‘Not quite a Lady’s expedition’

Anne Lister's climb of Mont Perdu

Marlene Oliveira

Published on 26 August, 2023 · Last updated on  26 August, 2023

Cover photo by Moahim (CC BY-SA 4.0) 

Anne Lister was a keen traveller who enjoyed a good adventure and didn't shy away from climbing mountains. She had been impressed by the Alps when she travelled in the region in 1827 and at the time her heart was set on Mont Blanc, but that ascent would never materialise. 

By the time she was studying in France in the early 1830s, Anne had climbed five mountains, all of them in the British Isles. Her ascent of Ben Nevis (1,345 m or 4,413 ft) had been her greatest achievement in mountaineering to date. However, in the spring of 1830, Anne started to think about a trip to the Pyrenees, which she debated undertaking with Lady Stuart de Rothesay as her companion. Unbeknownst to her, this would lead her to yet another impressive achievement in her career as a mountaineer: the ascent of Mont Perdu. 

Estimated reading time: 40 minutes.

This article describes active research and the facts and details included have and will continue to be updated as new information is uncovered. If you come across any other relevant information that can help clarify or expand the topics below, please get in touch

A summer adventure

In the summer of 1830, Anne Lister headed to the Pyrenees. She was accompanied by Lady Elizabeth Stuart de Rothesay (1789-1867), who was the wife of the British ambassador in Paris at the time, and the two children of the couple, Charlotte and Louisa. What had started as a normal sightseeing tour started to evolve into a complicated situation a few days later when Anne and her companions learned about the July Revolution on the 28th of July 1830, whilst at Bordeaux. As usual, Anne makes a few comments in a few short encoded lines, remarking on how the news was a "great sensation in Bordeaux" (Lister 1830 Jul 29). Then they travel forwards to Tarbes via Auch and Anne catches a first glimpse of the Pyrenees from a hill above Vicnau. 

"After all the Pyrenees no more to be compared to the Alps than light to dark - little or no snow (save a few small specks) to be seen on the former - a fine chain of mountains certainly, but not of Swiss or Savoy High Alps -"

1 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/E/13/0069 

By the 2nd of August 1830, the situation in Paris and indeed in other parts of France remained tense. It is when she’s trying to exchange a couple of circulars with the banker in Tarbes that Anne learns about the true dimension of the problem. The banker discreetly talks to Anne about the effects of the July Revolution, which were still being felt throughout the country. The French government was still nonexistent and “the majority of deputies wanted to govern   and the majority with the king at their head were determined not to let them” and thus no newspapers and only a few letters had reached Tarbes in the preceding eight days (Lister 1830 Aug 2). The banker also mentions the casualties of the revolution “said to have been thirty thousand people killed in Paris”, but he reassures Anne that the best course of action is to stay in the Pyrenees region and, under no circumstances, cross the border to Spain at that moment in time as it would be wiser to wait a few days (Ibid.). In her journal, Anne observes:

nobody knows anything and none dare speak - what will Lady S hear at Pau  will she wish I was with them?   well might Lord S say in his letter he was glad she was away   my poor aunt will be half frightened to death (...) at first on hearing these appalling news I felt rather odd   I am here said I in another revolution my aunt left alone in the midst of it and I unable to return?   did I feel nervous?   no not that but oddish and thoughtful   yet I settle my accounts and have now written all this and feel as usual again”

2 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/E/13/0070

Later that day, when Anne reaches Lady Stuart de Rothesay and the rest of their party at Pau, it becomes evident that a decision must be made as to what they would do about their travels. Returning to Paris might be too dangerous and staying at or near Pau might yet prove equally risky. Lady Stuart’s nervousness in the face of uncertainty is recorded by Anne in her journal: 

“she got more frightened she said than she was at first everything she had heard made it worse   I had unluckily told how alarmed my banker seemed and had perhaps increased her fears   I wish I had pretended to know nothing about it

2 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/E/13/0070

Lady Stuart expresses her concerns to Anne and mentions her plans to return to England in haste if the situation deteriorates further. However, Anne is of a different opinion:

“'I could not have gone to England leaving my poor aunt it would have seemed cowardly   said she hastily what is a womans bravery   I answered calmly I should not call it bravery I should feel it right'   she then talked of the difference it made having children under her care etc. etc. not having them frightened tho she had talked of the thing all dinner time and before   the fact is she was nervous   she shews not much confidence in me I have not much after all this in her and wish myself out of the sc[r]ape

