In nineteen hundred and twenty-three
They swarmed on the rocks from cairn to scree.
If you dodged them there, you met them at tea,
Those parlous Pinnacle ladies!
In nineteen hundred and twenty-four,
We found them leading climbs galore.
We growled, we groused, we even swore!
Presumptuous Pinnacle ladies!
There’s a handful of books by women climbers that I turn to when I’m in need of inspiration or reassurance before heading into the mountains: things like High Infatuation by Steph Davis, and more recently Waymaking. (I’ve also got an incredible women’s alpine history book which I really love, but helpfully can’t remember the title of and my books are all still in boxes after moving house…)
Anyway, this is definitely a title that I’m going to be adding to that collection. The Pinnacle Club is a club for UK women climbers, and I was lucky enough to spend last week on their centenary meet – one hundred women all psyched for some brilliant trad routes around Snowdonia. I was delighted to find a copy of this book in my goody bag, and it made for perfect rest day reading.
Presumptuous Pinnacle Ladies is a collection of selected writings from the club’s early journals, recounting climbing routes in the UK right through to guideless ascents in the Alps. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the history of women’s climbing, and each account ends with a short biography of the writer, many of which contain as many interesting details as the writings themselves.
I’m so impressed by the courage and dedication shown by these women in a time when they would very much have been a minority on the hills, and it’s impossible not to absorb some of their endless enthusiasm when reading their accounts. Their enjoyment of the mountains is clear, whether waiting out bad weather on Skye or enjoying a night-time descent or, in Mabel Barker’s case, simply wandering for hours in ‘a grey mysterious fairyland’ on the hills.
I was particularly captured by Mabel Barker’s second piece, written sometime around the mid-1930s, in which she discusses the freedom of being in the hills after sunset: ‘There is an added magic and mystery about them, and a feeling which is hard to explain… one knows discomfort and hunger and weariness, but never fear of the hills in the dark, even when alone, and in a storm, or in torrents of rain’. I feel more comfortable in the hills after dark than I do pretty much anywhere else, and it’s strangely reassuring to see my feelings mirrored in women over the decades.
There’s a real sense of camaraderie here, along with relentless joyfulness. You get the feeling each of these women would be brilliant company in the mountains, regardless of your climbing grade. I found the exact same support and encouragement on the recent Pinnacle Club meet, so it’s great to see how that spirit has been present throughout the club’s long history.
Predominantly climbing/outdoors literature, mountaineering history and nature writing.