I first heard of Miriam Underhill on a hike with Chuckles. Another hiker came upon us taking a break, and I’m not sure how it came up, but he told us about this woman back in the early 20th century who did lots of mountaineering and “manless climbing.” Shortly after the hike, I found an article about her, became even more intrigued, and tracked down her memoir.
Underhill began climbing as a teenager in the Alps. She started out with guides, but quickly realized that to really gain skill, and have some more fun, she’d need to lead her own climbs. And in order to be taken seriously, men could not help in the ascents at all. She and some female friends completed several all-women climbs between 1929 and 1931.
Then she married Robert Underhill, and he became her lifelong climbing partner. After the war, they restricted their climbing to the States for a while, putting up first ascents in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. Later, they were founding members of the Four Thousand Footer game in New Hampshire, and Miriam came up with the winter game rules.
This memoir is a great look at the life of a woman mountaineering back when it was a pretty unusual pastime. Underhill explains the logistics of her climbs very matter of factly, glossing over any risks or discomfort with a dry sense of humor. Reading the book felt like I was listening to an awesome aunt tell me badass stories of her youth.