This article is the unedited version of an article published in the Alpine Journal of 2018: Van Loocke, K. (2018), All by Themselves, in: The Alpine Journal, vol. 122, pp. 219 - 232.
In the early days of mountaineering it was not done to climb without guides. The superior knowledge and technical capacities of early mountain guides usually surpassed those of amateur mountaineers. Therefore, the most obvious thing to do was to hire mountain guides, as is still the case for many people today. Around the middle of the nineteenth century this gradually started to change. We can occasionally observe mountaineers who set out in the mountains on their own without guides. During the 1850’s and 1860’s this remained a relatively rare phenomenon. Only from the 1870’s onwards guideless climbing became increasingly widespread: initially in the Eastern Alps[i], but it would soon spread out over the Alps and beyond.[ii]
While many mountaineers saw this as the way forward, this trend was not met with applause by everyone. For a long time the Alpine Club – together with several mountain guide associations – was a strong adversary of this new kind of mountaineering. In this article we will examine their position more closely. How and when did guideless climbing begin? How was this trend judged by the mountaineering community and specifically the Alpine Club? Are there differences between the position of the Alpine Club and other associations[iii] or the mountaineering community in general and where did these possibly came from? In this article we argue that the Alpine Club was indeed a strong adversary of guideless climbing, even towards the end of the nineteenth century, and that for a long time they held on strongly to a strict and traditional view on mountaineering. This in turn would affect Alpine Club members considerably in their own development and personal views towards guideless climbing in a time where this became widely accepted elsewhere – willingly or not.
Remark: Our focus will be on the Alpine Club and its members. If necessary, our view will be broadened (because the length of this article is limited, the attention given to non-British mountaineers or institutions will be limited).
From the beginning of modern mountaineering guideless climbing did occur. British examples from these early days include the first guideless ascent of Mont Blanc in 1856 by E.S. Kennedy and C. Hudson, while J. Tyndall summited Dufourspitze in 1858, E. Whymper tried – unsuccessfully – to climb the Matterhorn alone in 1862, the brothers Parker, Alfred, Charles and Sandbach were the first to reach the summit of the Finsteraarhorn without the use of mountain guides in 1865, and the Matterhorn would see a guideless climbing party standing on the top for the first time in 1872, an ascent accomplished by A. Cust, A.H. Cawood and J.B. Colgrove. Even though it did occur, guideless climbing, especially amongst British mountaineers, remained rare. Many mountaineers, guides or local people were not happy with these ‘heretics.’ In 1876 C.C. Tucker, together with D.W. Freshfield, heard his critics ask ‘what business had you to try a new peak without guides?’[iv] Earlier in 1870, Cust, Cawood and Colgrove left Zermatt for the Matterhorn ‘without an encouraging word from anyone, on an enterprise apparently regarded by others of a rash or dubious nature.’ One year earlier, in his book The Playground of Europe, Leslie Stephen spoke out hard against this kind of heresy as he calls it: ‘Meanwhile I will only delay my narrative to denounce one other heresy – that, namely, which asserts that guides are a nuisance.’[v] This opposition was mainly based on the feeling that, as Stephen describes it ‘Amongst the greatest of Alpine pleasures is that of learning to appreciate the capacities and cultivate the goodwill of a singularly intelligent and worthy class of men.’ The capacities of local mountain guides were seen as superior to the possible climbing skills of amateur climbers. Up until the golden age of mountaineering (ca. 1854 – 1865) this was probably true. However, during this golden age, more and more amateur climbers improved rapidly and started to outgrow many mountain guides. The reasons for this development are, among others, the improved organization of mountain climbing (i.e. the Alpine Clubs) and the personal development of many mountaineers, but also the stagnation of the development of mountain guides in certain places like in Chamonix as well as elsewhere.[vi]
Before we can turn to the question why many mountaineers, guides, or associations were opposed to the practice of guideless climbing, we will take a brief look at why an increasing number of mountaineers actually started to climb without guides; why they felt ‘climbing […] is in all cases very incomplete unless it is done without guides.’[vii] It is important to note that the reasons given are not to be seen as a complete list. On the contrary: every mountaineer has or had their own personal reasons. The reasons provided in this article are based on elements that frequently reoccur in Alpine literature, diaries, letters etc.
A first and often reoccurring motivation was – and still is – to attain a strong sense of freedom; to be able to ascribe the success as well as failure of ascents to one’s own responsibility and qualities.[viii] By hiring guides, according to A.F. Mummery, there is ‘the absolute certainty with which the day’s proceedings are carried out.’ Surprises will not be met, and when it comes to memories, ‘there is, similarly, infinite delight in recalling all the varying chances of a long and hardy fought victory; but the memory of a weary certainty behind two untiring guides, is wholly colourless, and soon fades into the indistinguishable past.’[ix] Imagination, creativity, responsibility and intelligence fade away ‘under the unimaginative tyranny of any two chance peasants between whom they are advised to suspend the exercise of their own finer faculties and the direction of their very differently constituted frames.’ According to G.W. Young, such mountaineers ‘are in no sense mountaineers, and they may never become so, any more than those who cross the Channel in a steamboat are qualifying as sailors.’[x] Only without guides a mountaineer was truly in command of his own movements, was he solely responsible for the success or failure of his enterprise, and were his creativity, intelligence and imagination challenged. The combination with a sense of Ehrgeiz [xi] – ambition, the search for glory[xii], and especially the wish to attain (difficult) goals on their own, not aided by mountain guides – urged many mountaineers to (try and) let go of the aid of mountain guides. This same ambition, often in combination with an utmost sense of freedom can urge mountaineers to not only to climb without guides, but also solo.
