Friday, December 18, 2020

“Mountaineering and health” (9)

"The pass in sight" 
(Original title from the Badminton Library Series on Mountaineering)

Advice from a mountaineering medic of the silver age

Frostbite is a trouble that the mountaineer is less likely to meet with if he recognises the necessity for taking precautions against it. The mildest form is merely a deadness or numbness of the fingers or toes. The part affected becomes white the skin a little wrinkled, and sensation is lost. As the symptoms pass off, the part swells a little and becomes of a blueish-violet colour. Return of sensation is characterised by itching and tingling. 

The more quickly artificial warmth is induced the more pronounced are the after effects. It follows that in the treatment of slight, or, indeed, any degree of frostbite, the temperature of the part should be very gradually restored. The frost-bitten part being numb, the sensations of the sufferer cannot be trusted. Gentle friction or 'massage', the part being well anointed with oil or vaseline, will restore vitality. 

If the friction is too vigorous, and the superficial skin rubbed off; troublesome after consequences may result in the form of superficial sores difficult to heal. Friction with snow is a time-honoured remedy, but apt to damage the part and favour the formation of blisters. The hand or foot may be immersed in cold water, of which the temperature is only to be raised very gradually indeed to a warmth of 50 to 60° F. 

Avoid, especially, warming the affected parts at the fire, or placing them in contact with hot bottles. After rubbing, wrap up the frost-bitten part loosely in cotton-wool. A more severe degree of frost-bite is associated with the formation of blisters after a few days. Here the after-consequences may be serious as regards the frost-bitten extremities. The blisters may be pricked and the fluid gently pressed out. 

It is often impossible in the early stages to judge of the extent of frost-bite. After a severe frost-bite complete sensation will often not return for weeks or months. On the other hand, a part that appears gravely frost-bitten will frequently recover entirely, or perhaps with the loss of a nail or two, after days or weeks. 

The most profound stage of frost-bite is a complete freezing or stiffening of the whole body. The sufferer loses consciousness and falls into a state of suspended animation. This third degree is especially likely to occur when a man is overcome by fatigue and cold and lies down. The most gradual raising of the temperature must be resorted to. 

Gentle friction of the limbs towards the heart may be made for several hours. Artificial respiration (and every traveller should learn how to perform artificial respiration) may be necessary. A common error is to make the movements too quickly. Fifteen movements per minute is about the right number. So long as there is the slightest trace of heart-beat the efforts should be continued. 

If the frost-bitten parts become very painful as they recover vitality, it is a sign that the warmth has been applied too rapidly, and they may then be wrapped in cloths dipped in cold water. In applying any remedies to a hand that has been attacked, take care not to make any pressure on the sides or webs of the fingers. Such pressure is very likely to be made if the fingers are wrapped up separately and a bandage placed over the whole hand. 

The fingers and toes and tips of the ears are most liable to frost-bite. The point of the nose may be attacked. Tight boots especially favour frost-bite of the feet. Cold wind and moist cold are the most to be dreaded. In still dry air there is much less likelihood of the trouble. It is essential, therefore, to keep dry the parts that are likely to be attacked. 

The utmost attention must be given for days afterwards to any part that has been attacked by even the mildest degree of frost-bite. In mountaineering, the fingers are more often affected than any other part, especially after climbing on rocks in bad weather. 


C T Dent’s Chapter III in the Badminton Library Series on Mountaineering, third edition (1901).

Thursday, December 17, 2020

“Mountaineering and health” (8)

"Proper snow spectacles are the most efficient preventive"
Photo courtesy of the American Alpine Club library (via Flickr)

Advice from a mountaineering medic of the silver age

Snow-blindness is a more serious affection. The commonest form is essentially an ophthalmia-that is to say, inflammation of the mucous covering of the eye and inner lining of the eyelids. The eyes become greatly bloodshot and very sensitive to light;there is a free watery discharge which gums the margins of the eyelids together; the slightest endeavour to use the eyes causes a copious flow of tears. The trouble usually subsides after a day or two, though sometimes the eyes remain weak and sensitive for days, or even for months.

A more serious form of snow-blindness is an affection of the deeper parts of the eye. Here there is much less superficial inflammation, but extreme intolerance of light. The symptoms are much graver and the effects pass away much more slowly. Both forms are tolerably familiar to those engaged in electric lighting work. 

