Without wishing to steal Meghan’s thunder, the most interesting woman I have been reading about on International Women’s Day is Lizzie Le Blond (1860 – 1934), an early she-mountaineer and film maker who was no less adept with pen and camera than she was with rope and ice axe.
My interest was sparked by the surprising information, contained in a history book I have no reason to mistrust, that she founded a Ladies Ski Club of Great Britain in London in 1907. That she was an early President of the Ladies’ Alpine Club, also founded in that year, is widely documented. But the ski club was news to me.
Arnold Lunn, who knew all about Le Blond’s exploits and publications, does not mention her in his account of the founding of the Ladies’ Ski Club, which took place at his instigation in Mürren. ‘In 1923 I suggested to my wife that it was about time somebody founded a ladies’ ski club,’ he writes in The Kandahar Story (1969), before describing the LSC as ‘the world’s senior club for lady ski-runners.’
Born Elizabeth Hawkins Whitshed, daughter of an Irish baronet in the Bentinck clan, at the age of 18 she married the exciting Boys’ Own Victorian superhero Fred Burnaby, produced a son, moved to Switzerland for the sake of her lungs and took up mountaineering. After Burnaby’s death in 1885 she entered into a second short-lived and unsatisfactory marriage, but had better luck with the porcelain-collector Aubrey Le Blond, whom she married in 1900. In addition to her climbing she was a keen winter sporter. Sources mention her expertise as a skater, but say nothing about skiing.
Her story has interesting parallels with that of Isabella Straton (1838 – 1918), who made a number of first ascents in the 1870s, including the Pointe Isabelle and the first winter ascent of Mont Blanc; married her Chamonix mountain guide Jean Charlet, and had a Chamonix hotel named after her by their grandchildren. Straton-Charlet was quite a bit older than Elizabeth, but they may well have met and exchanged notes when Le Blond arrived in Chamonix in 1881 and set her sights on Mont Blanc.
According to the obituary in the Alpine Journal Lizzie’s favourite guides were ‘Edouard Cupelin, Emile Rey, Wieland Wieland, Josef Imboden and his son Roman. These last two especially rendered devoted services to her for many years. Mrs. Le Blond felt the untimely death of the latter on the Lyskamm so much that she practically gave up climbing in the Alps, visiting Norway with Josef and another of his sons for several seasons in succession. A great number of first ascents, mostly about the Lyngenfjord, rewarded their efforts. When Josef Imboden finally retired from the axe, Mrs. Le Blond retired too.’ Roman Imboden died in 1896, so it might be that Mrs Le B’s move away from the Alps pre-dated the British skiing craze, which didn’t really get under way until the first decade of the new century. She might easily have skied in Norway, however.
Josef Imboden and Elizabeth Le Blond
One of Lizzie Le B’s many books was an autobiography: Day In, Day Out (1928). Perhaps it will shed light on the LSCGB.