Friday, 22 April 2011

GREAT WOMEN ALPINISTS.(Lucy Walker.1836-1916.)

The first woman acknowledged to have been a regular alpine climber was Lucy Walker.She was in all respects a conventional victorian woman,not concerned about the status of women in sports or in any other sphere of life.As a girl she had never done anything more active than play croquet,and would never had discovered mountains(the great passion of her life),had it not been for her father,Frank,and brother Horace,who were both well known alpinists.
The Walker family.(Lucy standing third from left.Melchior standing far right.)
The whole Walker family used to spend summer in the Alps every year,moving from place to place with mother in charge of "Base Camp",keeping her family supplied with everything they needed.
Lucy was born in 1836(the year Victoria came to the throne),and first joined on climbs in 1858,ascending Theodule and Monte Moro.In the second year whilst they were staying at the Schwarenbach Inn near Gemmi Pass,lucy gazed up at Altels(3629m)and declared she wanted to climb it.Her father suggested Melchior Anderegg as a suitable guide to assist them,and Lucy never climbed with any other guide from then on!
Over the next 21 years they made 98 expeditions together-never just the two of them of course,as respectable young ladies in those days would not travel anywhere with only an unrelated male person as a companion.She took to mountaineering in the quiet buisnesslike self assured way which was characteristic of her nature,and other menfolk had no doupts of her ability and fortitude.She was captivated by mountains from the start,and climbed simply for the beauty,excitement,and danger.Her total support came from her family and Melchior Anderegg(one of the greatest guides of all time)protected her against the spitefullness of people who thought that a woman should not be doing such things.She was a large young lady with dark hair and spectacles and climbed in the normal female attire of voluminous skirts(usually a white print dress),and never resorted to wearing breeches or trousers.Fortified on the mountain by a diet of champagne and sponge-cake,she seemed impervious to hardship,and succeeded by virtue of calm fearlessness and sheer endurance rather than athleticism.
Among her notable ascents were Finsteraarhorn in 1862,Eiger in 1864,Jungfrau in 1865,Dom in 1866,Monch and Schreckhorn in 1867,Allalinhorn in 1875,and Monte Viso in 1879.(all with Melchior Anderegg)
When asked why she had never married,she replied with typical frankness,"I love mountains and Melchior,and Melchior already has a wife!"
Frank and Horace Walker were members of the Alpine Club in London,UK and contributed articles to the Alpine Journal,but Lucy,as a woman,could not even become a member let alone send reports of her numerous ascents.She was however one of the first to join the Ladies Alpine Club when itwas founded in 1907,and in 1912 at the age of 76yrs she bacame its second president(succeeding Mrs,aubrey Le Blond).She was immensely popular amoungst its members and and her witty speeches were greatly enjoyed.She died in 1916,aged 81.
A touching mark of respect from male mountaineers of her era came from this engraving by the famous Edward Whymper.Its entitled "The Clubroom Zermatt",and depicts some of the best and most famous mountaineers of the time.Standing by the Clubroom door(right of centre)is Lucy Walker.The engraving was not done from "life",and her inclusion shows the very high esteem in which she was held by all of her fellow alpinists despite the restrictive social rules of the period.

Good climbing,


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