Friday Feminist – Freda du Faur (2)

We decided therefore to climb Mount Sealy on the first fine day, the weather having turned bad after our day on Mount Kinsey. Mount Sealy requires a bivouac, as it is some distance from the Hermitage, and there are no huts in that direction. This fact did not trouble me, but I soon learnt to my sorrow that I had to reckon with the other people in the house. As I was a girl, travelling alone, the women in the house apparently considered themselves more or less responsible for my actions. On Mount Kinsey I had been accompanied by a tourist who wished to join our party. As soon as I cheerfully announced, when asked, that I was going to climb Mount Sealy alone with a guide, I found myself up against all the cherished conventions of the middle-aged. In vain I argued and pointed out that I had come to the mountains to climb, not to sit on the veranda and admire the view. If I were to limit my climbs to occasions on which I could induce another woman or man to accompany me, I might as well take the next boat home. At the moment there was no one in the hotel who could or would climb Mount Sealy; there was not the ghost of a climber on the premises, only women who found a two-mile walk quite sufficient for their powers. This they could not deny, but they assured me in all seriousness that if I went out alone with a guide I would lose my reputation.

The fact that the guide in question was Peter Graham, whose reputation as a man was one at which the most rigid moralist could not cavil, made no difference. They acknowledged it was true, but seemed absolutely incapable of applying it to the facts of the case. One old lady implored me with tears in her eyes not to “spoil my life for so small a thing as climbing a mountain.” I declined gently but firmly to believe that it would be spoilt, and added, with some heat I am afraid, that if my reputation was so fragile a thing that it would not bear such a test, then I would be very well rid of a useless article. Though not convincing me that I was doing anything wrong, they had succeeded in worrying me considerably. I turned over plans in my mind, seeking a way out of the difficulty; for about ten minutes I almost succeeded in wishing that I possessed that useful appendage to a woman climber, a husband. However, I concluded sadly that even if I possessed him he would probably consider climbing unfeminine, and so my last state might be worse than my first, and the “possible he” was dismissed as unhelpful at this crisis of my affairs. Instead I sought out Graham and told him that the female population was holding up hands of horror, and asked what we were going to do about it. He suggested a compromise in the shape of taking a porter with us. I agreed to this, but felt vindictive when I thought of the extra expense entailed, and threatened to send the bill into my tormentors. Graham agreed that advice was cheap and that they might feel rather different if they were asked £1 a day for it. However, it seemed like the thin edge of the wedge, and later I would probably be beyond their advice. I sighed, not for the first time in my existence, over the limits imposed upon me by the mere fact that I was unfortunate enough to be born a woman. I would like to see a man asked to pay for something he neither needed nor wanted, when he had been hoarding up every penny so that he need not be cramped for want of funds. I don’t wish to pose as a martyr, but merely to point out the disadvantages of being a woman pioneer even in the colonies, where we are supposed to be so much less conventional than elsewhere. I was the first unmarried woman who had wanted to climb in New Zealand, and in consequence I received all the hard knocks until one day when I awoke more or less famous in the mountaineering world, after which I could and did do exactly as seemed to me best.

Fortunately in this world, the wonder of one day is taken as a matter of course the next; so now, five years after my first fight for individual freedom, the girl climber at the Hermitage need expect nothing worse than raised eyebrows when she starts out unchaperoned and clad in climbing costume. It is some consolation to have achieved as much as this, and to have blazed one more little path through ignorance and convention, and added one tiny spark to the ever-growing beacon lighted by the women of this generation to help their fellow-travellers climb out of the dark woods and valleys of conventional tradition and gain the fresh, invigorating air and wider view-point of the mountain-tops.

Freda du Faur, The Conquest of Mount Cook and Other Climbs: An Account of Four Seasons’ Mountaineering on the Southern Alps of New Zealand, 1915.

Again, thank you to M-H, for first telling me about Freda du Faur.


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