Today [March 26] marks one hundred years since the founding of the Pinnacle Club – the UK’s national women’s rock-climbing club.
The Club’s celebrations are taking place virtually, due to coronavirus restrictions, and include the launch of a new website –www.pc100.org – that brings the Club’s fascinating history to life. The site includes snippets of recordings of members talking about their lives, collected for the centenary in collaboration with the British Library.
The Club began in the Pen y Gwryd Inn in Snowdonia, North Wales with 43 women joining at the inaugural meeting. Many women remained in the Club all their lives, including the first President, Eleanor Winthrop-Young, who was the last founding member to pass away in 1994.
The Club was the brainchild of Manchester climber, Emily Kelly, who tragically died just a year after the Club was founded. Emily Kelly and Eleanor Winthrop-Young announced the founding of the Club in a joint letter, published in the Manchester Guardian in April 1921. The letter was supported in an editorial by the then editor, Charles Edward Montague. Both he and his wife Madeleine were climbers; she joined the Pinnacle Club in 1922.
Within a year of that first meeting, the Club’s membership had grown by half as much again. By 1945, the Club had just under 100 members, and this growth continued through the following decades. The Club today has 170 members, the youngest in their 20s and the oldest in their 90s.
The Club’s longest standing and oldest member, Gwen Moffat, is also probably the most well-known. Gwen became the first female British mountain guide in 1953 and climbed extensively in the UK and the Alps. Her autobiography, Space below my feet, was published to rave reviews in 1961. Gwen Moffat — The Pinnacle Club Centenary: 100 years of women’s rock climbing and mountaineering (pc100.org)
Club archivist, Margaret Clennett, said: “The Club was formed so that women could take full responsibility as independent climbers in their own right. Climbing in the 1920s lacked the technical equipment that makes it a relatively safe sport today and so any kind of fall could be serious. As such, the strongest climber was always the leader and in mixed groups – given social expectations at the time – that almost always meant a man. Through the Pinnacle Club, more women began to take the lead.”
The fascinating history of the Club is embodied in journals, photographs, films, letters and the memories of Club members, some now in their 80s and 90s. Through a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant, the Club has digitised its extensive photo archive and made oral recordings with members, to capture those memories and inspiring life stories.
The centenary website (www.pc100.org) combines snippets of these interviews, extracts from Club journals and archive photos to paint a picture of women’s climbing over the last 100 years.
Thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund grant, two films are also in production for the centenary. One will repurpose original footage from the 1962 Pinnacle Club Jagdula Expedition, which saw the first ascents of four Himalayan peaks. The other will chart the Club’s development – and women’s climbing – over the last century, as well as look to the next 100 years.
Former Club President, Val Hennelly, who has coordinated the preparations for the Club’s Centenary, said: “We’ve got exhibitions and events planned to take place this year, both physically and virtually, to ensure the story of the Club and the women within it reaches as wide an audience as possible.”
The centenary archive work is being supported by the Mountain Heritage Trust who will house the club’s hard copy photos. Through a partnership with National Life Stories, the full oral history recordings will be housed in the British Library Sound Archive, to create the first dedicated oral collection on climbing. The Club’s own library, including its journals and handbooks dating back to 1921, are housed in Bangor University Library.
Pinnacle Club President, Alex Nicholson said: “Today is an important day for the Club and for women’s climbing in the UK. For now, the party will just be online, but we hope to be able to get together to do a celebratory climb in honour of our founders before too long. The vision they had for a women’s climbing club has stood the test of time and is still going strong today.”