The 2018 Alpine Meet will be held at Ailefroide in France.
A set of notes for the region have been prepared by one of our members. They may be downloaded from the menu item Ailefroide Notes on the Members' Menu for members who have logged in. If you have difficulties logging in please contact the Hon. Secretary, whose email address appears on the circular.
Roger joined the MAM via the University of Birmingham Mountaineering Club. He soon demonstrated his preferred type of climbing by doing, among other things, the third winter ascent of Zero Gully on Ben Nevis with fellow student Mal Cochrane, this in the days before modern ice tools had been invented; one handed overhead step cutting all the way. Some good seasons in Switzerland and at Chamonix followed. While working on his PhD in the Geology Department he spent eight months in south and east Greenland and after moving to Cambridge he visited Greenland again and went on or led expeditions to Spitzbergen. In all he notched up 30 mountain first ascents in these two areas.
He then moved to Canada, working as a geologist. In the 1960s in the Rockies and other ranges of Alberta and British Columbia there were a number of unclimbed peaks and barely explored areas; in fact, there still are. Besides exploring and climbing some of these Roger did many of the major Rockies peaks, some of these even today being coveted ascents. Then came the Mount St Elias area of the Yukon. Together with parts of Alaska there are still unclimbed peaks of over 14,000 feet here. Since Roger’s Toronto team have been visiting the number of unclimbed ones, both large and small, is a lot less and other peaks have had second or third ascents by new routes
He has become an acknowledged authority on the Mount St Elias region and is the author of the definitive listing of all Yukon and Alaskan peaks over 3,600 metres. For his exploratory work and list of mountain first ascents (a total of 60 in all parts of Canada) he has received the Alpine Club of Canada’s highest awards and has published frequently in the Alpine Journal, the Journal of the Alpine Club of Canada, the Journal of the American Alpine Club and, most of all, the MAM Journal. Unsurprisingly, he is a fountain of knowledge about Canadian climbing; if anyone wants information when planning a trip there you have only to ask!
The number of mountaineers who have heard of Hester Norris can probably be counted on the figures of both hands. She died aged 81 in 1991 and the fact that anybody knows anything about her (she never married and had no family) is almost entirely due to her diaries. While she climbed in the UK, for her, climbing meant the Alps, especially Switzerland, visiting most years between 1934 and 1956, other than in wartime. She was secretary to a boarding school in Colwyn Bay and had only two weeks holiday each summer. Each of these holidays were written up in big hard backed exercise books, up to 200 pages of neat handwriting with perhaps 30 pages given to the best days. They are not just accounts of what they did next but commentaries on the Alpine life and on her devotion to it, with comments on travel, food, hotels, guides, local customs, her chronic shortage of money, weather and much more. There are many photos, and odds and ends are pasted in such as travel tickets, and post war ration coupons. The diaries are now kept in the MAM archive at the University of Birmingham.
The diaries tell almost nothing of her personal life, though we know she rode a motorbike, as they are entirely about her climbing and are peppered with highly personal comments about her ambitions and shortcomings and the shortcomings of others. In one of her earlier diaries, written after a gap of a year she says how wonderful it is to be back in the Alps after a year of worry and doubt and goes on to say that she will never allow anything to deflect her from the mountain life again. Some uncaptioned photos hint of a close relationship with a young man. Did it all come to nought or did she even make a choice between marriage and mountains? She was forceful and pulled few punches. Of a bust up at Kleine Scheidegg she wrote “the Kl Scheidegg station officials must have a very low IQ!” She committed her fears and hopes to the pages, often with much underlining; “The Rothorn Ridge of the Zinal Rothorn. Oh, how I have set my heart on climbing this ridge. I wonder when I shall do it, if ever, but I must! “and “I am never going to climb with Cyril again!” She did, a few days later.
She was competent but no more than that, always climbing with a guide, becoming very friendly with some of them. She was always ready to scold herself if she did not do so well but was ever hankering to be off for the next peak. On being storm bound at the Strahlegg hut she wrote “as far as I know this has been the only day of my life when I had nothing to occupy myself with and I did not enjoy it”. Her 1939 season was at Chamonix with one of her favourite guides, Marcel Bozon. War was declared while they were there and she had to set off for home. “Marcel…cycled away. I watched him disappear into the torrential rain and wondered unhappily if he will be spared from the firing line of this hateful war”.
Her first major climb was the Matterhorn from the Hornli hut in 1934, a six and a half hour round trip, and her last the Dent Blanche in 1954. By this time she was climbing with the MAM at home and in the Alps and Norway. In 1955 she had a minor stroke while in the Alpes Maritimes; this was found to be due to a defective heart valve. Surgery followed later but it was the end of her proper climbing at the age of 45. She traveled extensively, summing up in a compendium diary for 1955 to 1966. In 1960 she paid her last visit to Switzerland and walked up to the Hornli hut: “an alien feeling that I did not belong to this mountain world any more…I was a stranger…I felt shy of so much as peeping inside the hut”
She retired to a cottage near Llanrwst in the Conwy Valley where she lived quietly, playing the violin, collecting climbing books and, no doubt, re-rereading her diaries which give a view of climbing in the pre- and post-war periods so fresh and honest in style as quite probably to be unique.
Since its foundation in 1922 members of the MAM have been involved in a number of notable mountaineering achievments many of which were recorded in the Journal of the MAM. The following are links to some of these articles:
We have had a number of remarkable mountaineers as members, brief notes on four of them are available:
After World War II the main climbing club in the Derby area was the Oread Club (it still is). A number of MAM members helped in its foundation and some Oread members joined the MAM. Ray was one of these.
He was a lifelong bachelor, worked in a Derby factory, was well mannered, and quite reserved. Under his rather unobtrusive exterior was a mountaineer of steely resolve who became one of the UK’s top alpinists of the post war era, usually climbing with his MAM/Oread friends. Such was his reputation by 1952 that he was invited on Eric Shipton’s Cho Oyu expedition, in effect a training/selection trip for the following year’s Everest expedition. He was one of those, with others, who did not progress to the Big Hill and, indeed, many of those who did go were not at Cho Oyu. Everyone on Everest was there on merit, but there were still echoes of the prewar Everest selection of men from the Right Background; Oxbridge, the right schools and regiments, this time allied to some of the bright young things of the Alpine Club. Ray was definitely not one of these, just an “ordinary” club climber.
He continued his Alpine career and fortunately for us described a number of his climbs in the MAM Journal. It should be remembered that all these climbs were before the age of modern ice tools, lightweight bivvi gear and, often, good guide book descriptions. There were far fewer climbers around, especially British, and these climbs were usually very early British ascents. A list is pointless, but includes routes such as the traverse of the Diables Ridge, the Rote Zahne of the Gspaltenhorn, Grosshorn North Face (first British ascent) and the North Face of the Triolet. His best route of all was the third British ascent of the North Face of the Eiger. The previous two ascents had been by “professionals”; Bonington and Clough, and Baillie and Haston. Ray just turned up on his summer holiday, found someone in a campsite who would accompany him (Jimmy Fullalove, a.k.a. Dan Boone) and they just did it as an ordinary few day’s climb.
He was ever present on club meets and in the huts; on one memorable occasion (memorable for the four students involved, that is) persuading some University of Birmingham MC members to climb with him one foul October day. He chose Devil’s Staircase on the Devil’s Kitchen cliffs as appropriate for such a day. It was quite a long time before five sodden, mudd,y tired bodies emerged on top. But oddly satisfied.
He attended Glan Dena Dinners for as long as he could achieving late recognition as a raconteur with his memories of climbs and climbers of his early days. His portfolio of memories must have been truly enormous.