Furthermore, there was a second, more pragmatic ground which hindered the hiring of guides: the cost. This socio-economic element was most notably present in the Eastern Alps. It was responsible for an enormous growth in guideless climbing. German or Austrian working class (rock) climbers – of which there were many – did not possess the same financial means to hire mountain guides every time they wanted to climb as their mostly middle class British counterparts. However, even many British middle class tourists and mountaineers experienced this phenomenon. Even the Alpine Club acknowledged the high cost of hiring mountain guides was ‘a serious hindrance to mountaineering.’[xiii] This way, mountain guides remained a luxury for many mountaineers.[xiv]
A subsequent reason has to do with the organization of mountain guiding. For some, guideless climbing was a way – often the only way – to oppose existing rules or traditions hindering the development of mountaineering – whether on an individual or more general level. For example around Chamonix, British mountaineers set out on guideless exploits, motivated by ‘love of adventure, by the hope of breaking through the exclusive Chamounix system.’[xv] This Chamonix system withheld many mountaineering innovations during the 1860’s and 1870’s. For several climbers guideless climbing was the only way to bypass this rigid and conservative organization. Under pressure of mountaineers and alpine associations Chamonix would eventually modernize.[xvi]
The insufficient skills of the mountain guide were another reason to abandon guides, and to start climbing without them. During the nineteenth century mountain guiding was continuously improving. Obviously this improvement was a long term development. Lack of clear rules, a growing demand, the absence of training courses or professional organizations etc. often had a serious impact on the qualities of guides. Many guides, especially before ca. the 1870’s and 1880’s – but also later on[xvii] – had dubious mountaineering skills. The professionalization of mountain guiding would drastically improve the overall qualities of mountain guides. However, the dubious skills of mountain guides could urge top mountaineers to set out on exploits themselves.
At the same time, many top mountaineers simply outgrew their mountain guides. For example many Austrian and German climbers focussed almost exclusively on rock climbing and caused a rapid technical development in regard to rock climbing towards the late nineteenth century. This continuous improvement of rock climbing techniques and the urge to climb ever more difficult routes made climbing with guides more or less obsolete.[xviii] This reason corresponds to Mummery’s explanation of why guideless climbing was more rewarding.[xix]
A final reason can be found in the changing relationships between mountain guides and mountaineers, as well as in the changing perspective hereupon on the part of the mountaineer. In the early days of mountaineering mountaineers and guides often teamed up for longer periods of time. Spells of several weeks were not an exception.[xx] As a result, the Golden Age of mountaineering is also known for its more profound relationships between guide and client. From the 1860’s – 1870’s onwards this changed strongly. Each year, more tourists were coming to the Alps – a commodification of the Alps and mountaineering if you will – often for shorter periods of time. This strong bond between client and guide that existed for many mountaineers, became increasingly rare. Especially for skilled mountaineers this development felt as if guides were no longer strong, independent guides, but rather lackeys as ‘The swarming of the tourist has brought with it the wretched distinctions of class, and the modern guide inhabits the guide’s room and sees his Monsieur only when actually on an expedition. Cut off from the intercourse of the old days, the guide tends more and more to belong to the lackey tribe, and the ambitious tourist looks upon him much as his less aspiring brother regards his mule. The constant repetition of the same ascent has, moreover, tended to make the guide into a sort of contractor. For so many tens or hundreds of francs he will take you anywhere you like to name.’[xxi] Mountain guides, according to some, lost their sense of independence, creativity, and even strength. At the same time, many mountaineers must have felt as if ‘the skill of the traveller counts for absolutely naught; the practised guide looks on him merely as luggage.’ All the more reason to climb without guides.[xxii]
To a certain level the view many top mountaineers had on new generations of mountain guides was coloured by a romanticized look on earlier generations of guides and by prejudices regarding the influence of an increasing influx of tourists towards the Alps. Many skilled mountaineers during the latter half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century were convinced that this inflow had a negative effect on the overall qualities of mountain guiding. However, due to this growth of tourism mountain guiding improved rapidly across the Alps.[xxiii] This growth led to the establishment of mountain guiding associations, stricter regulations and training courses for guides, etc. Without this growth, mountain guides would not have had the same opportunities to improve continually. Nevertheless, mass-tourism had a negative impact on the view of many mountaineers towards mountain guiding, thus opening up space for guideless mountaineering.
At the same time – just as in the early days of mountaineering – elite mountaineers probably remained responsible for the need of guides to continuously improve: not on an institutional level, but rather on a technical level. In an indirect manner, these mountaineers are, in part, responsible for the increasingly tougher rules, admission criteria, training courses etc.[xxv]
In conclusion: both top mountaineers and tourists were (and still are) needed to attain the high qualities guides need to possess nowadays. Top mountaineers were needed for the urge for guides to improve on a more technical level. On the other hand, tourists, because of their sheer numbers, had a major influence of the institutional part of mountain guiding. Despite the frequent criticism towards each other, both could and have benefited from one another. This way, tourists could benefit from higher standards. Top mountaineers could gain from the possibilities a better organization offered because it forced mountain guides to continuously improve their skills.
In the early days of modern mountaineering, until the 1860’s – 1870’s, guides were regarded as an absolute necessity by the vast majority of mountaineers. This was not illogical in a time when the Alps were scarcely explored and mountaineering techniques were mediocre at best. Mountaineers, without much or even no experience or knowledge did not have much of a choice but to entrust themselves to mountain guides[xxvi] if they wanted to climb and explore hitherto untrodden places. From the 1860’s onwards more regular mountaineers were able to improve and develop their own knowledge and techniques. This way, the absolute necessity to climb with guides dwindled.[xxvii]
In the eastern Alps this new trend spread much faster than in the Western Alps. The social background of many Austrian and German mountaineers has been of a great importance. In the Western Alps, where most of the British mountaineers were active, the trend of guideless climbing developed at a slower rate. As the socio-economic element was of less importance, most mountaineers kept climbing with mountain guides. This socio-economic element has also indirectly influenced the point of view of the Alpine Club with regard to guideless climbing.
This new fashion was welcomed by some, but not everyone met it with applause. On the contrary, one can understand that mountain guides themselves or the mountain guide associations were not very pleased with this tendency as it not only meant that their revenues might decrease, but also the ‘damaging’ of their status.[xxviii] However, as mountaineering experienced a strong and continuous growth, stretching out until today, mountain guides and their associations would not experience much, or even any, damage to their profession.
Perhaps less to be expected is the displeasure or animosity of many British amateur mountaineers and the Alpine Club. Especially the Alpine Club, or at least many of its members, would remain an adversary of guideless climbing until the late nineteenth century.[xxix] Their stand on guideless climbing was partly responsible for the fact that guideless climbing remained – at least for British mountaineers – a less practiced activity until the end of the nineteenth century.[xxx] This can be deducted, first, by the way occasional guideless climbers tried to defend themselves against any possible attacks on the ‘folly’ of their enterprises. Secondly, and this is more indirect, by the way several mountaineers argue that guideless climbing is superior to climbing with guides (reasons for this view: cf. infra).[xxxi] However, even they most of the time climbed with mountain guides, even forming strong partnerships with them (for example Mummery and Burgener, or Young and Knubel). We argue that this seemingly paradoxical stance is strongly influenced by the Alpine Clubs position on guideless climbing.[xxxii] While mountaineers towards the end of the nineteenth century did not have to defend themselves as strongly as before for their guideless undertakings,[xxxiii] this paradoxical stand remained present.
