Early morning early summer walk along a wooded road with the collie. Black-eyed vireo—the “Preacher Bird”—finally shuts up. The only sound now, distant years. The collie stops to sniff something amid the roadside weeds. I spy a single garlic mustard plant in bloom, right next to his right back paw. How’d I miss it before this? I stoop to yank it from the ground. Just as I get my hand around it, the collie lifts his back right leg. The black-eyed vireo resumes his sermon.
Step back to the Golden Age of English mountaineering when William Cecil Slingsby pioneered routes in Norway, including Storen, which was believed to be impossible to climb at the time. By M. Michael Brady
The golden age of mountaineering among English-speaking peoples arguably started in 1857 with the foundation of the first Alpine club in London, described as: “a club of English gentlemen devoted to mountaineering, first of all in the Alps, members of which have successfully addressed themselves to attempts of the kind on loftier mountains.” (The Nuttall Encyclopaedia 1907).
It was the Victorian Era, in which Englishmen of means and wanderlust explored countries abroad and upon returning published travelogues of their adventures. One of them was Edward Whymper (1840-1911), the English mountaineer who led the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 and included an account of it in Scrambles Amongst the Alps in the Years 1860-69 published in 1871 in London. (The book has since been republished several times, most recently in 2002 by National Geographic Books.)
News of Whymper’s exploits drew many to mountaineering, including a young Yorkshireman, William Cecil Slingsby (1849-1929), then a teenager with a penchant for hiking and outdoor life. He was the oldest of six children, born into the Slingsby family that owned and operated the Carleton Mill, built in 1861 for spinning cotton.
At age 23 in 1872, Slingsby embarked upon his first expedition to Norway, in which he made a circuit of the central mountain cordillera. In the Hurrungane Range of the Jotunheimen Mountains, he caught sight of Storen, also known as Store Skagastølstind (“Big Skagastøl Peak”), then said to be unclimbable. He took the peak’s reputation as a challenge; he would be the first to climb Storen.
The mountaineering challenge of Storen was quite like that of the Matterhorn that had faced Whymper. Both peaks are massive pyramids with similar prominences (minimum vertical climb from col), 3,310 feet for Storen compared to a bit more, 3419 feet for the Matterhorn. Both peaks are the only ones in their massifs that on all approaches require what now is called technical climbing. Only their summit elevations differ: 7,890 feet for Storen, compared to 14,692 feet for the Matterhorn. The 6,802-foot difference in summit elevation reflects a topographical dissimilarity: The mountain chains of Norway rise from sea level, while those of the Alps rise from high continental strata. Save for acclimatization to higher elevations, climbing in Norway can be as challenging as climbing in the Alps.
In 1874, Slingsby returned to Norway, with a crammed itinerary of climbs including one first ascent. Upon returning from the mountains via coastal steamer, he met educator Emanuel Mohn (1842-1891), known for his writings on and illustrations of mountains. The two men found that they had much in common, particularly their quests for first ascents.
In 1875, Slingby returned again, to the Jotunheimen range, with his sister Edith, who became the first woman to climb Glittertind, Norway’s second loftiest peak with a summit elevation of 8,087 feet. At Mohn’s suggestion, he described her experience in an article, “An English Lady in the Jotunheimen”, published in The Norwegian Trekking Association’s yearbook that year. In the winter of 1875-76, Slingsby and Mohn wrote each other to plan a major climbing effort the following summer.
In July 1876, Slingsby and Mohn met in Oslo and traveled by carriage to Bygdin Lake in the Jotunheimen Range where they met up with Kunt Lykken (1831-1891), a local farmer, reindeer herder, and mountain guide. The three then spent five days making five first ascents, a record that still stands in Norwegian mountaineering. On July 21, they set out to be the first to climb Soren. The weather was foul, but they were successful, with Slingsby climbing the final stretch to the summit solo, as he was more skilled in rock climbing than Mohn or Lykken.