As in the case of sunburn, vaporous misty days do not render the mountaineer exempt from snow-blindness. Proper snow spectacles are most efficient preventives. They should be put on before the glare begins to be felt. 

A five per cent solution of cocaine dissolved in rose-water, and with a little boric acid added, acts like a charm in snow-ophthalmia. It is not easy, unless the right method is adopted, to introduce the fluid into the eye, for directly the lids are separated a gush of tears ensues and washes out all the lotion. The sufferer should be directed to lie down with the back of his head to the light and with the eyes closed; a few drops of the solution are then poured into the little depression which is above the inner angle of the eyelids by the side of the nose. 

If the eye is then covered, and the sufferer directed to blink the lids a few times the fluid will be drawn in. Cold compresses give a good deal of relief. For the more serious snow-blindness, prolonged rest of the eye is really the only means of cure.


C T Dent’s Chapter III in the Badminton Library Series on Mountaineering, third edition (1901).

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

“Mountaineering and health” (7)

"Lady mountaineers are especially concerned...."
Sun protection as modelled by Mrs Main on Piz Morteratsch, c.1880s

Alpinistic advice from a mountaineering medic of the silver age

The inflammation of the exposed parts of the skin consequent on the intensity of the sun's rays is a very familiar trouble. The affection is essentially the same as that experienced in milder degrees by those who work with intense electric illuminants, or are exposed much to the sun's rays reflected off water. 

In the case of arc electric lights, the direct rays set up the trouble, but on snow the rays reflected from the surface are the chief agents. A strong cold wind aggravates the trouble by producing dryness of the skin. Freshly fallen snow at great elevations is the most powerful reflector of the irritant rays. It seems probable that the effect is produced largely by the 'chemical ' rays. 

The burning is felt at the time to some extent, but the worst of the discomfort comes on after a few hours, often at night. Fair people suffer more than than the dark-complexioned. Sometimes a considerable degree of inflammation is set up. A tolerably acute condition of eczema may be produced if adequate precautions are not taken.

The cracks and blisters that ensue are not only painful, but rather unsightly, and in the Alps, at any rate, mountaineers should, from motives of regard for others' feelings if not for their own comfort, take measures to mitigate sunburn. Lady mountaineers are especially concerned, for the effects, like those of tattoo marks, may be somewhat permanent, and have to be repented of at leisure. 

A convenient and efficient application is 'Toilet Lanoline,' which can be purchased in small tubes. A little of this smeared from time to time on the parts most likely to be affected will prevent any trouble. The application should be renewed every two or three hours. Cold cream or zinc ointment is recommended by some, and answers almost as well. Glycerine is useless. 

Whatever is used should be employed as a preventive. The effect of powdering the face with starch-powder over some ointment renders the mountaineer rather like a 'Pierrot,' but is extremely efficient. Professor Mosso advises blackening the face with burnt cork. Undoubtedly a thin layer of soot is the most efficient preventive, but in the much frequented Alps the method is unlikely to meet with favour. 

Vaseline or grease will remove the burnt cork. Red veils, for the reasons already pointed out, will prove more efficient than green or blue. A very thin red veil will answer better than a thick blue one. 

The skin may be as severely burnt on a foggy, cloudy day, as when the air is clear. For, as pointed out by Professor Bonney, a very large portion of the light which reaches us does not come directly from the sun, but is reflected to us by the vapours of the atmosphere. 


C T Dent’s Chapter III in the Badminton Library Series on Mountaineering, third edition (1901).

"Mountaineering and health" (6)

Alpinistic advice from a mountaineering medic of the silver age

The special discomforts to which mountaineers are subject are sore feet, sunburn, snow-blindness, and frost-bite. Under certain conditions, marked symptoms due to the rarity of the air occur which are spoken of, collectively, as 'mountain sickness'. 

The utmost care should be taken to prevent abrasions or blisters on the feet. Hints on this subject will be found elsewhere in this volume. Bathing the feet in a solution of alum hardens the skin. 

Soaping or greasing the stockings is an efficacious but unpleasant preventive. A small abrasion can be held in check by covering with gold beater skin or oiled silk painted red with collodion so as to adhere to the skin. 