Especially among top mountaineers a preference to climb without mountain guides developed during the latter part of the nineteenth century. ‘In 1892,’ Mummery wrote, ‘I once again started for the mountain. This time we were without guides, for we had learnt the great truth that those who wish to really enjoy the pleasures of mountaineering, must roam the upper snows trusting exclusively to their own skill and knowledge.’[xxxiv] A reasoning followed by more and more mountaineers.
The Alpine Club was founded by mountaineers who were accustomed to climbing with guides. As observed above, guideless climbing occurred, but it was a rare sight. The idea of amateurs tackling the same mountains on their own, let alone by more difficult routes, as amateurs aided by ‘professional’ guides was unthinkable. Some members even wanted the Alpine Club to speak out explicitly ‘against mountaineering without guides, a practice I believe to be fraught with danger.’[xxxv] Several of the first generation of British mountaineers feared that ‘if ever it becomes fashionable for English travellers to attack the High Alps without guides and without due experience, the era of bad accidents will begin.’[xxxvi] They were more or less convinced that amateurs could not attain the same mountaineering qualities as guides, not least because ‘the guide has been practicing during his whole life, the amateur during a few vacations.’[xxxvii] Climbing without guides was, in their eyes, not completely impossible – for instance on smaller excursions, when guides were not available[xxxviii], or after years and years of training[xxxix] - but for most it would be altogether risky and reckless.[xl] Many of the early British guideless ascents often provoked ‘an outburst of indignant criticism.’[xli] Within the Alpine Club there was, however, from the beginning a discussion on this matter, even though many did not agree with this new trend. A general agreement was found that ‘the neglect to take them [guides] when the party is not exclusively composed of practised mountaineers, is totally unjustifiable, and calculated to produce the most lamentable results.’ Yet, the Alpine Club was convinced that ‘it is impossible to give a formal code of rules upon the subject.’[xlii] Clear and distinct rules on when and when not to take guides on excursions never came into existence, yet warnings regarding the subject of guideless mountaineering appeared regularly in the Alpine Journal.
A negative stance on guideless climbing did not only came out of cautiousness, but it was also caused by fear of several mountaineers to be degraded to second class mountaineers as they realized that ‘a standard was being set which was higher than that to which they could attain. […] it was inevitable that those who could not lead a guideless party up a second-class peak would not welcome a development which threatened to divide mountaineers into the guideless élite and a guided proletariat.’[xliii] While the Alpine Club showed herself to be very progressive during the 1850’s and 1860’s when they were at the frontline in trying to urge the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix to let go of their own conservatism and start opening up towards new trends and innovations, after a few decades it became the Alpine Club itself, who often became conservative and protective of the past.
Finally, this negative point of view was – probably more indirect or unconscious – based on a romanticized view of mountain guiding. One or more amateurs together with one or more guides were the ideal type – to use the terminology of Max Weber[xliv] – of a mountaineering companionship, or seilschaft in German.
Even though ideal types cannot be found in reality as such, they often have an enormous impact on the views of people. This way, this ideal type has influenced – and still influences – many mountaineers around the world. Especially for many people outside the mountaineering community, mountaineering without guides is seen as folly, a reckless undertaking. In the 1860’s – 1880’s this ideal type was probably much stronger, much more present. Travel stories and papers in the Alpine Journal often refer to the way amateurs looked up at mountain guides. This ideal type, which the first generation of (mostly British) amateurs helped constructing, proved to be a considerable force to reckon with when people started to climb without guides. Opposition to this ideal type could be harmful for the image of mountaineering (due to the feared increase of accidents). This, of course, was to be prevented. Therefore, guideless climbing should be discouraged, and only be undertaken by those who were truly up to this task.
This Alpine Club point of view could be called conservative. While other associations, French, German, Austrian, etc. embraced guideless climbing in an earlier stage, the Alpine Club stayed behind.[xlv] At the same time this conservatism does not have to be seen entirely negative. By constantly informing mountaineers of the possible dangers, the responsibility and experience that is needed, and by being extremely cautious, possible accidents may have been prevented. Especially in the long term we can say that ‘even if the Alpine Club tended in the past to overstress caution, this was a fault on the right side.’[xlvi] While in the early days the Alpine Club was more or less opposed to the emergence of guideless climbing, in later years they accepted this new phenomenon, but at the same time, retained a very prudent approach. This point of view can be summarized with the words of Frederick Pollock: ‘As to climbing without guides, it is a thing neither to be lightly undertaken nor to be indiscriminately condemned.’[xlvii]
This conservatism did not mean that guideless climbs were not acknowledged or guideless climbers were banned, or unwelcome in the Alpine Club.[xlviii] Nevertheless, it was not encouraged and often rather contested The Alpine Cub often spoke out strongly against this ‘heresy’, and guided climbing was proclaimed the best and only correct manner of mountaineering. Guideless climbers from ca. the 1850’s to ca. the 1880’s experienced hard times being acknowledged by the Alpine Club. They were often ‘told in a nice (I mean really nice) letter, […], that my conduct was utterly subversive of the highest mountaineering morality and might easily lead silly sheep astray.’[xlix]
This conservatism, whether or not in a good or negative manner, has probably influenced many British mountaineers. The case of Young, Mummery etc. clearly indicates they preferred guideless climbing, but at the same time, for various reasons, they mostly climbed with guides. One of those reasons, we argue, is the point of view of the Alpine Club and the strength of certain opinions and prejudices concerning guideless climbing.
