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March 26, 2021

Two Women in Long Dresses and Hats Rock Climbing the Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh in the 1900s

These days, rock climbing equipment is very high tech, with safety features like harnesses, spring-loaded carabiners, helmets, as well as special climbing shoes with crips, spikes and rubber soles. This wasn’t the case in the early 1900s, as this amazing photograph taken in Holyrood Park shows.

Lucy Smith and Pauline Ranken of the Ladies’ Scottish Climbing Club climbing the Salisbury Crags in 1908.

Lucy Smith and Pauline Ranken, two members of the Ladies’ Scottish Climbing Club founded in 1908, can be seen ascending Salisbury Crags wearing long, ankle-length skirts, hats, blouses and smart shoes. The only protection they had was a length of rope that was tied around each of their waists. There were no harnesses, crampons or other modern safety equipment available to them at the time.

Lucy Smith, one of the women in the photo, was one of the founder members of the Ladies’ Scottish Climbing Club: the other two founders were Jane Inglis Clarke and her daughter Mabel. They formed the club because as women, they were barred from joining the men-only Scottish Mountaineering Club, and they trained regularly on Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh.

All three women climbed extensively in Scotland and the Alps before forming the club, including the major climbing areas in Scotland such as Crianlarich, Glencoe and Skye. And they did much of that climbing in thick, long tweed skirts, smart jackets and hats. Unlike the men’s club, who wore stout boots and trousers, which must have made things easier.

The club meeting at the start of 1909. Founder Lucy Smith is leftmost while Jane Inglis Clark is in the centre of the doorway.

By the end of 1908 the club had fourteen members. To qualify, women had to ascend four peaks of at least 3,000 feet with two snow climbs and two rock climbs. To be decent, they would start their climbs in their restrictive, long skirts. However, when no men were around they would often discard these to climb in knickerbockers: knee length trousers that could be hidden under dresses.

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