Montana State University

Local climbers to give Nov. 30 lecture explaining how mountaineering changed science

November 18, 2011 -- MSU News Service

Dennis Duenas climbs the Weisshorn in August to celebrate the 150th anniversary of a monumental climb by Irish physicist John Tyndall. (Photo by Michael Reidy).    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN - A free public lecture on "How Mountaineering Changed Science" will be presented Wednesday, Nov. 30, at Montana State University's Museum of the Rockies.

Two local climbers -- MSU historian Michael Reidy and photographer and alpaca rancher Dennis Duenas -- will show photographs and video of the climb they made this past summer to celebrate the 150th anniversary of a monumental climb by Irish physicist John Tyndall. Their 6 p.m. lecture will combine mountaineering, science and history to bring Tyndall and the Golden Age of Mountaineering back to life.

Tyndall was a pioneering alpinist with numerous first ascents to his name, Reidy said. On Aug. 19, 1861, Tyndall made the first ascent of the Weisshorn, a solitary snow-covered peak in the Swiss Alps long considered to be unreachable. He was the first to study the approaches to the Matterhorn and the first to turn it into a pass, climbing up the Lion's Ridge from Italy and down the Hornli Ridge to Switzerland. He also pioneered guideless climbing, making the first successful solo climb of the Monte Rosa, the highest peak in Switzerland.

At the time of his most daring climbs, Tyndall was also celebrated as one of the greatest and most controversial scientists in Europe, Reidy said. He was a staunch defender of Darwinism and the discoverer of the natural greenhouse effect (which is why all climate research centers in Britain are named Tyndall Centres). He combined his two passions -- climbing and physics -- by incorporating a vertical orientation into his research.

Tyndall died two strange deaths, both at the hands of his wife Louisa, Reidy said. In his first death, she accidentally gave him an overdose of a powerful narcotic. In her grief, she demanded control of all his correspondence and journals to write a biography glorifying his life. Twenty-five years his junior, she outlived him by forty-five years, without publishing anything. As a result, Tyndall endured a second, more prolonged death, and today he is largely forgotten.

For a related article, see, "MSU historian heads international project on 19th century scientist."

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or