Friday, March 9, 2012

Lucy Walker ~ Mountaineer

Lucy Walker (1836–1916) was a British mountaineer. Among the most outstanding of the early Englishwomen in the Alps, she was a natural climber and ascended the Matterhorn with her father and a friend of the family, Frederick Gardiner, becoming the first woman to reach its peak.

She made the climb only a month before Meta Brevoort who, with her nephew, made the fourth traverse from Zermatt to Breuil, the first by a woman. Had the great guide, Melchior Anderegg, not told the Walkers of the plans for Miss Brevoort’s attempt, the honor of being the first woman to reach the peak of the Matterhorn might well have been Meta’s.

In a climbing career that included most of the principal Alpine peaks, Lucy failed to reach the summit only three times in 98 ascents. Yet she was, in many respects, a typical mid-Victorian, middle-class woman. Whymper’s engraving of The Club Room at Zermatt in 1864 shows her, bespectacled, arms folded into her long-sleeved dress, standing somewhat apart from the men in the doorway of the Monte Rosa hotel. Since the plate was not done from life, her inclusion is indicative of he high esteem in which she was already held by her fellow Alpinists.

For climbing, Lucy wore an ankle-length dress which could hardly have assisted her in some of the more dangerous ascents. After a climb, she would carefully smooth down the white print dress before returning to the inn. That such clothing could be dangerous is evident in the case of Kathleen Richardson who was nearly killed when her climbing companion’s skirts dislodged a rock which crashed down of Richardson’s head.
When she was not climbing, Lucy took little exercise more strenuous than croquet. She entertained, embroidered, or engaged in socially acceptable and useful work. Yet, with her brother and father, she made the fourth ascent of the Eiger and in 1864, joined them in the ascent of the Balmhorn, becoming the first woman to take part in a major first climb.

Long after she retired from active climbing, she would return to the Alps to visit friends and to take long walks among the peaks with the great guide, Melchior Anderegg. She was the second President of the Ladies’ Alpine Club, succeeding to that office in 1912 after Elizabeth Le Blond, a remarkable climber in the 1880s and 90s.

Lucy never lost her interest in climbing and in 1913, although an invalid, she traveled to London from Liverpool for the general meeting and dinner of the Ladies’ Alpine Club where she gave a spirited and racy after-dinner speech. She died in 1916, at the age of 81, having seen women take their place on the slopes with men; a victory in no small part due to her efforts.

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