History of Rock Climbing

  • @Alan-Rubin

    Much of what Alan says above matches my experience, but I would add one caveat: While it is true that climbing can be just as challenging and exhilarating now as it was 100 or 150 years ago, it is, for almost all climbers, mostly quite safe -- something that was definitely not the case in its early days.

    Yes, one can still go out, push past the limits of safety, and maybe not come home again. But nylon ropes, an incredible array of solid protection devices, clothing that renders weather almost irrelevant, SAR groups that are ready and able to save your ass, and a communication network that can put you in touch with those SAR folks almost no matter where you are...

    So, yes, there are millions of climbers out there enjoying the challenge and exhilaration of rocks and mountains, but I wonder how many of them would be doing it if the safety net were taken away. If the chances of not coming home again went up a hundredfold?

  • @David-Harris The 'much safer' part is definitely true, though even in the 'early days', while all participants were operating at a fairly high level of risk, and some more so than others, there were those who were already developing techniques to reduce those risks--techniques that were often adopted by the majority of practitioners. But even accounting for that significant difference, I still believe that a basic 'commonality' between climbers then and now exists that would have most of us 'speaking the same language' despite the changes that have been wrought over time.

  • One I have yet to see mentioned that may deal with some aspects of climbing culture is The Games Climbers Play, an anthology of essays edited by Ken Wilson originally published 1978. I have the Sierra Clubs book republished edition copyrighted 1980. No clue about any subsequent republications as it does not enjoy a particularly good rep in modern times. Like most such collections, it's more suitable for consumption as an essay here and an essay there than a front to back continuous read.

    Not the comprehensive academic treatment Mr. Gill seeks but maybe still of interest for others hereabouts. 🐕

  • @toby Agreed that "The Games Climbers Play" is a terrific anthology of climbing writing, and probably a good source of historical perspective.

    Ken also published two more equally large anthologies. "Mirrors in the Cliffs", edited by Jim Perrin came out in 1983, and then "One Step in the Clouds", edited by Audrey Salkeld, in 1991.

    "Mirrors" was pretty much "Games, Part II". Lots of great climbing writing. But "One Step" was completely different -- all fiction. Dozens of short stories, a couple of novellas, maybe a play, and two full length novels -- Elizabeth Coxhead's "One Green Bottle" which some consider the best climbing-related fiction ever, and my own "Vortex", which was runner-up for the Boardman-Tasker prize that year.

    Like "Games" both these books provide plenty of historical perspective.

  • David! Thanks for the information. I have Games Climbers Play, & Mirrors in the Cliffs, but did not know about "One Step In the Clouds." Something I need to go looking for with the Holidaze coming. Last week I ordered two copies of "Continental Divide A History of American Mountaineering by Maurice Isserman." Slacker was correct. Amazon vendors are all but giving them away.

  • @FritzRay Well, if you do lay your hands on a copy of "One Step in the Clouds" you'll find in it the novella "Mother Goddess of the World" by Kim Stanley Robinson.

    Before you read that novella, go online and find a copy of Robinson's "Escape From Kathmandu", a collection of four novellas of which "Mother Goddess" is the second. Yes, it can stand alone, but is much better if read in sequence.

    Why am I putting this in the history thread? Because the stories in "Escape From Kathmandu" provide a look into a side of Himalayan climbing that you are not going to find in any mainstream climbing article or book. But which I wish I'd been a part of.

    And, as a side note, in the year in which my novel "Vortex" took second in the Boardman-Tasker prize (Vic Saunders won with "Elusive Summits), "Escape From Kathmandu" didn't even make the short list. It is an incomparably better book than either mine or Vic's, and the publisher submitted it, but the clowns on the B-T committee that year had their heads so far up their serious mountaineering asses that they completely ignored it. Philistines.

  • @FritzRay said in History of Rock Climbing:

    but did not know about "One Step In the Clouds."

    A good history, but pretty hard to read. It is worth having for the history, but in general a sleep inducer.

  • @jgill - I went straight to that chapter the other night and realized that you are mentioned in the footnotes , regarding an email exchange you had with the author in 2014, that chapter was a pretty interesting read.

Log in to reply