Thereafter, Slingsby returned to the Jotunheimen five times. In 1888 and 1899, he climbed in Northern Norway. In 1900 he again climbed Storen, and in 1903-1912 he again climbed in Northern Norway. In all, he is credited with 50 first ascents, the last in 1912. His zeal for climbing in Norway was matched by his ability to get along in the country. As a Yorkshireman, he felt a common bond with Norway that stretched centuries back to the days when Vikings raided eastern English shores. In the course of his many visits, he became fluent in Landsmål, the language of the rural districts he frequented; now called Nynorsk, it’s one of the two official languages of the country.
In 1921 he visited Norway twice. On the second visit, his last in Norway, he was accompanied by his daughter Eleanor, an enthusiastic climber who had founded the predecessor of the Pinnacle Club, a women’s climbing association in the UK. That year in Oslo, King Haakon 7 granted Slingsby an audience.
In addition to his climbing accomplishments, Slingsby documented what he did, in more than 30 articles in the Alpine Journal, the Norwegian Trekking Association Yearbooks, the Climber’s Club Journal and the Norwegian Club Yearbooks. His book, Norway, the Northern Playground, was first published in 1904 in Edinburgh and since has been republished several times, most recently in 2010 by Nabu Press of Charleston, South Carolina.
After his last climbs in Norway, Slingsby continued climbing in the UK, and when well into his 70s, was climbing on Gimmer Crag and Pillar Rock in the English Lake District, known for its challenging rock climbs. Sports were his life, to its end. On his deathbed at age 81, he looked out through a window to see boys playing cricket outside. A boy at bat swung well and sent the ball for a six (in cricket, the equivalent of a home run with the bases loaded in baseball). “Well played, well played, my boy!” he cheered. Those six words were his last.
After his death, The Times of London observed in his obituary that “For a mountaineer and explorer, he had the ideal equipment—a magnificent physique, exceptional hardihood, grace and agility, an unerring judgment, coolness and courage.”
In his native England, he is remembered along with other Slingsbys of history, geography, literature, and business. There’s a Slingsby Day, commemorating the execution in 1658 of Yorkshire landowner Sir Henry Slingsby for his adherence to the Royalist cause during the English Civil War (1642-1651). In North Yorkshire, there’s a small village named Slingsby. American-born, British naturalized poet TS Elliott (1888-1965) wrote a poem about Miss Helen Slingsby. English naval administrator Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) mentions a Slingsby in his famed diaries. Today, Slingsby Aviation makes hovercraft, two of which appeared in Die Another Day, a James Bond movie released in 2002.
In Norway, Slingsby is regarded to be the father of Norwegian mountaineering. Two topographic features bear his name: Slingsby Glacier, below Storen, and Slingsby Peak in the Jotunheimen, formerly Nordre Urdanostind (“North Urdanos Peak”), of which he made the first ascent on July 10, 1876. The Norsk Fjellmuseum (“Norwegian Mountain Museum”) in the village of Lom, just north of the Jotunheim Mountain range has a modest collection of Slingsby memorabilia, including many of his diaries, notebooks, sketchbooks, paintings and articles on climbing in the Alps and in Norway.
How do you make it in a mountain town? For Liam Doran, the answer to that question has simply been to do what he loves and focus in.
The most difficult thing about moving to a mountain town? Figuring out how to stay and find work that fulfills you. While that road has not been easy for Breckenridge, Colorado-based photographer Liam Doran, he has certainly hit his stride. A commitment to the things he loves—skiing, mountain biking, backpacking, fly fishing, trail running—a keen eye and sense of how motion and landscape work together has entrenched him in a career as one of the top photographers in Summit County. For good reason, Doran’s images don’t just convey action, they express a love for the mountain life that only someone who is immersed in it can capture. His work has graced the cover of Powder and SKI magazines and he is a frequent contributor to Outside, Skiing, Trail Runner, Mountain, Elevation Outdoors and more. He took the time to share some of his favorite work and talk about what it takes to make it.
How hard it is to make it as a mountain photographer?
Very difficult…but not impossible. There are tons of talented shooters out there—the trick is to find your niche and excel at it. Then, other branches of outdoor photography will open up.
