Book Review // Presumptuous Pinnacle Ladies
Dear Editor, have you ever had a runaway weekend, when you have ignored everything but the call of the hills, and gone where the spirit moved you?
This sentiment, from Pinnacle club founder Emily Kelly, published in their first journal in 1924, echoes throughout the stories in this book and is surely at the heart of the club itself.
The Pinnacle Club was the first national British Women’s Climbing Club. Formed in 1921 the Pinnacle Club provided women with an opportunity to climb without having to be with men, and each story included in this book is about women climbers keen to find their own way and their own voice. Each story is from a different woman and each has a short synopsis of her history with the club and her climbing feats.
A beautifully bound hardback book, it contains stories from the club’s early journals providing a useful introduction to Britain’s first women-only climbing club. The pages give an insight into the adventurous spirit of those early women, who were more than happy to set off in their skirts, only to hide them somewhere discreetly as they set off climbing.
Despite living in an era when the woman’s place was in the home, Pinnacle Club members were found sleeping wild on the top of the Cullin Ridge in order to be the first women to complete the traverse, an endeavour which required a second attempt when a combination of poor weather and lack of skills and proper attire made them retreat. Undeterred Lilian Bray and friends learned how to abseil and the following year completed the traverse in blistering sunshine. These were women unwilling to be beaten by the elements and unphased by the 30 and a half hours it took to complete it. Even today, the Cuillin Ridge is considered a daunting challenge.
The women write of their achievements without the need for self promotion and acclaim. In fact Evelyn Worsley Lowe’s tale The Substance and the Shadow is telling of women who just wanted to be able to enjoy the hills and crags without drawing attention to themselves:
There have always been people who liked having their photograph taken… and there have always been people who loved to see their own unillustrious name in print…Every bragging word about a mountain steals something of that inner satisfaction.
Reading this, I wonder what the Pinnacle Club members from those days think of climbing now, and the industry which has meant that men and women can make money from their achievements?
If you’re interested in the history of women climbing this is a great read as the stories are small windows into another era and provide an easy introduction to a club which has produced some of the country’s most elite and highly respected female climbers through the ages
By Emily Thompson