The Alpine Clubs objection to guideless climbing was diminishing towards the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth.[li] ‘It may be said that at no time in our history has climbing without guides been more popular than at present. In days of yore the words ‘guideless climbing’ have often been the prelude to a note of warning; but a glance over the names associated with recent guideless expeditions suggests that the time-honoured admonition may now be withheld.’[lii] From the 1870’s onwards guideless mountaineering was properly discussed by the Alpine Club. However, it would take some time before it became widely accepted.[liii]
From the 1870’s and especially after the 1880’s, the Alpine Club gradually opened up to guideless climbing, even though it would still take a while for it to become generally accepted. This can be deduced by the way the Alpine Journal approaches this subject. Whereas before ca. 1880 reports on guideless ascents were more or less absent, after the 1880’s more and more first-hand reports of guideless expeditions were published.[liv] Guideless ascents became more accepted but the Alpine Club nevertheless remained very prudent as they ‘strongly felt that Messrs. Gardiner and Pilkingtons’ example was only to be followed with impunity by equally competent mountaineers; and that there is no reason for the club to alter its previously expressed opinion that ‘mountaineering without guides’ is for ‘the general’ a highly dangerous form of amusement which it is its duty, as a body, to discourage.’[lv]
As observed above, the Alpine Club retained a cautious approach towards guideless climbing.[lvi] Guideless climbing an sich was not problematic anymore – on the contrary. Only guideless climbing by insufficiently trained, inexperienced or reckless climbers was: ‘the dangerous increase in the numbers of unqualified, guideless parties attempting the great peaks. We have no quarrel with guideless climbing. An expert has every right to choose for himself, and there is far more of mountaineering and of holiday in crossing a small pass with tried friends for pleasure than in being treated as an item in the business of a big climb by an unsympathetic peasant.’[lvii] This is a point of view still held by most (if not all) mountaineering associations.
The Alpine Obituary, written by C.E. Mathews (founding member of the Alpine Club), in the Alpine Journal of 1884, offers an excellent example of this Alpine Club point of view. Mathews warns his readers of the dangers of guideless climbing (as well as for instance solo climbing[lviii]). He does not condemn it but warns people about the possible dangers.[lix] Moreover, towards the end of the nineteenth century guideless climbing was ever more seen as ‘an interesting, and legitimate outgrowth of modern mountaineering,’[lx] provided that the necessary caution was taken into account. Otherwise ‘guideless climbing is likely to fall into disrepute, and a most admirable form of exercise would thus be condemned, owing to the carelessness of a few of the increasing number who find pleasure in such climbing.’[lxi]
Ever more mountaineers had a more positive perspective on guideless climbing: Mummery, Lung, Young, Conway etc. actively promoted guideless climbing, whether or not supported by their Alpine Club.[lxii]
It is almost – if not entirely – impossible to measure the precise effects of the Alpine Clubs position on guideless mountaineering towards its members. We can only speculate on the number of British mountaineers climbing with guides who would have taken on guideless climbing if the Alpine Club would have been more indulgent towards this new trend. Nevertheless it should be possible to deduce certain assumptions on this subject from alpine literature.
Notable guideless mountaineers such as Geoffrey Winthrop Young or Alfred Frederick Mummery have reflected thoroughly on their own stance towards guideless climbing.[lxiii] They and others were strong proponents of guideless climbing in practice, but even more in their writings. It is in the distinction between their practice and theoretical principles that we might be able to deduce some of the effects of the conservative or at least very prudent approach of the Alpine Club in the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century.
On the one hand, many proponents of guideless mountaineering actively promoted their manner of climbing in their writings. On the other hand, however, most of them, even mountaineers as Young or Mummery, kept climbing with mountain guides extensively. It is possible to observe how many innovative and forward-looking mountaineers appeared to have been struggling to put into practice their own convictions. Not only did they often climb together with mountain guides, they even formed strong partnerships – even comradeships with them.[lxiv] This way they might even – paradoxically – correspond more than most mountaineers with the romanticized ideal type of the mountaineer as observed above.
For example, Young struggles with his own views on guideless climbing. Guideless climbing was his ideal way of climbing, but in practice he (just as many others) held on to ‘his’ mountain guide. Even though they were more often seen as chaperons than as true mountain guides, this is an indication of the influence of the dominant vision within the British mountaineering community regarding guideless climbing. Even on ‘easier’ excursions many mountaineers, as late as the beginning of the twentieth century, felt the need to hire one or more guides – even if it was only because they ‘thought it discreet to engage a […] guide’.[lxv]
The dominant view on the necessity of mountain guides is reflected in the aforementioned struggle of for instance G.W. Young, but also in the way they presented their guided climbs and how they often tried to minimize the difference between guided and guideless ascents.[lxvi] As guided climbing became gradually the new ideal type of true mountaineering, British top-mountaineers tried to minimize the very real distinction between guideless and guided climbing, as for instance in the following passage: ‘... he will not allow his decision to take a guide to be influenced by any fear that the credit of his party will be diminished in any competent mountaineer's eyes by the fact that a prejudiced or a thoughtless modern virtuosity might jeer at it as "guided".’[lxvii] In this passage both the influence of a more conservative image of mountaineering as well as the effect of a new and rapidly developing trend can be distinguished. Young (and others) kept climbing with mountain guides, which, I argue is in part due to the position of the Alpine Club, but at the same time he tried to portray his exploits as guideless.
The cautious or conservative point of view of the Alpine Club has probably had an important effect on the development of guideless climbing among British mountaineers. At the same time, this cannot be the sole explanation why many top-mountaineers, who denounced climbing with guides, kept on climbing with them. As not much British mountaineers were able to reach for example Young’s, Mummery’s or Ryan’s level of mountaineering. In their respective guides they found an excellent companion (and thus more than a simple guide), on which they could, most of the time, rely.
Furthermore, British top-mountaineers (for example Ryan, Mallory, Young, Mummery, Jones, Hereford,…) were probably not always available for climbing together during the few weeks each year they spent in the mountains. They had one or more guides with whom they often teamed up. Those guides, who were available more often, could actually challenge their clients or rather partners (and vice versa). That way, if those mountaineers wanted to continually improve their own skills, it was in their own interest to engage top-guides rather than hold on rigidly to their guideless beliefs and climb with less skilled amateurs.[lxviii] This is a clear indicator that even around the turn of the century, for most British mountaineering, even the ‘top-tier’ climbers, mountain guides were more or less indispensable.[lxix]
[i] Austrian and German climbers would pave the way for guideless climbing. The social composition of the German and Austrian Alpine Club (DuOAV) would to large extent be responsible for the rise and development of this kind of climbing. …
[ii] For instance on the British Isles, the Caucasus, Norway, etc.
