Mt. Tyndall P1K SPS / WSC
Mt. Versteeg

Sat, Jun 26, 2004
Mt. Tyndall
Mt. Versteeg
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Mt. Tyndall (14,018 ft.)

Named by Whitney Survey in 1864

"The name honors John Tyndall (1820-93), well-known British scientist and Alpinist. It was given by Clarence King and Richard Cotter of the Whitney Survey, who made the first ascent in July 1864."
- Erwin Gudde, California Place Names

"The creek was first named on the 15-minute quad."
- Peter Browning,

1820-93, English physicist, science lecturer, and writer; b. Ireland. He was professor (1853-87) and superintendent (1867-87) at the Royal Institution, London. He investigated light, sound, and radiant heat and studied Alpine glaciers. The scattering of light by colloids, known as the Tyndall effect, is named for him [this explains why the sky is blue]."

It seems likely that King envisioned himself as an American version of John Tyndall, who was well-known for his mountaineering exploits in the Alps during mountaineering's "Golden Age". Tyndall was in direct competition with Edward Whymper to climb the last great peak of that range, the Matterhorn. Below is an account of one of his attempts in 1862:

"Professor Tyndall had arrived while we were absent, and had engaged both Caesar and Jean-Antoine Carrel [famous guides of the era]. Bennen [another famous guide] was also with him, together with a powerful and active friend, a Valaisan guide, named Anton Walter. They had a ladder already prepared, provisions were being collected, and they intended to start on the following morning (Sunday). This new arrival took me by surprise. Bennen, it will be remembered, refused point-blank to take Professor Tyndall on the Matterhorn in 1861. "He was dead against any attempt on the mountain," says Tyndall. He was now eager to set out. Professor Tyndall has not explained in what way this revolution came about in his guide. I was equally astonished at the faithlessness of Carrel, and attributed it to pique at our having presumed to do without him. It was useless to compete with the Professor and his four men, who were ready to start in a few hours, so I waited to see what would come of their attempt.

Everything seemed to favor it, and they set out on a fine morning in high spirits, leaving me tormented with envy and all uncharitableness. If they succeeded, they carried off the prize for which I had been so long struggling; and if they failed, there was no time to make another attempt, for I was due in a few days more in London. When this came home clearly to me, I resolved to leave Breuil at once, but, when packing up, found that some necessaries had been left behind in the tent [part-way up the Matterhorn, from an attempt days earlier]. So I went off about midday to recover them; caught the army of the Professor before it reached the Col, as they were going very slowly; left them there (stopping to take food), and went on to the tent. I was near to it when all at once I heard a noise aloft, and, on looking up, perceived a stone of at least a foot cube flying straight at my head. I ducked, and scrambled under the lee side of a friendly rock, while the missle went by with a loud buzz. It was the advanced guard of a perfect storm of stones, which descended with infernal clatter down the very edge of the ridge, leaving a trail of dust behind, with a strong smell of sulphur, that told who had sent them. The men below were on the look-out, but the stones did not come near them, and breaking away on one side descended the glacier.

I waited at the tent to welcome the Professor, and when he arrived went down to Breuil. Early next morning someone ran to me saying that a flag was seen on the summit of the Matterhorn. It was not so, however, although I saw that they had passed the place where we had turned back on the 26th. I had now no doubt of their final success, for they had got beyond the point which Carrel, not less than myself, had always considered to be the most questionable place on the whole mountain. Up to it there was no choice of route. I suppose that at no one point between it and the Col was it possible to diverge a dozen paces to the right or left; but beyond it it was otherwise, and we had always agreed, in our debates, that if it could be passed success was certain.

My knapsack was packed, and I had drunk a parting glass of wine with Favre, who was jubilant at the success which was to make the fortune of his inn; but I could not bring myself to leave until the result was heard, and lingered about, as a foolish lover hovers round the object of his affection, even after he has been contemptuously rejected. The sun had set before the men were descried coming over the pastures. There was no spring in their steps -- they, too, were defeated. The Carrels hid their heads, and the others said, as men will do when they have been beaten, that the mountain was horrible, impossible, and so forth. Professor Tyndall told me they had arrived within a stone's throw of the summit, and admonished me to have nothing more to do with the mountain. I understood him to say that he should not try again, and ran down to the village of Val Tournanche, almost inclined to believe that the mountain was inaccessible; leaving the tent, ropes, and other matters in the hands of Favre, to be placed at the disposal of any person who wished to ascend it, more, I am afraid, out of irony than for generosity. There may have been those who believed that the Matterhorn could be ascended, but, anyhow, their faith did not bring forth works. No one tried again in 1862."

- Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps

Tyndall did make further attempts in the following years, but it was Whymper who first reached the summit in 1865. Tyndall reached the summit in 1867, and was the first to make a traverse up one route, across the summit, and down by another route.

References to can also be found in these files:

  • More of Bob's Trip Reports

    For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Tyndall - Mt. Versteeg

    This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:02:15 2007
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