WHY ALPINISTS LEAVE HOME

Being a diagnosis of the urge which makes sensible men and women tumble out of their camp beds at three o’clock in the morning simply to risk their necks on a climb up a mountain which ends in a climb down again.

G. H. LASH November 15 1926

WHY ALPINISTS LEAVE HOME

Being a diagnosis of the urge which makes sensible men and women tumble out of their camp beds at three o’clock in the morning simply to risk their necks on a climb up a mountain which ends in a climb down again.

G. H. LASH November 15 1926

WHY ALPINISTS LEAVE HOME

G. H. LASH

Being a diagnosis of the urge which makes sensible men and women tumble out of their camp beds at three o’clock in the morning simply to risk their necks on a climb up a mountain which ends in a climb down again.

THE opinion seems to be held generally throughout Canada that alpinists are lunatics with suicidal tendencies. To acknowledge oneself an alpinist is to cause those about to raise their eyebrows in amused tolerance or, if one is ordinarily normal in all other respects, to be apologized for by one’s friends, as a person who likes to be considered ‘just a little bit odd,’ but who otherwise has no particularly vicious vices. Assuredly the alpinist belongs to that exclusive group which profess an abiding scorn of golf or which brazenly express a preference of five hundred to bridge. Society accepts them, because society wishes to be thought ‘open minded.’ The general public, with usual candor, classifies them as ‘a bunch of knuts.’

If, however, one should view them analytically, it will be found that the alpinists have many prepossessing features of character that are not present in others who acknowledge a controlling hobby. The alpinist, for instance, never attempts to explain how many footsteps it required to reach the summit of any particular mountain. Now, suppose h^were a golfer! ! ! ! If he happens to fail to reach a peak, its height does not increase with each recital—if indeed there is more than one. How different this from the fisherman who let the big one get away from him! ! ! Nor does the alpinist grumble at being considered a crank. Unlike the golf and fishing bore, he realizes that the average mortal may have no interest in mountaineering: that he wouldn’t know an alpenstock from a silkworm and he is sufficiently considerate to maintain a gratifying silence on alpine matters except in the presence of an occasional kindred spirit

Thrills of Mountain Climbing

WHAT is perhaps more curious, the alpinist is among the first to admit that he can advance few acceptable reasons for his desire to climb to the top of a remote and apparently inaccessible mountain which has the unpleasant habit of pitching off tons of rock and ice at irregular intervals and never, it would seem, from the same spot or in the same direction. Why anyone should voluntarily become a sort of side show ‘Aunt Sally’ with a twenty-ton rock as a missile, is a riddle which the average man is unable to solve and to which the alpinist himself can contribute little in the way of an answer.

One young lady who distinguished herself during the recent meeting of the Alpine Club of Canada in Jasper National Park, Alberta, said she did it because, ‘it provides the greatest thrill in the world to stand on the top of a high mountain.’ And when she said ‘thrill’ she rolled everything except her stockings and allowed a contagious shiver to ripple up her back. But then, she is really quite a young lady, very much of a lady, and has spent most of her short life in or near Winnipeg, so, after all, what could she really know about thrills?

A youth who may conclude a promising university career, if he isn’t buried under a glacial avalanche in the meantime, quoted Mallory’s reply in presenting his reasons for climbing Everest: ‘Because it is there.’

That scarcely appears to be sound argument.

The logic is only slightly dissimilar to that which animates the youngster to steal the pot of jam from the pantry shelf or to snowball the silk hat of the dignified town undertaker. Elders have not been prone to view the motive as reasonably acceptable.

But there must be a reason. As an independent

and unbiased observer during the Tonquin Valley meeting of the Alpine Club in July and August last, I sought for an answer. I think I have found it. Probably the alpinists have known it themselves but have been too modest to make it public, because modesty also happens to be another of their engaging qualities.

It is not the glory of achievement, though that would appear to be the obvious reason. After all, achievement can be considered in terms of genuine personal satisfaction only when it results in accomplishing something definite toward giving happiness to others. Otherwise the element of selfishness would be uppermost, and where that element is present, satisfaction can be neither complete nor permanent.