[iii] For instance in France: Lunn, A. A century of mountaineering, p. 137: ‘The guided climber hardly exists for the modernists of the French school, but they make an exception for Young.’
[iv] Tucker, C.C. (1876), The Cima Dela Vezzana, in: The Alpine Journal, VII, p. 61 (57 – 65).
[v] Stephen, L. (1871), The Playground of Europe, pp. 13 – 14.
[vi] Article Alpine Journal Van Loocke, K. (2015)… The Alpine Club not only influenced the Chamonix mountain guides, but they had a considerable influence on the outlook and organization of Swiss, German, and Austrian mountain guiding. Freshfield, D.W. (1874), Alpine Notes, in: The Alpine Club, 6, p. 369 – 372.
[vii] Stogdon, J. (1916), Random Memories of Some Early Guideless Climbs, in: The Alpine Journal, XXX, p. 156.
[viii] ‘In any case the trade must be learnt under professionals, but the joy of performance, the pleasure of well-applied knowledge and the application of all the delicate arts of the game can never be really felt till a man depends entirely on himself.’ Stogdon, J. (1916), Random Memories of Some Early Guideless Climbs, in: The Alpine Journal, XXX, p. 156 – 157; ‘Moreover without guides you can go your own pace. You can halt as long as you like at, and after, yours meals and on top of your mountain. There is a delightful feeling of freedom and independence, and, above all, what you do you do yourself.’ Kirkpatrick, W.T. (1905), Ten Years Without Guides, in: The Alpine Journal, XXII, p. 549; ‘One of the many merits of guideless climbing is that you are always free to discard old routes and attempt new ways.’ Hastings, G. (1895), Over Mont Blanc, by the Brenva Route, without Guides, in: The Alpine Journal, XVII, p. 537 (537 – 551).
[ix] Mummery, A.F. (1895), My climbs in the Alps and Caucasus, p. 92 – 93.
[x] Young, G.W. (1920), Mountain Craft, p. 101 – 102. ‘The great public […] cherishes one fixed idea on the subject of climbing – that the guide is a providence who knows and shows and goes the one sacred and impeccable ‘path’ which every genuine mountain possesses: to go without him is to tempt destruction deliberately; […] The importance of the error is that its persistence permits it to dominate the minds of a large number of men who ‘do mountains’ every year from hotels. To them, mountaineering means only the traditional route up in the traditional way; and tradition demands the surrender of their intelligence and personal inclinations for a day to the unimaginative tyranny of any two chance peasants between whom they are advised to suspend the exercise of their own finer faculties and the direction of their very differently constituted frames. Their ambition is laudable, but they are in no sense mountaineers, and they may never become so, any more than those who cross the Channel in a steamboat are qualifying as sailors. But they form a considerable portion of those who go among the mountains, and include a large number of those who give the public their experiences. In so far their patronage contributes to confirm and perpetuate the long-lived error.’
[xi] Grupp, P. (2008), Faszination Berg. Die Geschichte des Alpinismus, p. 73.
[xii] This Ehrgeiz would to large extent influence the so-called ‘heroic climbing style’ practiced by mostly German and Austrian climbers during the 1930’s und national socialism. For the glory of country and leader a generation of climbers would attack the hardest walls in the Alps, among which the north faces of the Eiger, Matterhorn and Grandes Jorasses. This style, which came at a high human cost, was criticized by many.
[xiii] Grove, F.C. (1874), Alpine Notes, in: The Alpine Journal, 6, p. 430 – 431.
[xiv] ‘But on many days during the first season in the Val d’Anniviers, I was alone. Because guides were luxuries, and, of still more consequence, it took long to overcome that shyness of mixing with men of a different language and class which weighs heavily upon a type of public-school-bred islander. Young, G.W. (1927), On High Hills, p. 39.
[xv] ‘In attempt the ascent, we were simply actuated by love of adventure, by the hope of breaking through the exclusive Chamounix system, and by the desire of making ourselves familiar with the beauty and topography of the Alpine regions.’ Kennedy, Where there’s a will, there’s a way, p. VIII. ‘… the wish to break down the oppressive and mischievous system on which the Chamonix guides were managed, and for this purpose they [Hudson and Kennedy] determined to go without guides.’ Longman, W. (1878), Modern Mountaineering and the History of the Alpine Club, p. 15.
[xvi] Van Loocke, K. (2015), …
[xvii] For example: The Alpine Journal of 1903 refers to the causes of that years accidents as, amongst others, ‘an increase in the quantity and a decrease in the quality of the guides.’ This evolution or feeling has probably encouraged many – whether they were prepared for it or not – to start climbing without the use of guides. Yeld, G. (ed.)(1903), Alpine Accidents in 1903, in: The Alpine Journal, XXI, p. 552.
[xviii] ‘On rock mountains many seem to think that a guide’s powers so conspicuously excel those of his amateur rival, that even an inferior professional is vastly superior to the best amateur. […] That this is much less the case now than formerly, ascents of the Meije, or the still more notable instance of discovery by amateurs of the right route up the Monte della Disgrazia from the Val Malenco side, sufficiently prove. The latter, indeed, is perhaps the most conspicuous instance of amateurs succeeding where the best of guides had tried and failed.’ Dent, C. (1886), Amateurs and Professional Guides of the Present Day, in: The Alpine Journal, XII, p. 296 (291 – 300); ‘But we are now [at the end of the nineteenth century] faced with the fact that only a few alpine peasants can acquire these qualities, and that the demand for good guides is larger than the supply.’ Pilkington, C. (1899), Address to the Alpine Club, in: The Alpine Journal, XIX, p. 297 (285 – 298).
[xix] Even around the 1900’s, guides in Chamonix were not always very well qualified, despite being urge to continually improve by British mountaineers and other alpine associations (foremost the Alpine Club and the Swiss Alpine Club). This indicates that certain problems had not disappeared completely since the 1860’s and 1870’s: ‘On my first visit to the Aiguilles, four of us had spent some twenty wicked hours upon the insidious little peak. Misled as to the route by the misstatements of some worser Chamonix guides – from whose threats of maltreatment in the valley I had still, in those distant days, to protect my ‘foreigner’ Knubel – we had assaulted the great Requin buttress directly up from the Mer de Glace, and so made, unwittingly, a first ascent as difficult as that of the Dru.’ Young, G.W. (1927), On High Hills, p. 163.
