The Ladies Scottish Climbing Club

The Ladies Scottish Climbing Club was founded in the lee of a large boulder near the Lix Toll, Glen Dochart, in Perthshire on 18 April 1908.

The women were Jane Inglis Clark, her daughter Mabel Jeffrey, and Lucy Smith.

All three had gained significant climbing experience with their husbands and brothers in both Scotland the Alps, so whatever the reason for them being at this otherwise non-descript boulder, they were hatching some great ideas.

The beginnings of the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club

This is how the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal for September 1908 commemorates the event:

'The Ladies Scottish Climbing Club. The Victorian Era has seen the rise of many things, and the lot of man, collectively, has improved beyond conception. Sport in its many aspects has advanced with rapid stride, and woman, making up the leeway of centuries, has jostled to the front to take her place alongside man in the many active pursuits so long considered to be alone suited for the masculine persuasion.

'But although women had shared in the joys of mountaineering with their husbands, brothers, or guides, it has been left to the present gracious reign to find lady climbers banding themselves into Clubs with the same aims as those of the various male Climbing Clubs. Last year the Ladies Alpine Club came into existence, and now the Ladies' Scottish Climbing Club has not only been formed, but has carried out several highly successful meets. Perhaps a few lines may be spared to tell of its inception, organisation and aims. In its origin it has been so much bound up in its relationship with the SMC that I imagine my fellow-members will wish to know more about it, and to wish it a successful career.During the month of April, the daughter of our former President, Mr W C Smith, (Lucy Smith) was spending a short holiday with my wife (Jane Inglis Clark) and daughter (Mabel Inglis Clark) at Killin, the special object of which was to carry out climbing expeditions in the neighbourhood. Some were accomplished guideless, others in the company with members of the SMC. The idea of a Ladies' Climbing Club has often been mooted before, and this now soon became an accomplished fact, the actual date of its birth being April 18th.'

At its first meeting in Edinburgh on 27 May 1908, a committee was appointed and a constitution agreed with the main aim to:

' … bring together Ladies who are lovers of mountain-climbing, and to encourage mountaineering in Scotland, in winter as well as summer.'

Edwardian ladies

Of course there is no doubt that these were indeed ‘Ladies’ in the very sense of the word. In 1908 only the wealthy had the leisure time to enjoy long weekends in the highlands of Scotland or make trips to the Alps.

The ladies of the climbing club enjoyed all the trappings of their status that allowed them to indulge in such leisure activities. Married to lawyers, doctors and other middle-class professions, often with housekeepers and servants they had the leisure time to enjoy outdoor pursuits. A luxury relatively few Edwardian women had.

Nevertheless, through their determination and love of the outdoors, these pioneering women did much to break down barriers in the active enjoyment of 'dangerous outdoor pursuits' which had been deemed only suitable for men.

In her article 'One hundred years of the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club' for the Mountaineering Council of Scotland Helen Steven said: 'It is hard to imagine nowadays the amount of determination and energy required by these essentially middle class conventional ladies to assert their right to be different and to climb independently of their menfolk.'

From the early records of the club, it's clear that these women had an unquenchable spirit of exploration and adventure. Far from taking any easy or tourist routes, these women found original, untested and untried routes up almost everything.

This was the reason why they formed their own club, so that they could explore and pioneer routes and develop their climbing skills to the full.

In the club's 21st anniversary journal, founder Jane Inglis Clark wrote:

'Mountaineering for women is the very best of sports, for here there is no rivalry, no seeking applause, no possibility of heart-sickening sense of defeat. We leave our differences behind, and when climbing there is time to feel, to think, to be oneself. Mountaineering for women seems to have come as part of their emancipation, especially from the old conventional restraints. Indeed it is almost impossible for the girl of today to realise the great difficulties and prejudices that had to be overcome in those early days of climbing for women.'

View March 1929 LSCC journal page by page: The journal is reproduced by kind permission of the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club.

Achievements of some prominent members

  • 1908: Jane Inglis Clark — first female ascent of Crowberry Ridge Buchaille Etive Mhor
  • 1930s: Pat Bell was the first woman to carry out a solo traverse of all the 4,000 foot tops in the Cairngorms, a distance of 19 miles with 6,869 feet climbed
  • 1940s: Esme Speakman put up several first ascents of routes in Glencoe, e.g. January Jigsaw, classic severe on Buchaille Etive Mhor
  • 1950s: Annie Hirst was the first woman to complete all the Munros
  • 1954: Betty Stark, Cynthia Marr, Evelyn Camrass and Elma Wrench organised one of the first mountaineering expeditions to Arctic Norway
  • 1955: Monica Jackson, Betty Stark and Evelyn Camrass formed the first all-women's expedition to the Himalaya, surveyed the Phurbal Chyachumbu glacier and made the first ascent of the 22,000ft Gyalgen Peak
  • 1964: Betty Stark and Evelyn Camrass were the only women on the Scottish Peruvian expedition on 1964, with five first ascents of peaks, including Sirijuani at 18, 400ft
  • 1964: Anne Littlejohn was the first woman to complete all the Munroes and Corbetts
  • 1968: Women's expedition to Greenland
  • 1970: Helen Steven and others on another ladies expedition to Greenland — first women's ascents of Berserker Spire and Adverikie, in Alpefjord
  • 1982: Kathy Murgatroyd became the first woman to climb all the Munros in one expedition using only her feet and a bicycle, apart from the ferries to the islands (1 May to 11 September)
  • 1995: LSCC member Kate Charles was the first woman to overwinter with British Antarctic Survey
  • 2010: Kate Ross became the first British woman to climb all the 4,000 metre mountains in the Alps.

Believing these things to be possible is half the battle for women climbers. Once you know what has been achieved, it is easier to imagine yourself following in their footsteps.

LSCC jubilee film by Ben Humble


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