Sunday, April 7, 2013

Immoral Behavior

In Scrambles Amongst the Alps, I was extremely surprised with the way that Whymper and his companion Croz alert the Italians of their success on the Matterhorn. When Whymper and Croz stand on the summit and look down, they can see the Italian group far below, and the two climbers at the top attempt to make themselves known by shouting and waving. Not sure if the Italians have received the message, Whymper decides that it is time to throw rocks down the mountain to make sure it is clear that they have reached the summit first.

Whymper says, "I seized a block of rock and hurled it down, and called upon my companion, in the name of friendship, to do the same. We drove our sticks in, and prized away the crags, and soon a torrent of stones poured down the cliffs. There was no mistake about it this time. The Italians turned and fled." (365)

We have talked in the past about the morality of the actions of climbers who leave each other in difficult situations without helping each other, but this goes beyond that. Actively preventing another climber from reaching the top using a potential dangerous barrage of rocks seems crazy! Even if the Italian climbers did not hear the first attempt, the summit group still puts up a flag and builds a cairn to mark their success, meaning that anyone who reached the summit after them would be understand that Whymper and his companions had gotten there first.

Although it was an early time of exploration, it still seems absurd that these men would throw rocks down to stop others from climbing after them. The worst part is that Whymper doesn't even seem to feel any remorse about what he did, even when he says that he wished that his old climbing companion, Carrel, could have been there with him.

If we questioned the morality of leaving climbers stranded on a peak when you are capable of helping them, throwing rocks down a mountain at climbers certainly is immoral behavior.


  1. This moment in the text also struck me, and in the same manner. Such actions seemed like reckless endangerment of their fellow mountaineers, and I couldn't understand the thinking. The same was true when Whymper was betrayed and lied to by the same climbers he threw rocks at when they assailed the mountain without him. Why? Is it really that important to engage in less-than-friendly rivalry? My first response was along the lines of D!#% move!

  2. I completely agree with you about how absurd and frustrating that scene is. However, I think Whymper's obsession with summiting overshadowed any sense of morality that he may or may not have had. He was in such a competition with himself to be the first person to reach the summit and clearly felt a sense of ownership over the right/privilege/ability (however you want to look at it) to summit first. He said, "'the Italians had clearly stolen a march upon me" (my page 380) and spoke about being "tormented with anxiety lest they should arrive on the top before us" (389). I found that his complete focus on achieving his goal concealed any sense of morality, consideration of others, or common courtesy in this situation. I'm not saying that this is a justification for his abhorrent rock throwing, but it does explain it to some extent and also partly explains why he glossed over the tragic deaths in the final chapter.