Monday, April 8, 2013

Initial reactions

I think I should first say that I have a super old copy of this book, so I’m not entirely sure whether everyone else has pictures in their version. My version, which appears to have been added to Hamilton’s library in 1942, has a number of illustrations, some of which are quite helpful as they provide a visual for some of the more technical aspects of the writing, and others are simply quite amusing (people in mid air, lots of slack in the rope, as they fall of a part of the mountain and everyone else appears to be just watching). I enjoyed the range of the types of sketches, which included notes on equipment, geology, notable figures, and scenes from the various expeditions in the Alps.

In regards to the writing itself, I found it to be pretty dull. I was constantly reminded of Herzog’s Annapurna because of the militaristic language in which Whymper refers to the mountains he’s climbing. I found that my interest peaked up when the summit efforts became a race against the Italians. The question of who was going to make it to the summit first kept me interested in reading. I can’t tell whether that my interest stemmed from the fact that it was a competitive effort to be the first ever to reach the coveted summit, or whether it was instead just the competitive spirit itself. It probably would not have been as exciting if the mountain had already been climbed before.

Similar to Hannah, my interest quickly disintegrated into disbelief when they started throwing rocks at the Italians. I couldn’t believe it! My first thought was oh my goodness, one of the rocks is going to hit someone on the head or start an avalanche or something is going to go horribly wrong because of throwing rocks. I did not like their choice one bit. I usually associate climbing as having a pretty tight community, but this is just the exact opposite. Why not allow the Italians the opportunity to continue to push to the summit? What on earth inspired them to throw rocks instead of respecting the efforts that the Italians had made thus far and encouraging them to continue? The action definitely reiterated and reemphasized all of the militaristic language used throughout the narrative. 


  1. Two things. First, I'm jealous of the pictures you describe in your copy, they seem somewhat ridiculous. I downloaded an ebook copy of this narrative and read it on my computer screen, which was conveient (and more importantly, it was free), but I definitely missed out on the presentation of the physical copy. Second, I think the rock throwing episode fits within Whymper's character, as ridiculous as it seems to us after reading about the emhapsis on safety and teamwork in other texts. Even compared to Herzog and other dedicated mountain-conquerers, Whymper seemed to carry himself without much concern for anything but the eventual fulfillment of his personal ambitions. Not only does he drop rocks to alert the Italians of his triumph, but he seems pleased when they interrupt their ascent to seek shelter from the falling rocks. Its a moment of immense immaturity, and I think that's a characteristic of Whymper's character throughout the narrative.

  2. I agree that the pictures in my book were one of the few things I found amusing about the text. And similarly, I found myself struggling to keep my eyes open as Whymper belabored the importance of climbing rope or reviewed with painstaking detail the intricacies of his tent. His references to "assault" and "attack" on the mountain also made me think of Herzog, probably my least favorite text of the semester next to Whymper (which doesn't mean neither texts are valuable, Janelle!). Speaking generally, the older the narrative seemed to go back in time, the less I seemed to enjoy the read. I even found Muir's writing style a bit dull, which surprised me because Muir is my idol. I had never connected the rock throwing to the overwhelming militaristic vibe of the text, but I definitely now see the relation. I also find his emotionless recount of his companion's death similarly militaristic. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Whymper carried a rifle up the mountain with him.