“This shot took me a few years to get. The undergrowth only stays that green for a few days every summer and it has to be overcast in order to get the even lighting. When conditions were finally right, I hauled a 20-foot step ladder into this spot. I had a huge knee brace on from surgery earlier that spring and it was challenging to say the least…but I finally go the shot I wanted.”
“My challenge was to come up with a shot of my hometown trails that had not been seen before. The Black Gulch trail provided me with just that opportunity. Even today, people in town ask where this shot was taken.”
“Most of my shooting is done on assignment, so I really enjoy getting to shoot while just out on the road. I am often drawn to the old broken-down places one comes across in rural America as they seem to hold a ghostly aura and a direct link to an idealized past.”
“I was headed home after a long trip through the desert and I knew that if I timed it right I could get to Fisher Towers just in time for sunrise. There are a lot of great images of the Titan but I had never seen one quite like this before.”
“Currently, the bulk of my work is ski photography and this image is typical of how I like to shoot. Great morning light with strong contrast and a perfect turn. We were rewarded with a photo annual cover in Mountain magazine for our efforts.”
“This image came from a very challenging shoot for me. Four of us headed to Revelstoke to shoot a ski/travel gallery for a big website piece. The conditions were dangerous and for whatever reason, I had placed a ton of artificial pressure on myself and by the end of the trip my nerves were fried and I had a total meltdown.”
“I love backpacking but I rarely get to shoot it. On this occasion three friends and I got permits to hike the Virgin River through Zion NP. The first day and a half were some of the most beautiful miles I have ever put under my feet.”
“When shooting for print editorial, you have to learn to shoot more than just action. Things like scenics, food, travel and portraits are all mandatory for a well rounded story. This portrait of Mike Quigley stands out as one of my favorites as it really encapsulates who he is in 1/100th of a second.”
You can peruse more of Doran’s work and purchase prints at LiamDoranPhotography.com.
Skiing, still. Some days I just want to move on with my year. Others, I cannot resist the frozen white beckoning. Of course, it helps that the water is melting out of the snowpack, finally, leaving us with a surface as smooth as marble to schuss down from the gusty alpine into the warm green world below. This photo was taken June 6 in Park County, Colorado, a mile south of the Continental Divide, where about 60 inches of snow fell during the month of May.
Photo by Devon O’Neil
A friend suggested I climb a little mountain in Vermont called Haystack. So I did. But the trailhead was not easy to find. It lay along an unfrequented dirt road. Vermont is the second least populous of the fifty states. The one or two farmers I asked directions from gave me stony looks and little else. I finally found the trailhead, which–like most things in the course of my days–came by accident. I started walking. I passed a couple of cows. A hermit thrush called from high in a tree. The brook I crossed was nearly dry. The top of the mountain looked like a farmer’s face, but with more sky and clouds and vistas abounding.
Friday in the Catskill Mountains. Late afternoon, late May. Sitting on the back deck. The collie and I. On the other side of the mountain, a lineup of bands is tuning up for the annual Mountain Jam. Soon enough, Robert Plant will take the stage. Over here on the quiet side, I’m reading the words of a philosopher. And sipping some wine. The collie lies near my feet, chewing indolently on a bone. Occasionally, he glances up at a yellow butterfly flittering over the grass.
Once in a while the collie will jump up, stick his head between the deck rails, and commence barking—his way of shouting at the woodchuck who lives downslope in a pile of castaway fieldstones. “Get off my lawn!” He barks and he barks and he barks. I look up from my book, tell him to quiet down. He ignores me. I return to my book and read these words by the philosopher: “When I ‘have done with the world’ I shall have created an amorphous (transparent) mass and the world in all its variety will be left on one side like an uninteresting lumberyard.”
