NaNoWriMo has begun and for a number of other reasons, I’m going to be extremely busy for the rest of the month. Since there’s also been a dearth of outdoor-related posts around here lately, I thought some of my readers might appreciate a few excerpts from Edward Whymper‘s Scrambles Amongst the Alps in the Years 1860-1869, which contains an account of his first ascent of the Matterhorn, an entertaining story about getting climbing gear through customs in the years before anyone would have recognized it as such, and some interesting descriptions of what outdoor equipment was like 150 years ago.
This description of an early mountaineering tent is taken from the Project Gutenberg release of the 1871 J. Murray edition, which notes that it would have spanned pages 46-47 in the paper original, from which the attached illustration was also taken. The original has this all in one long paragraph, which I’ve divided for easier online reading.
In the past winter I had turned my attention to tents, and that which we had brought with us was the result of experiments to devise one which should be sufficiently portable to be taken over the most difficult ground, and which should combine lightness with stability. Its base was just under six feet square, and a section perpendicular to its length was an equilateral triangle, the sides of which were six feet long. It was intended to accommodate four persons. It was supported by four ash poles six feet and a half long and one inch and a quarter thick, tapering to the top to an inch and an eighth: these were shod with iron points. […] Holes were drilled through the poles about five inches from their tops for the insertion of two wrought-iron bolts, three inches long and one-quarter of an inch thick. The bolts were then inserted, and the two pairs of poles were set out (and fixed up by a cord) to the proper dimensions.
The roof was then put on. This was made of the rough, unbleached calico called forfar, which can be obtained in six-feet widths, and it was continued round for about two feet on each side, on to the floor. The width of the material was the length of the tent, and seams were thus avoided in the roof. The forfar was sewn round each pole, particular care being taken to avoid wrinkles and to get the whole perfectly taut.
The flooring was next put in and sewn down to the forfar. This was of the ordinary plaid mackintosh, about nine feet square, the surplus three feet being continued up the sides to prevent draughts. It is as well to have two feet of this surplus on one side, and only one foot on the other, the latter amount being sufficient for the side occupied by the feet. One end was then permanently closed by a triangular piece of forfar, which was sewn down to that which was already fixed. The other end was left open, and had two triangular flaps that overlapped each other, and which were fastened up when we were inside by pieces of tape.
Lastly, the forfar was nailed down to the poles to prevent the tent getting out of shape. The cord which was used for climbing served for the tent: it was passed over the crossed poles and underneath the ridge of the roof, and the two ends—one fore and the other aft—were easily secured to pieces of rock. Such a tent costs about four guineas, and its weight is about twenty-three pounds; or, if the lightest kind of forfar is used, it need not exceed twenty pounds.