After all what is there for them to do when they have reached their objective? Like a few flies on a bald man’s pate, they can move about for a few minutes and see what they can see, which is often, as the bear discovered to his chagrin, ‘the other side of the mountain.’ They can yodel to whatever fellow creatures may happen to be moving in the valley. Usually even this satisfaction is left to the Swiss guide because he is the only person who knows how to yodel and not, as cynics say, because he is the only one who has sufficient breath left. They cannot divide the mountain among their friends. In the first place the government wouldn’t allow it, and, in the second, the friends would not be particularly flattered by the gift. Even the possibility that they may be permitted to give it a name is very slim, because this func-

tion is the prerogative of the National Geographic Board, which seems to display an inclination to name mountains in honor of almost everyone and everything except those deserving of it. All there is left for them tó do is to climb down again. The glory of achievement, therefore, may safely be considered as only a subsidiary reason for the popularity and longevity of what alpinists are pleased to describe as ‘sport.’

Three-O’Clock-in-the-Morning Courage

TT SEEMS to me that it owes its existence to the fact that it initiates and develops to a very high degree, those two most desirable human qualities, courage and obedience. To these must be added real love for the mountains, though this is an acquired affection which is also held by many who never have and never will do any more climbing than is necessary.

Certainly a large element of obedience and undoubtedly a certain amount of courage were required to make men and women tumble out of eiderdowns at three o’clock of a dark and decidedly chilly morning, as they did at the Alpine Club meeting; to snatch a hasty breakfast and to plod blithely into the gloom over muskeg and rock slides to the base of whatever sombre mountain it had been decided to climb. It is doubtful if any of them have ever willingly seen the sunrise in a city. Most of them, very likely, could add artistic voice to the general protest succeeding the temporary breakdown of the office elevator. Yet they voluntarily scraped shins and knees on rocks; moiled and toiled up arduous slopes to dizzy heights and then proclaimed with genuine delight, their keen enjoyment of it.

Evidently these considerations must have been present to persuade mature women to tog out in shirt, bloomers and boots weighing only slightly less than those of a deep sea diver and cheerfully sweat — yes, that word is right — over rock and deadfall to the top of Tonquin Hill. In that valley of majestic peaks they call it a hill. In Hamilton, Ontario, it would be considered a worthy rival to Logan. One wonders how many of them would undertake a trip of a mile in town without the assistance of street car or taxi, or how long, at home, they would survive the first trickle of perspiration.

What else could it have been to make it possible for them to sit on logs about an evening camp fire from which biting, smarting smoke whirled into eyes and noses and mouths? There, at least, it was proven that alpining has its compensations, for the conversation of the women developed the startling fact that gossip had surrendered to science; frills and flounces were replaced by debate on aretes and glaciers; physical ailments and harrowing surgical operations by crevasses and couloirs; recipes and church socials by chimneys and buttresses.

Any married man will admit that on this score at least, alpining is worthy of encouragement.

He Did the Impossible

COURAGE and obedience were the qualities so vividly displayed by Lawrence Grassi, the hero of a stirring episode during the meeting of the Alpine Club of Canada in the Tonquin Valley, last July. Those who knew nothing of alpining saw in his act only courage. Those who do know, saw also obedience. Obedience of muscle to the will of mind; obedience of mind to the law of the Club; obedience of heart to the idealism of soul. By force of

will, Grassi made his muscles respond to and undertake a task which was considered impossible. By engaging to carry his injured fellow climber from his perilous position to one of safety, he was obeying the first and most important rule of his Club, but greater than both of these, his heart was big enough to obey the call of his soul, which felt for a fellow creature in distress and he was able to respond to that appeal, though he and the man he aided realized that it might mean death to both of them.

Similarly, it was an occasion which called for an exhibition of courage and obedience on the part of the victim, Dr. G. R. Williams, of Calgary. No matter how steadfast his confidence might have been in the ability of Grassi to rescue him from the predicament in which-he found himself, it must have required every ounce of courage the doctor possessed to trust himself to the care of one man under such conditions. Also it became necessary for him to answer with implicit obedience every order or request spoken by Grassi.

It may be that many who read have forgotten or have not heard of the incident.

Briefly the circumstances were as follows:

Grassi and Williams were members of a small party which had climbed Bastion Peak of the Rampart Range. Bastion is not the highest or the most dangerous of all peaks on that range, but like the others it is composed largely of loose rock, shale, ice and snow. Several precipitous rock chimneys had to be negotiated, at least one dangerously narrow ledge crossed, and a glacier to be traversed before the top was reached.