That gets me thinking. Maybe tomorrow I’ll leave the philosopher (and collie) behind and head over to Vermont. I’ll do a little hiking. Or maybe I’ll stop and visit that house in Shaftsbury where Robert Frost once lived. I’ve never been there. Or maybe I’ll drop by his grave in Old Bennington. I always enjoy that. A good poet’s grave is almost as good as the poetry. Some philosopher said that. No doubt, as I’m driving along the backroads of Vermont I’ll pass a few brewpubs. These days it’s hard not to. That wouldn’t be so bad, would it, to sample some craft beer? I need to find my craft somewhere. And who knows, along the way there might even be an interesting lumberyard.
Ever wonder where some of those terms you use while climbing come from? Our European correspondent is here with some mountaineering etymology for you. By M. Michael Brady
The lingo of mountaineering reflects the pursuit of it in many cultures. Many mountaineering terms in English result from the intermingling of languages over time, as with French. The word “avalanche” is a loanword directly from French. It first appeared in English in 1769, in “A Tour in Scotland” by Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant (1726-1798). The adoption of many other terms has been more arbitrary. The word “rappel” is an intriguing example.
Like “avalanche”, “rappel” is a loanword from French. But English adopted just two of its eight meanings. Until the mid 19th century, “rappel” in English meant the ceremonial roll of drums to summon soldiers to arms. In 1931, an article in The Times (UK) Literary Supplement added the second meaning of roping down by mentioning the rappel as a technique used in climbs of Mont Blanc in France. With time, the first meaning apparently fell into disuse, as today it’s not in the desk edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), though it survives in the Complete OED. Today, in American as well as British English, “rappel” is used only in its mountaineering sense.
Not so in French. Today, the mountaineering use of the word is the seventh of its eight meanings. The first and most prominent use of the word “rappel” is as the imperative form of the French transitive verb rappeler, which means “to remember”. It appears alongside roads on rectangular regulatory plates under speed limit signs to remind drivers of the maximum allowable speeds within a speed control zones.
In the timeline of mountaineering, rappelling is French. It was first done in 1876 by Chamonix guide Jean Charlet-Straton (1840-1925) in a failed solo attempt of Petit Dru, a needle in the Mont Blanc massif. After several more unsuccessful solo attempts, in 1879 he attained the summit in a party of three with two other Chamonix guides.
By the turn of the last century, rappelling had become a standard mountaineering technique, called abseiling by British climbers, after abseilen, a descriptive term used by German-speaking climbers. In 1911, German climber and inventor Otto Herzog (1888-1964) first used a “carabiner”, so respelled in English, from the German Karabinerhaken, a descriptive term for a snap link based on a rifle hook. In turn, the use of the carabiner was linked to the first invention of the piton by Austrian guide Hans Fiechtl (1884-1925) and the testing of it by German climber Hans Dülfer (1892-1915).
Other German words followed into English in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most prominently two loanwords, “rucksack” in 1866 and “kletterschuh” in 1920. The adoption of the word “kletterschuh”, a special rock climbing shoe with a cloth or felt sole, reflected the travels of the mountaineers of the time, as it was sometimes described as a variant of scarpetti, an equivalent Italian shoe with rope soles first used in the Dolomites. Both terms remain in English today.
The languages of the British Isles also contributed terms to mountaineering lingo. In mountaineering, the most familiar one perhaps is “cairn”, the term for a pile of stones used to mark a trail. It’s a Gaelic word that first appeared in English in 1535, in a description of a memorial pyramid of rough stones in Scotland. And there’s at least one instance of an Englishman inadvertently promoting the use of a loanword in the geography of mountains.
In 1921, upon first seeing a huge cirque on Mount Everest, English mountaineer George Leigh Mallory (1886-1924) named it the “Western Cwm”, with “”cwm” being the Welsh word describing a bowl-shaped hollow formed by a glacier. That brought cwm into the lingo of mountaineering, to compete with synonyms “cirque”, a loanword from French, and corrie” a loanword from a Gaelic term used to describe terrain in the Scottish Highlands.