A corn plaster judiciously applied prevents rubbing. If abrasions form, they are best treated by the application of mild boracic ointment thickly spread on a piece of clean lint. If blisters form, do not be in a hurry to puncture them When the fluid has escaped, the surface skin is easily rubbed off, and a sore results. In 48 hours or less, a new cuticle will have formed underneath, and the uplifted surface skin can be cut away without smarting being caused. 

The domestic practice of drawing a thread through the blister is bad. If matter forms in the blister, a red raised ring will form round it and the part will throb and become painful. The blister should then be pricked or cut at one edge and the matter let out. Blisters containing blood are dark. They are best treated in the same way as those containing clear fluid.


C T Dent’s Chapter III in the Badminton Library Series on Mountaineering, third edition (1901).

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

“Mountaineering and health” (5)

Alpinistic advice from a mountaineering medic of the silver age

There is no need to carry much of a medicine-chest, and the drugs taken should be such as are simple and whose action is understood. The modern tendency to the rather indiscriminate use of powerful remedies is to be deprecated unless the traveller has some medical knowledge and experience. 

Many of these fashionable preparations are very depressing, and their precise action is imperfectly understood. The less in fact that people under the special conditions of travel and climbing practise as amateur physicians on themselves the better. A few simple surgical wrinkles and methods may be advantageously learned. Books may suggest what these should be, but books cannot teach how they should be practised properly. 

For the mild diarrhoea that often attacks mountain travellers chlorodyne is in most cases a simple and efficient remedy, but it does not suit all. It is best taken in small doses of ten or fifteen drops, repeated two or three times at intervals of an hour. The heartburn that often occurs at night after a long walk can be controlled by bicarbonate of soda lozenges. 

It is always unwise to start early in the morning on a perfectly empty stomach. When solid food is distasteful, milk, if procurable, will carry a traveller a long way. Some take a flask of rum with them, and a few drops of this in the milk is perhaps less objectionable before an ascent than any other spirit: rum is a strong respiratory stimulant. 

Warm food is best: tins of chocolate and milk can be bought which form an excellent breakfast. It is well always to carry some chocolate in the pocket. Kola chocolate or biscuits answer well.


C T Dent’s Chapter III in the Badminton Library Series on Mountaineering, third edition (1901).

Monday, December 14, 2020

“Mountaineering and health” (4)

Advice from a mountaineering medic of the silver age

Fatigue is a condition that the mountaineer cannot wholly escape. To a great extent he can prepare himself by carefully regulating his pace and the length of his expeditions, allowing due intervals of rest, until he has brought himself into good condition. Without entering into any physiological details, it may be pointed out that fatigue is a complex condition involving something more than the mere tiring of the muscles. 

Ordinary walking is an action so familiar that it becomes automatic, and the mind is not conscious of making any effort; but directly extra work is entailed, as in walking up hill or climbing, or wading through deep snow, the automatic mechanism ceases to be sufficient, and an effort has to be made; the will, in short, has to be called in to stimulate the muscles to do their work. 

At first the mind simply becomes conscious of the muscles; later on this consciousness amounts to discomfort, and then to a sensation of pain. In other words, the unduly exerted muscle becomes recognised and the tired muscle becomes painful. Additional exertion, that is, additional will power-is required to overcome the sensation and to stimulate the activity. This expenditure of energy involves waste, and in a measure explains fatigue. 

That the mental factor is a strong element may be seen any day on the mountain-side. A man who seems utterly tired out, if placed in sudden peril or confronted with something unexpected, becomes immediately capable of great exertion. 

The practical outcome is that the keen and determined men are able to make their muscles do more work than the apathetic, and the men who on the mountainside find constant employment for their minds, whether in attending to the details of the route, enjoying the beauties of the scenery, or in pursuing some scientific aim, will go better than those who treat a mountain as a treadmill.

The expenditure of energy has to be made good in two ways – by taking in oxygen through the lungs, and by the ingestion of food. The natural inclination of the tired man is to stimulants, or at any rate to drink, for fluids are rapidly absorbed, and relief, therefore, is brought about more quickly. Unfortunately, the benefit is only transitory. 

The great point with a tired man is to feed him. When you have a weak man in the party, it is well to feed him early, while he can still eat, and feed him often. If a man is utterly tired out, it is better to let him rest till he can eat, however little, than to attempt to stimulate that which is incapable of response. 

