Frederick L. Dunn '51 was trapped last month on the vertical wall of a 700-foot cliff in British Columbia. Below him was a 500-foot sheer drop to a pile of avalanche rock and above him a 200-foot granite face; he had nothing to stand on but a rock ledge two feet wide. The sun had set and a blizzard was tearing about him, and there was only one thing Dunn conld do. He rolled out his sleeping bag and went to bed.
For the last 25 years, Harvard Mountaineering Club members have gotten into the same sort of jams and gone back for more. The club celebrated its silver anniversary this summer by sending four expeditions to four countries, climbing mountains like Teepe's Pillar and Devil's Paw and mapping miles of snow-covered peaks never before seen by human eyes.
Stairway Up a Mountain
Dunn's party had a typically tough time. The all-Harvard group chopped staircases into ice cliffs, climbed skyline ridges, and waded through glacial streams for six days only to have snow and rain force them into their mountain tents for the rest of their stay.
They had more trouble getting back--like the two-foot ledge. "It was too dark to go on," says Dunn. "We tried to sleep on the side of the cliff. Nevison huddled into the wall and Scudder crouched by a crack. I stretched out on the ledge and lined up four rocks to keep me from falling." The cliff was no place for sleepwalkers.
The rest of their story sounds like a Pearl White thriller. When the group woke up in the morning they were covered with three inches of snow, and spent most of the day edging down the face. Then they started on the road back home--a seven-mile ice field called the Illecilliwaet Neve--through a blinding snowstorm and with only two cans of Spam and a handful of prunes for food. They were on it for 28 hours, and just had enough strength to effect rescue when one of the students fell twenty feet into a crevasse.
Other HMC parties were deployed this summer to the Grand Tetons of Wyoming, the Coast Range in Alaska, and the French Alps--a fact which might surprise some of the founders, who originally started the club as a bull-session society. This was in 1924, when Henry S. Hall, Jr. '19 returned from climbing near Banff and wanted to tell all his friends about it. So he invited them to his house and started talking, and called it the Harvard Mountaineering Club.
Club Has Its Ups and Downs
It was the first collegiate mountaineering club in the country. But in those early days members did all their climbing in the summer, returning to college to spend beery winter evenings in praise of their achievements. Finally it occurred to someone that there were, after all, some rocks in Boston; and from then on the club supplemented its oral activities with term-time climbing.
The first HMC-sponsored climb was probably to the granite quarries in Quincy, whose smooth, vertical walls were originally cut away for the Bunker Hill Monument. By 1932 the Club had graduated from the molehills of Quincy to the mountains of Asia, and joined in a year-long expedition that reached the top of Minya Kouka--the biggest peak in China--despite makeshift wood-and-iron equipment. The party's original equipment had been shanghaid, logically enough, in Shanghai.
Minya Kouka started a series of daring Asian climbs. The highest mountain ever scaled--Nanda Devi--fell originally to an HMC group in an ascent where the routine calamities of mountain climbing expanded into a series of near-disasters. Seven Harvard men (plus a gentleman from the Alpine Club of London) attacked the 25,600-foot "White Goddess" in 1936 and (1) ran into a glacial flood, (2) lost half of their local porters in a mass mutiny, (3) had to make six trips down a 12-mile gorge to carry in supplies, and (4) had a case of ptomaine poisoning 1000 feet from the summit. After half a year of work, only two of the party reached the peak. They spent an hour there and left.
In 1938 a part-HMC party set out to reconnoiter K2, the second largest mountain in the world. To their surprise they get 1000 feet from the top--and had to turn back because of a food shortage. A few years later a Harvard man and a Dartmouth man made headlines by rescuing a starving aviator from Devil's Tower, a fantastic-looking column jutting from the Wyoming desert. It seems that the flyer, who parachuted onto the tower on a bet, had imprudently neglected to make further plans.
In its 25 years of climbing, the club has seen only two fatalities, both of them in the last two years. In 1947 Charles Shiverick '50 was killed in a Canadian avalanche; this summer Graham McNear '50 fell 1500 feet to his death near Mt. Blane.
The 1949 HMC is a live-wire group that runs a cabin on Mt. Washington and a library back home, and diffuses over the countryside at regularly stated intervals in search of half-inch fingerholds on half-mile cliffs. When beginners are invited along on these trips as they are every Sunday for instruction--the experience can be traumatic.
The Brahmins Are Shacked