‘It is a matter of experience that good guides are least enterprising in their own valley. The difficult and the unclimbed in their own region are familiar to them as such, traditionally; and the voice of an inferior herd of colleagues, clamorous against any challenge to the tradition, destroys their initiative. As the moment approached for defying the terrors of the east ridge, invested for him from childhood with the superstition of inaccessibility, Laurent, our own local providence, was evidently fighting a losing battle with the genius of valley pessimism.’ Young, G.W. (1927), On High Hills, p. 258.
[xx] Wills, A. (1856), Wandering Among The High Alps, p. 318.
[xxi] Mummery, A.F. (1895), My climbs in the Alps and Caucasus, p. 90 – 91.
‘The swarming of the tourist has brought with it the wretched distinctions of class, and the modern guide inhabits the guide’s room and sees his Monsieur only when actually on an expedition. Cut off from the intercourse of the old days, the guide tends more and more to belong to the lackey tribe, and the ambitious tourist looks upon him much as his less aspiring brother regards his mule. The constant repetition of the same ascent has, moreover, tended to make the guide into a sort of contractor. For so many tens or hundreds of francs he will take you anywhere you like to name. The skill of the traveller counts for absolutely naught; the practised guide looks on him merely as luggage. […] The guideless climber is free from all these banefull and blighting influences. […] My main objection to guide-led parties, however, is to be found in the absolute certainty with which the day’s proceedings are carried out.’
[xxii] Mummery, A.F. (1895), My climbs in the Alps and Caucasus, p. 90 – 91.
[xxiii] Hungerbühler, A. (2013), Könige der Alpen.; Van Loocke, K. (2010), Geld, Vriendschap en Sociale Tegenstellingen. Een onderzoek naar de paradoxale relaties tussen gidsen en alpinisten in de negentiende eeuw, Master dissertation, Ghent University, promotor: dr. Pieter François (Ghent University, University of Hertfordshire), p. 201.
[xxiv] A long term process, far from over after the 1880’s. Unfortunately, we do not have the space to reconstruct this process of professionalization and institutionalization more closely. For an excellent and detailed history of the development of mountain guiding (focus on Switzerland), read: Hüngerbuhler, A. (2013), Könige der Alpen.
[xxv] Whether influenced by individual mountaineers (f.i.: I was making to train-on a young and unspoiled guide.’ Young, G.W. (1927), On High Hills, p. 98 – 103) or by the associations representing those mountaineers (cf. Van Loocke, K. (2015)…)
[xxvi] In as far we can already speak of ‘real’ mountain guides. In this time, mountain guides were mostly herdsmen, farmers, shepherds, etc. who occasionally guided tourists on glaciers or mountain peaks.
[xxvii] It has to be included that for the vast majority of mountaineers (I.e. tourists) guides remained almost indispensable. The story that will be told here is mostly applicable to ‘elite’ mountaineers. These are only a minority, but despite their numerical disadvantage, these elite mountaineers do create and develop the framework wherein all mountaineers are active.
[xxviii] See for instance the reaction of the Zermatt mountain guides at the time of the first guideless ascent of the Matterhorn (cf. infra). Freshfield, D.W. (ed)(1878), Alpine Notes, in: The Alpine Journal, VIII, p. 110.
[xxix] ‘The expedition [the first guideless ascent of the Matterhorn] was carried through without a hitch, and attracted much attention at a period when guideless climbing was not so common as it has since become.’ Parish, J.B. (1915), In Memoriam: Arthur Cust, in: Alpine Journal, XXVII, p. 343.
[xxx] This drift of thought leads me to allude a form of mountaineering that has, not unnaturally, of late tended to develop.’ Dent, C. (1891), Address to the Alpine Club, in: The Alpine Journal, XV, p. 12 (3 – 16).
[xxxi] This is especially true for the second half of the nineteenth century. Towards the end of this century guideless climbing increased immensely. See for instance: Alpine notes, in: The Alpine Journal, XXVI, 1912, pp. 215 – 216; Yeld, G. (ed)(1907), The Alpine Club Library, in: The Alpine Journal, XIII, p. 160; p. 487.
[xxxii] In part, these strong relationships are also the consequence of the fact that top mountaineers did not had (have) that much choice of climbing partners. As for amateur mountaineers, their activities are limited to a number of weeks per year. Mountain guides offered a way out of this problem. They were available for a longer spell of time (inasmuch as they were not hired by someone else). Guide and amateur were this way to some extent bound to each other. Guide and amateur could see each other as partners, companions, rather than being in a client-guide situation (he [A. Lung] considers that Young's association with Knubel 'had far more in common with that which unites members of a guideless party.’ Lung, A. (19??), Geoffrey Winthrop Young). Be it noted that these kind of partnerships cannot be seen as exactly the seem as amateur partnerships. The former was still a payed for partnership, which is not the case with amateurs.
[xxxiii] The numerous entries in the Alpine Journal of guideless ascents can confirm this.
[xxxiv] Mummery, A.F. (1895), My climbs in the Alps and Caucasus, p. 90.
[xxxv] Grove, F.C. (1872), The Comparative Skill of Travellers and Guides, in: The Alpine Journal, V, p. 95 (87 – 96).
[xxxvi] Stephen, L. (1866), Alpine Dangers, in: The Alpine Journal, II, p. 280 – 281. Or: ‘… I think [J. Tyndall]… if climbing without guides were to become habitual, deplorable consequences would assuredly sooner or later ensue.’ Longman, W. (1878), Modern Mountaineering and the History of the Alpine Club, p. 37.
[xxxvii] Stephen, L. (1866), Alpine Dangers, in: The Alpine Journal, II, p. 281.
[xxxviii] For example: ‘I am no disciple of that gospel of mountaineering without guides which Mr. Girdlestone has preached so zealously by example as well as precept. But if there is any justification for the practice, that justification exists when guides are not to be had.’ Bryce, J. (1878), The Ascent of Ararat, in: The Alpine Journal, VIII, p. 210 (208 -213).