One of the worst possible things to give a man when in this condition is brandy, though it seems to be considered a universal panacea. A little champagne, however, will often provoke an appetite in an exhausted man. Thirty to sixty drops of 'sal volatile' in a little water answers almost equally well. 

It cannot be expected that the digestive powers will be in perfect order after severe exertion, and the traveller who arrives at an inn somewhat tired, at night, will do best to take very light food and abstain from wine altogether. When the entire body is in need of rest before anything else, it is injudicious to throw on it the labour of digesting a heavy meal. 

On the other hand, if no food at all be taken, that best of restoratives, sleep, will keep aloof. Weak tea for those who can take it, or soup of not too rich a nature (and many of the tinned soups are extremely rich), will probably prove more efficient in inducing sleep than a meal of meat. Hot bread and milk is an excellent light supper.

Many of the slight intestinal derangements that travellers in the mountains experience might be obviated by the adoption of simple precautions. The chilling due to rapid evaporation from the surface of the skin is one of the commonest causes of these troubles. 

From anatomical reasons, chill of the surface of the abdomen provokes very directly derangements of the viscera beneath. There is no better preventive of trouble than a cholera-belt. Immediately on arriving at an hotel after a walk, it is wise to bathe in tepid water and to change the damp clothes. If at a bivouac or hut, a vigorous dry rub, with a change at least of flannel shirt and stockings, will serve almost as well.


C T Dent’s Chapter III in the Badminton Library Series on Mountaineering, third edition (1901).

Sunday, December 13, 2020

“Mountaineering and health” (3)

Advice from a mountaineering medic of the silver age

A certain amount of time is required to enable anyone to accustom himself to change of diet and surroundings. The diminution of atmospherical pressure, too, exerts a sensible, although perhaps not much recognised, effect even at elevations of six or seven thousand feet. The matter of diet may be almost summed up in the advice to get the very best you can and to take as much of it as you feel inclined, and this applies to actual climbing as well as to life in valleys. 

The question of alcohol or no alcohol has of course been debated warmly with regard to mountaineering. On the whole, the less taken on mountain expeditions the better, particularly in ascending. 

The majority of the Swiss guides, it is true, do not abjure wine when engaged in their work, especially when it is provided for them free of cost; but then they are in their own country, and accustomed to the native wines from their youth up. Many guides hold to the tradition that on the mountains white wine is bad, inasmuch as it 'cuts the legs.' 

Each one must find out the kind of drink that suits him best, and it need only be noted that in case of fatigue alcoholic stimulants do harm rather than good, and that the thin and sour bottled mixtures which do duty as wine in Alpine resorts are more prone to derange the digestion than to restore strength. 

There is a prejudice in the minds of some against drinking glacier water. It is of course unwise, when much heated, to drink largely of any cold water just before a rest; but while on the march water-drinking, in moderation, will not do the slightest harm. 

The water from the glacier pools is particularly good. Streams coming from melted snow patches need not be avoided unless in trickling over the surface the water has acquired some ingredients injurious to health. This will not be the case in high regions. 

It will be prudent to abstain from drinking water that courses near chalets or in the neighbourhood of herds of cattle. It is best to avoid water when any nettles are seen growing close by the stream. In the valleys, and especially in the villages, of countries such as the Caucasus, it is not wise to trust the water even when it has been filtered. All doubtful water should be boiled before drinking.


C T Dent’s Chapter III in the Badminton Library Series on Mountaineering, third edition (1901).

Saturday, December 12, 2020

“Mountaineering and health” (2)

Advice from a mountaineering medic of the silver age

As in other sports, there is an immense advantage in beginning early. But it is the greatest mistake for the very young to indulge in high mountaineering. Before the age of, say, eighteen, expeditions involving more than eight hours' walking are altogether unwise. The spirit of competition is strong in early life. 

Fascinated by novelty and spurred by emulation, youths in their keenness are apt to misjudge the strength of the machine which has to be driven. The big peaks will attract, of course, and the beginner is anxious to make what in Alpine slang is called a 'book'; but an Alpine 'book' is one that requires a long and careful preface. 

Set any promising member of the rising generation of mountaineers to work with a veteran guide, and not with a young man who has only just emerged from porterhood. The older man will be the better teacher, for he will have learnt to set more store on precision than on mere activity. 