The party had reached the top safely and were returning when a sudden tightening of the rope threw Dr. Williams off his balance with the result that he broke an ankle. The accident happened only a short distance from the top and the situation was critical. Night was approaching and also the mountain was continually subject to rock slides. To leave the injured man alone was out of the question.

To carry him to safety was an undertaking almost as hazardous. Grassi being in charge of the rope, volunteered to remain and he ordered the other two members of

the party, one a woman, to return to camp and to send out a relief party.

When they had gone—another example of obedience— Grassi decided to try to remove Dr. Williams to a place of safety. Using a rope, he tied the doctor to his back and started down the mountain with him.

Imagine the circumstances! The doctor weighed about 180 pounds: Grassi not more than 145, and his height does not exceed five feet five inches. Those two rock chimneys had to be descended. These were only narrow slits in the face of the rock, where by pressing elbows and knees against the projecting sides and by hanging grimly with finger tips and toes to such flat surfaces as offered themselves, the lowering process could be accomplished. To do it unimpeded is in itself a task. To do it carrying 180 pounds was an adventure few men would care to face. Grassi did it. Also he carried his companion across the narrow ledge, usually negotiated by crawling warily on one’s knees, and then he passed over the glacier to the rock slides. He picked his way carefully but swiftly over these great rocks that have been flung pell mell down the side of the mountain and he had his companion down to timber line when the relief party reached them. Altogether it was a trip of about two and one half miles. And Grassi thought nothing of it. The simplicity of the man’s nature is so genuine that he did not even blush or smile in response to the salvo of cheers which greeted him on his return and paid homage to his feat.

A Mountain-Climber’s Philanthropy

TO THOSE who know him, Grassi personifies those ideals which make the truly great man. Not great in power or riches or intellect, perhaps, but in the other things which are greater than these. He seems to stand for what mountain climbing stands for; to have learned the lesson that the cloud-kissed heights have to give if one desires to learn; that there are things in this world greater than power; richer than wealth. He has learned the joy of pitting his strength against the strength of the

hills; he has learned to appreciate the beauty and the wonder of the great out-of-doors; and he has come to understand that accomplishment is a sufficient reward unto itself.

The everyday life of the man tells this story as dearly as it can ever be written. An Italian by birth, he has come to love Canada with all the passion of his Latin nature. By trade he is a coal miner. His body works in the pits atCanmore, Alberta. His soul lives in the mountains. For more than a year, each day alter his shift has been done, he has been performing a labor of love for the children of his little town. Up on the mountain side, two miles from the town, he found a sulphur spring. To it, alone and unaided, he has cut a trail through the woods, here and there carving out resting places where the view is best and placing there rustic seats also built by himself. Later with cement he carried on his back, he .enclosed the spring into a pool where the children of the town may swim in comfort whenever they choose. Having done this, he has offered it to the town as a park.

Are there many more men in Canada with as much public spirit and public pride as that? It is a lesson in public service that could well be taken to heart; a lesson in philanthropy that is almost a classic.

He Takes a Thirteen-Mile Jaunt at Eighty

THERE is another example of courage: Prof. Charles E. Fay, of Boston. Twenty years ago his name was famous in the alnine world and all that he had to say of mountaineering was listened to with respect in every part of the world. To-day Prof. Fay is more than eighty years of age. Yet in spite of his years he walked, in one day, the full thirteen miles from Geiki station up the Meadow Creek Trail to the camp of the Alpine Club. Under any circumstances a mountain trail is not the smooth-surfaced, easygraded pathway of a public park. And the Meadow Creek Trail is built like a scenic railway, a series of ups and downs that would, and did, take the heart out

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Why Alpinists Leave Home

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of many men half as old as Prof. Fay. But this veteran of the alplands never faltered. He plodded up hill and down hill and up hill again until he got there. Why? Because he wanted to be present to pay a last tribute to his old friend and colleague A. O. Wheeler, who after many years of loyal and strenuous labor was retiring as director of the Club. Again the spirit of

the alpinist. Again his idealism. Those who lift themselves to the mountain tops, contribute also to the uplift of their souls, for the snow crowned peaks of the matchless Rockies of Canada have much to teach man of the humility of man, and this being so, may there not be something really worth while in mountain climbing after all?