As English has adopted words from other languages, it also has contributed to them, sometimes in odd ways. Thanks to the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), English speakers are familiar with many ribald words, such as “fart.” But before Chaucer’s time, in the mix of English with Nordic and Teutonic languages, “fart” also meant “to send forth.” It was Chaucer that gave the word the meaning of sending wind forth from the anus, but there were other meanings still evident today. In modern Norwegian, the word fart” translates to “speed” or “travel”, as in sakte fart (“low speed”) that’s used at all elevations on road and waterway signs advising vehicles and vessels to slow down. That usage has had a side effect. In the port of Kragerø in Telemark County, an old footbridge at the entrance to the harbor that has a “SAKTE FART” warning sign to boats on the underlying waterway has become one of the more popular city scenes for young English-speaking tourists taking photos of themselves.
#1 and #2 by M. Michael Brady. Canton of Côte Vermeille coastal highway, Mediterranean France, April 2015.
#3 Petit Dru in Mont Blanc Massif, Chamonix, France; rappelling first done here in 1876. By Eturisto at French Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons free documentation license,
Thinking of traveling to Cuba anytime soon? Here are some thoughts, possibly useful, that will help. By Alan Stark
When you arrive at the Havana airport there are no jetways, only mobile ramps the ground crews roll up to airplane doors. These ramps look like they were made on a bad day in Romania. The plastic canopy around them has nearly gone opaque with sun damage and age. But here is a warning: It’s always warm in Cuba and mostly downright hot and humid. Don’t get caught behind a slowpoke going through one of these things unless, of course, being slow-cooked is of interest.
Once you are inside the airport, you will encounter immigration positions with a door at the far end. The sense is odd, like walking into a closet with an unfriendly young adult to one side who will decide whether you get the lady (or man), or the tiger. The security door buzzes open to a hanger-like hall with metal detectors and security people wearing starched light-brown uniforms. They are mostly handsome twenty-somethings, and the women have added a twist to their normal uniform—black lace stockings. The incongruity is starting, like encountering one of our bloused-booted, Glock-toting, immigration officers with a three-inch smiley-face pin on his chest.
The black lace stockings are a tip-off about what is to happen in Cuba—no, not everyone is going to be wearing black lace stockings. But Cuba is rapidly changing from a drab communist state clone to a multifaceted socialist state. The change appears to be irreversible, if they do it right, and make carefully thought-out changes to avoid huge dislocations. This could be another Velvet Revolution that created the Czech Republic. But, if the party holds onto power and there is no revolution, Cuba will be like Viet Nam, a Socialist government and a highly entrepreneurial population. Call it a the Salsa Revolution—for the Cubans are about to dance their way into the 21st century.
There are hundreds of curiosities within the Cuban government, and many of these curiosities seem to have an antecedent of, “Lets throw this sugar cane at the wall and see if sticks.”
For example, there are two currencies in Cuba one is Cucs (kooks) that the government has set an exchange rate at 87 to US$100. Yup, there is a 13% commission charged by the government to trade dollars for Cucs. This is the currency used by tourists and should be acquired at the hotel on arrival. The second is the Peso that is used by the Cubans as well as Cucs. At this writing, there are no ATMs in Cuba, and credit cards are useless, everything a tourist buys in Cuba is with Cucs. The government doesn’t stop getting into your wallet on the way out of Cuba. When leaving, Cucs are exchanged for dollars at the airport again with a 13% charge. Give them 100 Cucs and they give you back US$87. However, there is a better deal to be had in the hotel lobby or on the street just before you leave. Cubans will pay $100 for 100 Cucs. Dollars come into Cuba as remittances that the Cubans need changed to Cucs and the only way they can do that is through money changers working free lance at and around the hotels.
Cigar aficionados be warned, Cuban cigars are as advertised, they are wonderfully fragrant, mild, and smooth smoking. A trip to tobacco growing region Valle de Vinales and a tobacco farm is a couple hours of pure addiction gratification.
The farmer greets you in a curing barn hung with rack of sweet-smelling tobacco.