There is no need for any man who leads an average healthy life to submit himself to any special training for mountaineering, but, at the same time, those whose avocations force them to a sedentary life at home must not suppose, even if they are old hands, that they are fit to go up a snow mountain directly they come in sight of one. 

Nor should they, as as too commonly the case, imagine that a single training walk, perhaps a few hours' ramble on a glacier or a hard pound up a steep, hot mule-path is sufficient in itself to overcome the effects of eight or ten months of mountaineering inaction. 

Mountaineers too often, in the desire to make the most of a holiday, ruin their pleasure for the greater part of their tour by-over-exertion at the outset. Rowing, especially on a sliding seat, is the best possible form of preparatory exercise for a man to take who wishes to get himself into condition for mountaineering.


C T Dent’s Chapter III in the Badminton Library Series on Mountaineering, third edition (1901).


Friday, December 11, 2020

“Mountaineering and health” (1)

Alpinistic advice from a mountaineering medic of the silver age

Healthy as the pursuit of mountaineering may be, it is not on physical grounds alone suitable for all sorts and conditions of men. “It is hard,” says Lord Bacon, “to distinguish that which is generally held good and wholesome from that which is good particularly, and fit for thine own body.” 

At the same time, even high mountaineering does not demand any exceptional physical requirement of its votaries. Broadly speaking, any youth who is sufficiently sound to pass the medical examination for entrance into the army is fit for mountaineering, while minor defects, such as short sight or slight varicose veins, need not debar him. 

Men climb, as trainers say horses run, in all shapes. Short, thick-set and muscular men, lean, flat and wiry persons, may make equally good mountaineers. On the whole, the best type physically for climbing purposes is the wiry man of average height and of a weight proportionate to his stature. 

But something more than the corpus sanum is wanted. In all forms of active exercise, as the 'Autocrat of the Breakfast table' has noted, there are three powers simultaneously in action the will, the muscles, and the intellect; and in mountaineering the first and the last are by no means the least important.


C T Dent’s Chapter III in the Badminton Library Series on Mountaineering, third edition (1901).

Monday, December 7, 2020

A vote for conservation

The upper Baltschiedertal
Photo courtesy of Alpine Light & Structure

A somewhat encouraging story from the Alps

In the 1960s, a huge construction boom all but overwhelmed Switzerland. Large tracts of once pristine landscape went under concrete and urban sprawl. In 1972, the Swiss government passed emergency legislation requiring the cantons to designate protected areas.

Not everyone got the message. Down in the Baltschiedertal, a remote mountain gorge above the Rhone Valley, a power company made the inhabitants an offer that was difficult to refuse. If they agreed to a dam being built across their valley, they would get 100,000 Swiss francs a year in compensation. 

As a counter-offer, a grouping of conservationists offered a one-off payment of 300,000 francs. There was an initial meeting with the village authorities. At first, the villagers were critical of the conservationists’ offer. They needed an income, and besides, what about the jobs from the hydro scheme?

Then an elderly mountain guide took the floor. "Är chaschi nit vorstellu, mit emene Gast am Morgu hinter ins Telli z' löufu und ds Bächj nimme keru rüschu,” he said – I can’t imagine setting off in the morning with my client to go up the valley and not be able to hear the stream rushing. 

At that, the villagers had a change of heart and decided to keep their valley the way it was.


«Wir waren die Feuerwehr»: 50 Jahre Stiftung Landschaftsschutz Schweiz (We were the fire brigade: fifty years of the Swiss Foundation for Landscape Conservation), Die Alpen, journal of the Swiss Alpine Club, issue 10/20. 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

"Mode of Travelling in the High Alps" (9)

Alpine advice from a founder of modern mountaineering

It happens now and then, that some interest is felt in deciding upon the comparative height of neighbouring peaks, nearly of the same elevation. An instance may be given in the case of the Mischabelhorner, where the relative height of the Dom and the Taeschhorn is not yet clearly determined. 

A traveller, provided with a spirit level, who attains either peak may easily decide such a question as this, where the shape of the summit will allow him to place himself at a distance of twelve or fifteen feet from one of his companions placed between him and the peak which he wishes to compare with his own position. 

Let c (fig. 4) represent the observer, D an alpenstock held vertically between him and the peak to be observed. Let the point of a knife be carried along the edge of the alpenstock by an assistant., until it is exactly on a level with the eye; and let him make a mark at that point (A), and a similar mark at the point B, exactly in a line between the observer's eye and the top of the distant peak: the distance from his eye to the edge of the alpenstock, and the space between the two marks A and n, should then be accurately measured. 

