Monday, April 8, 2013

How far have we come?

In Scrambles Amongst the Alps, Whymper comes across as a living contradiction. He scolds guides for vainly refusing to use ropes because "they are afraid of being laughed at by their comrades" (347), and yet he describes the last portion of his ascent of the Matterhorn as a reckless "neck-and-neck race" (364). He takes his time upon summits in order to "[pay] homage to the view" (366), and yet sends rocks down the mountain to discourage the ascent of other climbers. He simultaneously demonstrates care and carelessness, as well as respect and disrespect for the mountain itself.

As one of the first mountaineers, I almost expect Whymper to make a certain amount of foolish decisions (though perhaps the intentional rock slide took things a bit too far). His account makes me wonder how he would react to present day mountaineering. Would he be proud to know how cautious most climbers have become (at least comparatively)? Would he be ashamed of some of his actions? But I then find myself wondering, how far have climbers really come in terms other than safety? We still criticize the narrators of our texts for not respecting the mountains, for using them to gain their own personal glory.

Furthermore, the section where Whymper is criticizing guides for not using ropes reminded me a lot of Krakauer's text and his depiction of the relationships between guides. Krakauer speculates that his guide (Hall) and another guide (Fischer, I believe) were in competition with one another. This may have fueled Hall's decision to wait until each of his clients had summited, even with the threat of inclement weather on the horizon. If Krakauer's speculations are correct, than guides today still value reputation over safety, as they did in Whymper's time. It thus seems that although 150 years or so have passed, little has changed in the world of mountaineering since it became a popular sport.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the hypocrisies in the text that you pointed out Kim. The whole thing felt rather colonial to me - conquering mountains and being the first and using everyone around you to gain your ends. The text left a bad taste in my mouth. I think, more than anything else, Whymper would be upset that there aren't more peaks to conquer today.