Yesterday I climbed Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) for the first time. It was a warm sunny day, though a bit hazy, and the views were spectacular – there are some photos on Flickr. When I say that I climbed Snowdon, what kind of activity does that conjure up for you?

I went up the Miners Track from Pen y Pass and then descended by way of the Llanberis Path. In places the Miners Track is very step and hands are needed to help you up or down, while you can walk up and down the Llanberis Path relatively easily, or even run, if you’re feeling very energetic. So no actual climbing, as in climbing up or down rock faces, was involved. Other routes up Snowdon might require that kind of climbing.

The OED defines climb as:

1. To raise oneself by grasping or clinging, or by the aid of hands and feet; ‘to mount by means of some hold or footing’ (Johnson); to creep up; to ascend, come, or go up, a perpendicular or steep place.
2. To ascend (anything steep) by hands and feet, creep up; to get to the top or summit of; to mount, scale.

It comes from the Old English climb-an, clamb (clǫmb), clumbon, clumben, which is believed to be a nasalized form of the Germanic *klîƀan (to cleave).

So I did climb in the sense that I ascended or scaled the mountain, though didn’t need to use my hands or to grasp or cling very much, and I didn’t creep up either.

8 thoughts on “Climbing

  1. “Climbing” always makes me envision either a mountain or a ladder, one or the other, but that’s me.


  2. I’d call that climbing, and also hiking. If you’d been going up and down cliff faces, then it would still have been climbing, but not hiking.

  3. I know in Dutch it’s klimmen, obviously a direct cognate. Interesting that there’s no simple verb for the antonym, only V+preposition combinations: ‘climb/go/come (back) down’.

    In French the equivalent comes from mont ‘mountain’: monter, from whence our ‘mount’, incongruously used mainly for steeds. Again, the antonym is a complex verb descendre derived from the Latin scandere ‘climb’, which has no simple cognate in French that I know of.

    Occitan uses verbs that recall the generally mountainous terrain of Occitania. ‘Climb’ is pujar from puèg, pòg, puèi ‘hill’/’mountain’ (< Latin podium) and the antonym is davalar from daval ‘down’. And daval itself comes from a prepositional phrase with val ‘vale’/’valley’, paired with damont ‘above’.

    These are reflected in the French prepositional phrases en amont ‘upstream’ and en aval ‘downstream’. The funny thing is that the direct French cognate of davalar is avaler ‘to swallow’, as far removed from the meaning of the original root as ‘mount’ in ‘mount a horse’.

  4. I was thinking that myself there being no one word verbs for the act of climbing down. All we have is alight, descend, abseil and dismount each with their own limitations of usage?

  5. Pretty much OT, but my reaction on reading your post was “he’s done it some days too soon” because on 29th June 1982 I spent my day climbing Snowdon while my wife (soon to be ex-wife, but not for that reason) and daughters stayed in the guest house watching television, because someone or other was getting married that day in Westminster Abbey. I don’t plan to spend 29th April 2011 watching any weddings either.

  6. Not that this has anything to do with anything, but I’m going to North Wales with my family this July, and I’ve been looking at the map and thinking of climbing Mount Snowdon. Or maybe rather Carnedd Llywelyn. But we’ll see — going with children I’ll probably end up settling for shorter hikes. We’ll not be renting one of those wrong-side-of the-road cars, so there”ll be some limits on how far and fast we can go before using our feet.

  7. BTW, I was convinced that the wedding of Charles and Diana happened the year before that and later in the summer, since place and people pins it down to just a few days after my family moved to Bergen. Memory is a strange thing, but in this case Wikipedia indeed gives the date as 29th of July 1981.

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