Where maps exist on which the relative position of the peaks is laid down from actual survey, the distance between them may be found with sufficient accuracy from the scale of the map, and the difference of height between the peaks is found by a rule of three sum. In case, however, this distance cannot be ascertained with moderate accuracy, the bearing of the second peak should be observed with the compass, and attention given to discover at the foot of the mountain some convenient spot (bearing about 90° from the line joining the two peaks) from whence they are both visible. 

From such a position it will not be difficult, by some method similar to those already suggested, to estimate roughly the distance between the two peaks. When these are near together, say, not more than a mile apart, and of nearly the same height, no correction need be made, either for refraction or for the curvature of the earth.


From J Ball, “Suggestions for Alpine travellers”, Chapter XVIII, Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers: A series of excursions by members of the Alpine Club, London, 1859.

"Mode of Travelling in the High Alps" (8)

Horace-Benedict de Saussure, pioneer of Mt Blanc,
with barometer case in background

Alpine advice from a founder of modern mountaineering

Measurement of heights, distances, and angles: There are few travellers who do not from time to time feel the desire to ascertain the heights of objects, the distance from one point to another, or the steepness of slopes. The accurate determination of these requires the careful use of instruments, and the reduction of observations, both processes involving more trouble than unscientific travellers are willing to bestow. 

Setting aside levelling and triangulation, the best methods of determining elevations are by means of the barometer or aneroid, and the boiling point thermometer. Of these instruments the mercurial mountain barometer is undoubtedly the most reliable; but it is 3 ft. 4 in. long when packed in its case, an inconvenient affair for a mountain scramble, and is very liable to accident. 

The aneroid is now very extensively used in government surveys, and is available for altitudes up to about 8000 feet ; but, whether its accuracy beyond this limit has yet been sufficiently tested, may be doubted. A useful little pamphlet, explaining the use of these two instruments, has been published by Elliot Brothers, 30, Strand.


From J Ball, “Suggestions for Alpine travellers”, Chapter XVIII, Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers: A series of excursions by members of the Alpine Club, London, 1859.

Friday, December 4, 2020

"Mode of Travelling in the High Alps" (7)

From C T Dent's Mountaineering in the Badminton Library Series

Alpine advice from a founder of modern mountaineering

In the matter of clothing and diet the tastes of Alpine travellers naturally vary; but perhaps twenty years' experience of the advantages of a Scotch plaid by one who has made it an invariable companion, may entitle him to recommend it. 

Whether for protection in case of an unexpected bivouac, for sleeping in suspicious quarters, or on hay of doubtful dryness, for shelter against the keen wind, while perched on a peak or the ridge of a high pass, or against rain and snow, this most portable of garments is equally serviceable. 

For excursions where some days must be spent in chalets, and no supplies but milk and cheese can be counted on, rice is the most portable and convenient provision. One pound is more than enough for a man's daily diet when well cooked with milk, and with this he is independent of all other supplies. 

To some persons, tea will supply the only luxury that need be desired in addition. A few raisins are a very grateful bonne bouche during a long and steep ascent; but the best preservative against thirst is to keep in the mouth a quartz pebble, an article which the bounty of nature supplies abundantly in most parts of the Alps. 


From J Ball, “Suggestions for Alpine travellers”, Chapter XVIII, Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers: A series of excursions by members of the Alpine Club, London, 1859.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

"Mode of Travelling in the High Alps" (6)

From C T Dent's Mountaineering in the Badminton Library Series

Alpine advice from a founder of modern mountaineering

Besides the ordinary risks of Alpine adventure, which, by reasonable caution, may be brought within as narrow limits as those of other active pursuits, there are the special risks that are sometimes encountered during the continuance, or immediately on the cessation, of bad weather. These are sometimes serious, and should not be made light of by those who care either for their own safety, or that of their companions. 

Bearings carefully taken with the compass, and attention to land-marks, will generally enable a party to retrace their steps, even when these have been effaced by falling snow, and in case of decided bad weather, there is no other rational alternative. 

