquest of such difficult summits as some of those shown in the accompanying illustrations requires expert advice and a sort of apprenticeship. The present article is intended merely as a help to the beginner, assuming that he must make his beginning without the aid of an experienced mountaineer to guide his efforts. It would obviously require an entire volume to enter into the details of rockclimbing and snow-craft on the first-class peaks.


A short time ago a newspaper contributor suggested that, as a remedy against accidents “warning boards should be placed on all dangerous places, and danger signals on all the treacherous crevasses.” It would be an education worthv of the Fresh Air Fund

if that writer could be lured to the comparatively small Glacier des Bossons on Mount Blanc, and be shown its thousands of crevasses that would require labelling— and the surface is constantly changing. Any sport that defies to any great extent the laws of gravitation must of necessity be dangerous, and what recreation is worth its salt unless it possesses a spice of danger? But foresight and prudence can do much to lessen the dangers.

The man who makes it a rule to climb only in absolutely settled weather will have little to fear from the danger of sudden storms. It may be remarked that as long as the wind blows from a northerly or easterly quarter, or from any point between these two, any sudden changes that occur are scarcely likely to prove serious. The only way correctly to gauge the direction of the winds in the higher altitudes is to watch the movements of the clouds. The really unavoidable danger is that which arises from comparatively small stones, or pieces of ice that become detached and fall unexpectedly. They may be loosened by the action of frost followed by the warmth of the sun, by sudden changes of wind, by another party on the mountain, or by a variety of smaller causes. Yet accidents from this source are surprisingly rare.

Judged by the fatalities, the easiest parts of a mountain are the most dangerous. After a hard struggle on the upper crags, human nature is apt to treat the lesser with disrespect. Novices are especially apt to underrate the risks, as was shown by an amusing entry in the visitors’ book at a well-known climbing centre: “Ascended

the Pillar Rock in three hours, and found the rocks very easy.” This was probably written by a young climber with more selfassurance than experience. The entry immediately below this is written by a wellknown Cambridge don, who adds : “De-

scended the Pillar Rock in three seconds, and found the rocks very hard.”

The following advice may be helpful to some who may engage in this sport without the opportunity of an apprenticeship under an experienced climber. The rules are merely the application of plain common sense.


(1) Start climbing mountains near home. Learn to walk slowly uphill, and how to find the route by map and compass in misty and stormy weather ; do not attempt any of the more difficult rock-climbs.

(2) Let every article of equipment be of the very best'quality ; pay constant attention to the condition of the boots, more especially the nails.

(3) Always begin a climbing holiday gently, after a few training walks.

(4) Procure the very best guiding assistance available.

(5) Do not undertake a serious expedition with untried companions.

(6) Never attempt a high mountain when it is out of condition ; three days should be allowed after stormy weather.

(7) Do not climb in bad weather; if a storm should arise during an ascent, turn back at once if the slightest doubt should exist.

(8) Always be clothed to withstand the coldest temperature that is likely to be encountered.

(9) Take sufficient food for the wants of the party if they should be required to spend the night out.

(10) Allow at least an hour to intervene from the time of waking to the hour of setting out.

( 11 ) Get equipment together the night before.

(T2) DO not delay putting on the rope.

(13) Never climb alone, or with less than three men on a rope if any snow work is to be attempted; hold the rope firmly but do not jerk it in any situation.

( 14) Let the best man lead going up, and take the last place on the rope in the descent ; the leader’s decision should be fina: on all questions.

(15) If a slip on the part of any member of the party would prove dangerous, only one climber should move at a time, and the rope should be anchored.

(16) If a slip on the part of any one climber would be certain to precipitate the whole party, the route should be immediately forsaken.

(17) Do not pass underneath or over cornices, nor cross slopes of snow that are swept by avalanches.

( 18) The spirit of rivalry in any form should never enter into a mountaineering expedition.

(19! Never glissade down a slope of any length unless you have ascended it less than three hours previously.

(20) Eat and drink as much as possible, but especially avoid contaminated water.

(21) Always climb slowly, deliberately, and carefully; a slip, even when harmless, is something to be ashamed of.


First of all, the famous saying, “A soldier is no better than his feet,” is equally true of a climber. I have no hesitation in saying that a pair of properly nailed boots are the most important details of a climber’s outfit. The leathers for the uppers should be of the best zug or chrome, soft and absolutely waterproof. The heels should be love, and they, as well as the soles, should project fully a quarter of an inch beyond the uppers when new, for even with this allowance they will become almost flush with he uppers after a few days’ use. The laced pattern is preferable, and the tongue must be'so sewn as to be watertight to the top. The tab at the back should be of strong leather.

The nailing of climbing boots is a fine art. There is no more trying experience after the first day’s climbing than to find that half or even more of the nails have gone from their appointed resting places in one’s boot sole. The greatest skill is required in driving the nails direct, for it is imperative that no hole should be previously bored in the leather, otherwise they will come out. sooner or later. This is one secret of successful nailing, and the other is composition of the leather that forms the sole. Boots advertised as having waterproof soles should be avoided, for the process of waterproofing them renders them too spongy to hold the nails for any length of time.

