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Great Britain

Unearthed photos show Victorian climbers in petticoats scaling cliff-faces WITHOUT safety ropes

DIZZY HEIGHTS

AS mountaineering continues to be popular, with queues forming at the top of Mount Everest, rare photographs of the first ever rock climbers have been unearthed.

The astonishing images show men and women dressed in petticoats without a safety rope in sight tackling cliff-faces in the Lake District in the 1890s, when rock climbing just started taking off as an activity.

The unearthed photographs – taken by climber-photographers George and Ashley Abraham in the late 19th century - provide a rare insight into what Victorian rock climbing looked like.

The brothers from Keswick, Cumbria, started photographing mountaineers after meeting pioneering adventurer Owen Glynn Jones in the 1890s.

Together, the threesome began charting routes on the crags of the rugged landscape in the North-West of England, with their skills perfectly complimenting one another.

The Abraham brothers’ excellent photography skills and Jones’s enthusiasm to push the limits of what was possible created jaw-dropping imagery that still impresses even to this day.

The resulting photographs were sold as postcards, posters and books, laying the foundation for what is still a very popular sport.

In the Victorian era however, equipment was limited.

Climbers wore thick tweed jackets and country boots, and it was many years before safety techniques of any reliability were evolved.

They often climbed simultaneously which meant that if one man fell off, all those roped to him would be pulled off with him.

In fact, Owen Glynn Jones was involved in an accident like this that cost him his life climbing in the Alps on August 28th, 1899.

Today, how mountaineers climb is totally different and is much more likely to protect a climber from a serious fall.

Strong fibres are now used in rope, cord and webbing which has very high tensile strength, very different to the equipment of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Although the trio became famous thanks to the imagery they created on cliff-faces, it was Walter Perry Hadley Smith who is thought of as the father of British mountaineering.

It was he who made the first solo ascent of the Nape Needle in the late 1880s.

The feat was well-publicised and piqued the public’s interest.

The activity became popular with middle-class professionals, doctors, solicitors and teachers, and the Lake District started to attract a great many visitors.

The beautiful area is still a well-liked destination for rock climbers today who can follow in the footholds of those early mountaineers.


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