Newly fallen snow, lying upon the steep frozen slopes of the neve, presents a serious danger to those who attempt to traverse it. The well-known accident, by which three lives were lost, during Dr. Hamel's attempted ascent of Mont Blanc, is one instance of the effects of the avalanches which are easily produced in this condition of the snow; and the attempt to ascend the Great Schreckhorn, recounted in this volume, was near resulting in similar fatal consequences. 

A precaution strongly to be recommended before undertaking expeditions over unknown glaciers, is to make a preliminary survey from some point commanding a view of the route to be traversed, and to preserve a rough plan of the disposition of the crevasses, the direction of any projecting ridges of rock, and even of the situation of snow or ice-bridges in the crevassed parts of the glacier. A reconnaissance of this kind carefully executed, may save hours that would otherwise be lost in searching for a passage in difficult situations.


From J Ball, “Suggestions for Alpine travellers”, Chapter XVIII, Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers: A series of excursions by members of the Alpine Club, London, 1859.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

"Mode of Travelling in the High Alps" (5)

From Edward Whymper's Scrambles amongst the Alps

Alpine advice from a founder of modern mountaineering

The danger of ice and fragments of rock falling on travellers in high mountains, may, to a great extent, be avoided by a judicious choice of route. Experience and observation enable a traveller to recognise at once the positions in which ice is detached from a higher level, and falls abruptly over a precipice, or steep slope of rock. 

In certain situations this is a matter of hourly occurrence, especially in warm weather, and as the falling ice never keeps together in a single mass, but breaks into blocks of various sizes, up to three or four hundred weight, positive risk is incurred by passing in the track of their descent. 

The guides are usually alive to this source of danger, and very careful to avoid it, unless in case of absolute necessity; it is considerably diminished when the exposed place is passed early in the morning, before the sun has reached the upper plateau from which the ice is detached, or late in the evening, after his rays have been withdrawn. 

The least avoidable, but also the most unusual, source of danger in Alpine excursions, arises from the fall of rocks, which may strike the traveller in their descent, or else detach themselves while he is in the act of climbing over them. The first accident is more frequent during, or immediately after, bad weather, and need scarcely count among the ordinary perils of Alpine travel; the second is almost peculiar to limestone rocks, which, especially in the dolomite region of the eastern Alps, often have their outer surface broken into loose and treacherous blocks, that yield to the pressure of hand or foot. Close attention, aided by some experience, will direct the traveller to test the stability of each projecting crag, so as to avoid unnecessary risk. 


From J Ball, “Suggestions for Alpine travellers”, Chapter XVIII, Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers: A series of excursions by members of the Alpine Club, London, 1859.

Monday, November 30, 2020

"Mode of Travelling in the High Alps" (4)

From C T Dent's Mountaineering in the Badminton Library Series.

Alpine advice from a founder of modern mountaineering

For surmounting steep ice slopes the axe is the proper instrument, but there is some difference of opinion as to the most available form and dimensions to be given to it. In considerable expeditions, it is well to be provided with two axes, both to save time, by enabling two to work together, and to provide for the accident of one being lost or broken.

 In cases where there is not much work to be done in cutting steps, a moderately heavy geological hammer, of which one side is made in the form of a short pick, is sometimes a serviceable weapon. 

In the lower part of a glacier, a traveller is sometimes arrested by a short, steep bank of ice, when unprovided with any convenient means of cutting steps. In such a case, and especially when armed with steel points in the heels of his boots, he will sometimes find it easier and safer to mount backwards, propping himself with his alpenstock,and biting into the ice with his heels.
To experienced travellers, no caution as to alpenstocks is needed, but to others it may be well to say, that those commonly sold in Switzerland are never to be relied upon. There is scarcely one of them that is not liable to break, if suddenly exposed to a severe strain. A stout ash pole, well seasoned, and shod with a point of tough, hardened steel, three inches long, instead of the soft iron commonly used, will not only serve all the ordinary purposes, but help to cut steps in a steep descent where it is difficult to use the axe with effect.

The general experience of Alpine travellers is not favourable to crampons, but many have found advantage in screws armed with a projecting double-pointed head which are sold at the Pavillon on the Montanvert. Screws of the same kind, but made of better steel, and arranged in a convenient way for driving them into the soles and heels of boots, are sold in London by Lund in Fleet Street.



From J Ball, “Suggestions for Alpine travellers”, Chapter XVIII, Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers: A series of excursions by members of the Alpine Club, London, 1859.