The outer row of nails should be of wrought iron, not cast iron, or steel; these outer nails should overlap and secure each other firmly, and should continue around the sole as far as the heel. I am strongly averse to the use of large nails for the inner part of the sole. A useful hint for drying the boots thoroughly after a wet day on the mountains is to fill them with oats, or even straw. Next morning they will be found to have retained their shape and suppleness. Judicious oiling will further improve them.

The rope may be considered next to the boots in importance. The choice of the best climbing rope is a simple matter, for there is only one make to recommend—the famous Alpine Club rope with the red worsted thread running throughout its length. It is made with three strands of the best manila hemp, specially prepared to resist damp-rot. For ordinary ascents in the Alps, not less than a 6o-foot length would be necessary for a party of three, but for the more difficult courses fully 80 feet would be required. Alpine Club rope weighs only one pound per 20 feet. An almost endless variety of knots is used by climbers. The “bowline” and the “reef” are mostly favored for the two men at the ends of the rope, while the “middleman noose” is the best for the intermediate members of the party. The purpose of the rope is to secure the safety of the entire party, particularly the less experienced members. When roped, it may be stated that the ability of the party is about equal to that of the leader. The rope should be closely tied about the waist.

For the ice-axe, one must go to Switzerland and the neighboring Alpine regions for the best and only serviceable specimens. The balance of the axe demands foremost notice. It ought to balance about eighteen inches from the head. The shaft should be of selected, straight-grained ash, and the head of the axe ought to be of wrought iron

tipped with steel. Careful tempering is re124

quired to obtain the necessary degree of softness. The novice starts out with his implement held more or less horizontally in his hand, but the expert carries his axe with the head tucked tightly between his arm and body, while the spiked shaft projects forward and dowmward. Carried thus, it can scarcely be considered one of the dangers of the Alps.

The Rucksack is an ordinary bag made of canvas, with adjustable leather straps for suspending it from the shoulders.Its interior should be lined with waterproof mackintosh. This lining ought to be left loose at the top and threaded through with a tape for tying up the opening by means of a draw-string.

A small lantern, writh mica sides, is desirable. Dry matches are, of course, a necessity. Goggles are indispensable for Alpine climbing, but the glasses should be of a neutral tint, not blue. A drinking cup of rubber or aluminum is easily carried. A good compass, mounted in a small but strong case, is another indispensable article.

The clothing throughout should be of wool, as far as possible. Certainly the underclothing should be woollen. The Norfolk jacket is undoubtedly the best form of coat and it should contain at least six pockets. A warm waistcoat is a great comfort, and the most important feature of it should be a thick flannel lining down the back. Professional guides often climb in trousers but amateurs favor knickerbockers. Personally, I prefer them unlined, for they are more easily dried. The Alpine hat is a familiar sight, but an ordinary cap is sometimes better. Gloves w^ear out quickly, so several pairs should be taken. They should have only one division for all the fingers and one for the thumb. A woollen muffler is a genuine luxury, and a woollen “sweater” proves a pleasant companion.

It will readily be understood that duplicates of all articles of wearing apparel should be carried. Even if the climber is not “wet through,” it is refreshing to have a change of raiment after a hard day on the mountains.


Sunburn is one of the most prevalent and annoying troubles. Its worst form is caused by reflection of the sun’s rays from newly fallen snow, but most people suffer acutely from an ordinary glacier walk. Toilet lanoline is the most efficacious preventative, and boric acid ointment will assist the healing process if the skin cracks or peels off and the face becomes extremely painful. At the beginning of a climbing holiday, it is a good plan to wash one’s face in water as seldom as possible, and shaving is an inadvisable luxury. On returning to the hotel after a few excursions above the snow-line, it is comforting to wash the face in warm milk and complete the operation by drying the tender skin with a very soft towel. Boric acid powder is excellent for abrasions and for blistered feet.

The eyes often grow painful after long exposure to the bright light on a snowfield. A few drops of a solution of cocaine will generally relieve the irritation immediately. Other simple remedies will suggest themselves.

In all sports it falls to the lot of few men

to excel, and in mountaineering this is especially so. The real expert realizes better than anyone else the smallness of his best efforts, and never is an expedition undertaken without his adding to the almost endless store of technical knowledge that is required if he is safely to indulge in mountaineering. The great mountaineer is the man with all his senses on the alert; and though, despite his comparative insignificance, he may revel in nature’s most stupendous handiwork, he must never neglect the laws which govern his craft, nor forget for a moment the penalty of neglecting them. Indeed, it has even been suggested by a friend who was asked to read some of the instructions contained in this article that a suitable title would be “how not to break your neck on the mountain, by one who has tried it!”