[xxxix] For example: ‘Expeditions without guides were, no doubt, highly enjoyable, but were only justifiable when the members of the party had first qualified themselves for the work by the training which all authorities agreed was necessary to make a good mountaineer.’ Freshfield, D.W. (ed.)(1878), Proceedings of the Alpine Club, in: The Alpine Journal, VIII, p. 232; Mathews, C.E. (1893), New Experiences in the Old Playground, in: The Alpine Journal, XVI, p. 22 (19 – 30).
[xl] ‘The truth is that the number of amateurs really competent to undertake serious expeditions without guides is considerably less than the number who think that they can do so.’ Dent, C. (1891), Address to the Alpine Club, in: The Alpine Journal, XV, p. 13 (3 – 16).
[xli] Mathews, C.E. (1882), The growth of Mountaineering, in: The Alpine Journal, X, p. 256 (251 – 263).
[xlii] Grove, F.C. (1872), The Comparative Skill of Travellers and Guides, in: The Alpine Journal, V, p. 96 (87 – 96).
[xliii] Arnold Lunn ‘A century of mountaineering 1857 – 1957’, p. 86.
[xliv] Weber, M. (1949), Methodology of the Social Sciences, New York, Free Press;
McFalls, L. H. (2007), Max Weber’s ‘objectivity’ reconsidered, Toronto, University of Toronto Press.
[xlv] ‘The guided climber hardly exists for the modernists of the French school, but they make an exception for Young.’ Lunn, A. A century of mountaineering, p. 137; While the Alpine Club might have been more reserved towards guideless climbing than other mountaineering associations, this does not mean these associations embraced guideless climbing without any debate (‘At the annual meeting at Bienne in August 1887, the question of mountaineering without guides was warmly discussed. It was finally agreed that a,y direction of the Club [S.A.C.] in the matter would lead to no good result, if it did not aggravate the evil.’ J.S. (1889), Reviews and Notices: Jahrbuch des Schweizer Alpenclub, vol. XXIII, 1887 – 8. (Bern.), in: The Alpine Journal, XIV, p. 263 (257 – 263).
[xlvi] Lunn, A. A century of mountaineering, p. 239.). Important to read this part!
[xlvii] Pollock, F. (1882), In Memoriam. Peter Rubi, in: The Alpine Journal, X, p. 81 (78 – 82). Even someone as Leslie Stephen, a strong advocate of mountain guides, stated in the late 1880’s that ‘a man should, if possible, qualify himself to climb without guides. To take a guide is an obvious precaution, necessary for some people even in the simplest expeditions, unnecessary for others even in the most difficult. Every vigorous young man should try to place himself in the class which can dispense with guides. That is the way to restore the charm of novelty to peaks already climbed. […] And in this matter, I hold that the Alpine Club should do everything in its power to set a high standard, to condemn all rashness, and to point out that it is as dangerous to dispense with a guide as to dispense with a rope in crossing hidden crevasses, until you have skill and experience enough to be capable of acting as a guide to yourself.’ Stephen, L. (1888), Alpine Notes, in: The Alpine Journal, XIII, p. 469.
[xlviii] For instance: ‘The two brothers Alfred and Sandbach Parker were elected members of the Alpine Club, on guideless qualifications, in December 1860, and remained members for many years.’ Farrar, J.P. (1916), Passages in 1860, etc., in: The Alpine Journal, XXX, p. 25. On the other hand, many – but not all – did oppose to this new tendency to leave behind mountain guides: ‘As regards guideless climbing, Mathews did not go so far as some older men, who protested against it altogether.’ Morshead, F. (1905), In Memoriam, in: The Alpine Journal, XXII, p. 597.
[xlix] Stogdon, J. (1916), Random Memories of Some Early Guideless Climbs, in: The Alpine Journal, XXX, p. 147.
[l] Did this more conservative point of view simply slowly fade away? Why and When did this occur? For example, outside of the Alps, mountain guides were more or less completely absent. Local ‘guides’ were used, but they were not like the mountain guides in the Alps (who were actual leaders of a party). Sherpa’s (coolies??) were not much more than porters, lackeys,… At the same time, the thought of bringing Swiss, Austrian, French guides on expeditions in the Himalayas, etc. was almost non-existent.
[li] ‘Guideless climbing, which, under proper conditions, has received the approval of the authorities on mountaineering, has been increasingly practiced.’ Walker, H. (1893), Address to the Alpine Club, in: The Alpine Journal, XVI, p. 288 (285 -293; ‘Then in some independent minds a bold counsel of perfection was broached – to climb without guides. The first Englishman to put it in practice succeeded only in proving that for some people, including himself, the experiment was too rash. The conservatives among us chuckled prematurely over the indiscretions Mr. Girdlestone revealed to the world. For meantime another party, Mr. Charles Pilkington, Mr. Lawrence Pilkington, and Mr. Gardiner, were steadily setting themselves to be as capable as guides. The experiment, in my opinion, was perfectly legitimate, it has proved successful, and it has led to a great advance in mountaineering. It may be granted that in the very front rank of mountaineers there will always be two guides to every amateur. […] But I do not see my way to allow much more. I am conscious that this is indeed a change from the time – before 1885 – when to whisper that an amateur might become nearly as a good as a guide was held to be the mark of a vain boaster or an ignorant person. But, judging from recent experience, there are now members of the Club with whom I would rather go up a mountain that with any guide out of the first rank.’ Freshfield, D.W. (1897), An Address to the Alpine Club, in: The Alpine Journal, XVIII, p. 12 (1 – 17); ‘But whoever was the first offender, guideless climbing gradually came to be recognized as a necessary evil, and the older members of the Club slowly yielded their assent. But they only did so with many protests and much good advice, recognizing that in this matter we should move cautiously if we were to ensure safety.’ Pilkington, C. (1899), Address to the Alpine Club, in: The Alpine Journal, XIX, p. 296 – 297 (285 – 298).
[lii] Woolley, H. (1911), Address to the Alpine Club, in: The Alpine Journal, XXV, p. 375.
[liii] Freshfield, D.W. (1874), Proceedings of the Club, in: The Alpine Journal, VI, p. 256: ‘Mr. Macdonald observed that ‘Mountaineering without Guides’ had been recently fully considered the Club.’
[liv] For example: Gardiner, F. (1880), Mountaineering in Dauphiné Without Guides, in: The Alpine Journal, 9, p. 219 – 234 (‘Mr. Gardiner and his companions (Messrs. C. and L. Pilkington) were on all sides warmly congratulated on the remarkable success of their experiment.’).