“How many of you smoke?” the farmer will ask sarcastically, knowing that most Americans, wishing to live forever, have given up smoking but relish a puff or two on a Cuban cigar. He then talks about how the tobacco is grown and cured, and then he goes to work to skillfully make a cigar, holding some leaves in one hand, cleaning and smoothing the leaves into a tent-like form that he then rolls on a smooth surface. Next, he carefully selects fine wrapper leaves and rolls a perfect cigar. Then he cuts both ends and light up for a couple puffs, and then carefully puts the hot end of the cigar in his mouth and blows smoke out of the cigar. Taking the cigar out of his mouth, he passes it to the nearest now-slavering non-smoker and says, “A good cigar, it draws well.”
After the demonstration he invites you to his house for coffee and/or rum or both while a family member sells cigars at one Cuc each from a cardboard box. In a matter of an hour or so, you can indulge in nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol, a socially acceptable addicts paradise, not to be missed on a visit to Cuba.
Something that also can’t be missed in Cuba are all the antique cars and trucks smoking along the streets interspersed with Eastern Block POS, (remember the Yugo?), a few Japanese and Korean sedans, and the occasional, out of place, fat-cat, thuggish BMW, Audi, and Mercedes. These antiques are the cars from before the 1959 revolution that have been rebuilt many times over, usually retrofitted with diesel engines, and appear to be held together by superb jury-rigging mechanics, imagination, wishful thinking, and wire.
They are a metaphor for how Cubans deal with their situation; don’t go without— make it work—keep it going. Throughout the day and most of the night in Havana, these cars, many of which are for hire (agree on a price with the driver before you get in), smoke and honk their way through the pot-holed streets. They provide a colorful on-going parade of mid-century American engineering, Cuban ingenuity, and entrepreneurial spirit. One note of caution, pedestrians in Cuba are pretty much ignored by drivers. It’s not that Cuban drivers are murderous, but they are a little crazy and crossing a street is an adventure.
But the best adventure to be found in Cuba is with the people: Their great love of family and friends, the warmth with which they greet and engage with strangers, and their love of life under a repressive government and a ridiculous embargo perpetrated by morons in our government.
When talking about the future, Cubans recognize that change is coming but say, “it’s complicated, we need to be careful. We need to go slowly.” In the past two hundred years, there have been a number of revolutions in Cuban, some fairly violent.
In spite of Cuban circumspection, change is going to come quickly in Cuba. In the last month, Raul Castro and President Obama met and held a joint press conference. The Cubans are thrilled with the thaw in Cuban American relations, as are American corporations thinking about how they are going to exploit a new opportunity in Cuba. But in past revolutions, American corporations, one of them being the mafia, have taken a good deal more out of Cuba than they have put in. The Cubans are right, they need to be careful. On the business side, they should form their own national corporations that are production and profit oriented on the Chinese model. Or if outright freedom comes, they should limit international corporations to 49% ownership in Cuban corporations along the lines of the Canadian model.
The worst that can happen here is another blood-bath of a revolution. But Raul Castro appears to be a smart guy who is probably not going to give up power, and will eventually groom another fat cat to take his place. Cubans now get to vote in municipal elections. The hope is that this vote will eventually carry over to provincial elections, and then national elections and perhaps a formation of a congress or parliament that truly represents the Cuban people. We will all see.
There is much that is in flux in Cuba. In spite of this, still thinking about going to Cuba? Do it for two reasons: (1) Cuban tourism is the financial starting point for a much more entrepreneurial and free Cuba. (2) The Cubans have built a society and culture under difficult circumstance. They are happy and wonderful neighbors who deserve our support.
The fourth of a three-part series on Cuba. Alan Stark is a free-lance based in Boulder who lives with a blue-eyed person and her dog. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
We’ve all felt like this guy at some point — like we simply didn’t fit in. But as he and his flock showed during our brief encounter last week in Stagecoach, Colorado, the color of your wool matters less than your attitude and ability to be productive in society. Stark as his appearance may have been, he was filling a vital role here, herding the young ‘uns across the road to the next patch of vegetation. Baaaah’aaaah!
Photo by Devon O’Neil
Authorized paths end somewhere–often in signage. But please continue. Leave the words. Smile boldly. Pet the dragons.