Sunday, April 19, 2009

Killing Dragons

I was wandering through Half-Price Books in a haze one afternoon when I came across this book, by Fergus Fleming. It's an account of the earliest days of mountain climbing, which started in the Alps.

Prior to the invasion by British adventurers, in the late 1800s, the Alps were pretty much ignored by those who lived in their shadows. People who lived near them actually believed that the mountain caves were inhabited by dragons and other mythic creatures.

When the climbers first started ascending the mountains, they had no specialized climbing gear, no ropes, no fancy shoes, but they did carry barometers and thermometers to take readings at the top of the mountains. Mountaineering wasn't seen as a legitimate pursuit unless it was for scientific purposes. The mountaineers also traveled with large groups of porters who carried their tents and hammocks and wine.

Through the years, climbing became more of a sport, and teams of climbers competed, sometimes in cut-throat ways, to see who could bag the most peaks.

I'm an armchair mountain climber, and I was fascinated by the book. I'd love to go to the Alps, not to climb them, but to at least look at them.