The Spirit of a Mountain Climber

Today is the birthday of Frank Smythe probably one of the greatest mountain climbers of the early 20th Century. He was born on the 6th of July 1900 and from an early age he had a deep passion for the hills. During his climbing career he pioneered two new routes on the Brenva Face of Mont Blanc, the first ascent of Kamet (India) which in 1931 was the highest mountain yet climbed, and made attempts on Kangchenjunga (the second highest mountain in Nepal) and Mount Everest. His most successful expedition to Everest saw him reaching 28,120ft only a 1,000ft beneath the summit setting an altitude record for climbing without supplemental oxygen that was not broken until 1978! But what is rarely written about Frank Smythe was that not only was he a great alpine climber but also a passionate and gifted photographer. He didn’t just simply record his expeditions, he created stunning photographs of breath taking quality of the mountain landscapes he explored which he published in his numerous books such as “Camera In the Hills” “Over the Welsh Hills”, “Alpine Ways” and many more.

So in my own way I decided to celebrate the birthday of this great man by posting a few pictures from one of my own adventures in the hills. They where taken on a friend’s stag weekend in the southern Lake District. On the morning of the walk a heavy mist had rolled in off the Irish Sea, it lay thickly in the valleys and it wasn’t until we started to gain some height that the landscape around us really came into view.

Fox Haw

Fox Haw and Long Mire. Ilford HP5, Yellow Filter.

The objective of the days climb was the steep rocky peak of the Caw which rises sharply from the craggy mass of the remote Dunnerdale Fells. As we began to near the summit more and more distant fells came into view, Ulpha, Harter, Grey Friar, and the lofty summit of White Maiden. After a quick break on the summit which was just about big enough for us all to sit and have a our lunch we started our descent back.

Caw in the Mist

Caw and Cloud. Ilford HP5, Yellow filter.

We were picking our way down through the crags and mosses back towards where we started earlier that day at Stephens Ground when I stumbled across a small pool of water. It was crystal clear and through its base ran a thick seam of quartz which carried on up through the rock face beside it. I love finding hidden places like this, often overlooked they can be a microcosm of the greater landscape.

Roots of the mountain

Roots of the Hill. Ilford HP5, Yellow filter.

It was a memorable day spent in the hills with great friends and I hope Frank would have approved of the pictures. Though only 1,600ft the Caw is a small hill compared to is more famous neighbours, but what it lacks in height it certainly makes up for in its grandeur, it is a true mountain in every sense, and as Frank put it himself;

“Comparisons between low hills and high hills are invidious. There is no denying the grandeur of the Himalayas; there is also no denying the grandeur of the British hills. I have seen Snowdon on a misty September morning as far removed from earth as Kangchenjunga. Altitude in terms of figures counts for little. It is the instant vision that matters”

                                                                                Frank S. Smythe, “Spirit of the Hills”

 

Thanks for reading!

Graham

 

 

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5 comments on “The Spirit of a Mountain Climber

  1. Alison Bowman says:

    Reading this and gazing upon your lovely pictures was a very pleasant way to escape from the office!

  2. Great image, we must discuss at some stage my painting by Powell, art tutor at Eaton who died when on a climbing trip, I have the last watercolour painting he did before his death. I’m also fascinated by Irvine and Mallory.

    • grahamvasey says:

      Wow that’s incredible! I didn’t mention it but I was on Franks Smythe 1933 exhibition he saw a body which he believed to be Iriven or Mallory and later during the climb the other climber found an ice axe beneath the first step!

  3. cooke kenneth says:

    A great tribute to a wonderful man. I have many of his photographic essay books and I totally agree, he was a talented photographer with a keen eye for detail as well as a superb alpinist both on the hills in this country, the Alps and The Greater Ranges. Having pursued a parallel passion for many years his books take you with him it what in my opinion was the Golden Age of the sport. I have also skied at many of the locations Frank skied. Thank you making this fitting tribute to a truly wonderful human being. For those new to Frank’s writings, seek them out and enjoy.- Regards Kenneth- West Yorkshire- UK

    • grahamvasey says:

      Thank you Kenneth that’s very kind of you to say really pleased you enjoyed my post especially as you are a great fan yourself!! I’m hoping to do some follow up posts drawing more on the influence of the great man!!

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