[lv] Freshfield, D.W. (ed.(1880), Proceedings of the Alpine Club, in: The Alpine Journal, 9, p. 240.
[lvi] Many examples can be read in almost every Alpine Journal: cf. the examples given already; other examples of this cautiousness: Broke, G. (1901), With Ladies in the Lepontines, in: The Alpine Journal, XX, p. 450; ‘Far be it from me to offer any encouragement in guideless climbing to raw climbers or to the public at large. It is in my opinion a luxury to be earned by a long and well-spent apprenticeship. No amount of athletic ability without mountain experience qualifies a beginner for it.’ Freshfield, D.W. (1897), An Address to the Alpine Club, in: The Alpine Journal, XVIII, p. 12 (1 – 17).
[lvii] Yeld, G. (ed.)(1907), Alpine Accidents in 1907, in: The Alpine Club, XXIII, p. 638.
[lviii] During the entire 19th century, and still after, the Alpine Club seriously opposed to the idea of solitary mountaineering. ‘There is one form of it, however, which has been unsparingly condemned from this chair, of which, I regret to say, sporadic cases still occur. I refer to solitary climbing.’ Walker, H. (1893), Address to the Alpine Club, in: The Alpine Journal, XVI, p. 288 (285 -293).
[lix] Mathews, C.E. (1884), The Alpine Obituary, in: The Alpine Journal, XI, p. 78 – 89.
[lx] Mathews, C.E. (1882), The growth of Mountaineering, in: The Alpine Journal, X, p. 256 (251 – 263).
[lxi] Coolidge, W.A.B. (ed.)(1886), Alpine Notes, in: The Alpine Journal, XII, p. 423.
[lxii] ‘My advice to the beginners is this. Let him spend his first season in one of the great centres, climbing under the tutelage of a first-rate guide. Having thus learnt the rudiments of his craft, let him boldly strike forth with a couple of amateurs,…’ Conway, W.M. (1894), The Alps from end to end, p. 9.
[lxiii] Mummery, A.F., My Climbs in the Alps and Caucasus; Young, G.W., On High Hills; Mountain Craft.
[lxiv] G.W. Young and Joseph Knubel; A.F. Mummery and Alexander Burgener; …
[lxv] All the same, since the Finsteraarhorn was to be our training walk, we thought it discreet to engage a crabbed but respectable local guide as a chaperon[lxv], for our introduction at least.’ Young, G.W. (1927), On High Hills, p. 63.
[lxvi] At the same time, Young clearly preferred guideless climbing (at the same time, however, he mostly climbed with guides, most of all J. Knubel), according to Arnold Lung: ‘I [Young] admit that I climb with a guide. The confession is painful but necessary, and I must hope that the weakness will be attributed not so much to a want of originality as to a preference for a sense of security. I find that, take him all round, the guide meets me in better training, lasts rather longer, and occasionally climbs even better than the majority of amateurs with a month's holiday ....’ (from ‘Two days with a guide. Article by Young in the Alpine Journal, quoted by Lund.) […] […] he considers that Young's association with Knubel 'had far more in common with that which unites members of a guideless party.’ Lung, A. (19??), Geoffrey Winthrop Young.
Perhaps mountaineers like G.W. Young looked at their cooperation with mountain guides more like partnerships. Unlike more occasional mountaineers who, foremost, hired guides in order to accompany or rather lead them on mountains; to help them climb mountains they otherwise would or could never reach on their own. For mountaineers such as Young, or f.i. Jones, Ryan (mountaineers who have climbed frequently alongside Young), hiring guides made it possible for them to train and improve themselves continually. Partnering up with other lowland mountaineers did not offer the same opportunities to improve themselves. Did, however, does not exclude the fact that, often, amateur mountaineers helped, by their eager, motivation, as well as their own skills, mountain guides (like f.i. J. Knubel) to become highly respected and superbly qualified guides.
However, times were changing around the turn of the century. Guideless climbing become more and more the ideal. Ascents with guide were less and less seen as true ascents. Guideless ascents were, to a new generation of amateur mountaineers simply worth more. This can be deduced from the fact that, for example, G.W. Young tried to minimize the difference between his ‘guided’ ascents and his or others guideless ascents:
‘Young, because he normally climbed with a guide, was tempted to minimise the very real distinction between guideless and guided climbing, as for instance in the following passage from Mountain Craft: ' ... he will not allow his decision to take a guide to be influenced by any fear that the credit of his party will be diminished in any competent mountaineer's eyes by the fact that a prejudiced or a thoughtless modern virtuosity might jeer at it as "guided".' (Lung, A. (19??), Geoffrey Winthrop Young, p. 104)
If it was not for this – probably more or even solely among the top amateur mountaineers – there would be no reason to try and minimize this difference.
[lxvii] (Lung, A. (19??), Geoffrey Winthrop Young, p. 104)
[lxviii] according to Arnold Lung: ‘I [Young] admit that I climb with a guide. The confession is painful but necessary, and I must hope that the weakness will be attributed not so much to a want of originality as to a preference for a sense of security. I find that, take him all round, the guide meets me in better training, lasts rather longer, and occasionally climbs even better than the majority of amateurs with a month's holiday ....’ (from ‘Two days with a guide. Article by Young in the Alpine Journal, quoted by Lund.) […] […] he considers that Young's association with Knubel 'had far more in common with that which unites members of a guideless party.’ Lung, A. (19??), Geoffrey Winthrop Young.
[lxix] Perhaps here can be found another reason why Young (and many other British mountaineers) kept climbing with mountain guides, especially Josef Knubel. Not too much British mountaineers were able to reach Young’s level of mountaineering. In Knubel, therefore, he found an excellent companion (and thus more than a simple guide), on which he could, most of the time, rely. Furthermore, to British mountaineers who could be found in Young’s ‘class’ (f.i. Ryan, Mallory, Jones, Hereford,…) were, propably not always available for climbing during these few week each year they were in the mountains. Mountaineers like Ryan (with Lochmatter) or Jones and Hereford did the same. They also had one or more guides with whom they often teamed up. This is a clear indicator that even around the turn of the century, for most British mountaineering, even the ‘top-tier’ climbers, mountain guides were more or less indispensable. Perhaps remarkable seen the statements on this matter of Young (cf. footnote 3), when he denounced climbing with guides.