2 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/E/13/0071

The sparse news coming from the French capital was often delayed by a few days and did not prove helpful for their decision-making. A letter from Lord Stuart, dated the 29th of July 1830, reporting on the “carnage then going on” in Paris finally reached them on the 3rd of August, just after they had been informed by Colonel Napier that it was “all quiet in Paris and Bordeaux and a provisional government formed in the former Charles Lafitte, Lafayette, Odier, and 5 or 6 others -” (Lister 1830 Aug 3). Regardless, Lord Stuart’s advice was still valid: the women were not to return to Paris yet (Ibid.). 

a colorful landscape showing an old castle and a bridge next to a river. a few people mounted on horses can be seen on the riverbank
View of the castle and bridge at Pau (c. 1840) by Thomas Allom. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City Library of Toulouse. Image courtesy of Bibliothèque Municipale de Toulouse - Rosalis, Public Domain.

They were still at Pau when, on the 5th of August 1830, a letter from Lord Stuart de Rothesay finally arrived with more advice for his wife. He considered the Pyrenees region safer than Paris at the time and advised the women to proceed with their travels (Lister 1830 Aug 5). Furthermore, he remarked that he would eventually meet them at Nice a few weeks later and, from there, he would escort the women back to the French capital (Ibid.). So the women stay a few more days and mingle with the local society.

On the 7th of August 1830, Lady Stuart de Rothesay tells Colonel Napier that they should leave on the following Tuesday, much to Anne's surprise (Lister 1830 Aug 7). On asking Lady Stuart about this, Anne is told that nothing is definitive yet (Ibid.). As the days passed and no decisions were made, Anne's frustration at her limitations borne out of wanting to please polite society also grew and she inevitably became more restless. On one occasion, she recounts an episode from her 1827 adventures: 

"I was mentioning yesterday my long walk at Aix la Chapelle   'what by yourself'! this will be a good lesson  I will not in a hurry put myself into such womanly thraldom again   good society is very well but anything may be bought too dear   my pocket and my liberty will have paid pretty dear for my experience I will say nothing to anyone but save my money and my independence another time"

7 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/E/13/0074

Growing frustrated as she found herself unable to exercise and explore, Anne continues to unburden herself in her journal: 

“Lady S[Stuart de Rothesay] is tiresome about getting off from here and what we shall do heaven only knows may return the same way we came she now wishes to be back but is nervous about it I say little or nothing she says we cannot know of a fortnight what to do but I am heartily tired of this life of trammel it will be a good lesson to me for the future I began this morning to count the days to my release I get no real walking I am getting rather fatter and all day tortured by dress to[o] tight oh that I was unknow[n] and walking and riding about at my ease”

8 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/E/13/0074

Then, on the 10th of August 1830, Lady Stuart de Rothesay summoned Anne to discuss going to Eaux-Bonnes (Lister 1830 Aug 10). Anne Lister's wish had finally been granted: they were on the move again. 

Anne’s travels in the Pyrenees in 1830

From Pau, the women travelled to Eaux-Bonnes, which was a small spa town in the Pyrenees. There, Anne observes that "everything to be seen is at Eaux-Chaudes" (Lister 1830 Aug 11).

The party then goes to Eaux-Chaudes and Anne's comments about the town provide a fairly detailed description of what it looked like at that point in time.

“The little town is most picturesquely seated over the rapidy stream the gorge just wide enough for the little street and the stream - perhaps there may be 15 or 20 little blue slated rough stone houses, which, however, do not seem near so good as those here - the Hotel de France kept by Hernandez and the Hotel Baudot are opposite here and nearly alike in point of promise of appearance but we were satisfied to have gone to the latter - what adds greatly to the neat appearance of the town is a very nice small church meeting the traveller from Eaux-Bonnes besides there is something to go to from there and nothing from here -”

12 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/E/13/0076

a black and white sketch of a few houses in the mountain village of Eaux-Chaudes. the mountains can be seen in the background
a colorful sketch of buildings in Eaux-Chaudes, showing the dark roofs Anne Lister described
Eaux-Chaudes in the 19th century. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City Library of Toulouse. Image courtesy of Bibliothèque Municipale de Toulouse - Rosalis, Public Domain.

After some debate as to what to do at Eaux-Chaudes and a quick conversation regarding travel times to Gabas, Anne decides to order a horse and a guide to explore the area around Eaux-Chaudes. Finally, Anne has an opportunity to get some exercise. She takes some time to admire the landscape, visit cascades and grottoes, go on an adventure in a cave, and observe the valley of Laruns.

Anne and her party spend a few days in this area and then they finally make their way to Saint Sauveur. It is there that Anne finally hires a Pyrenean mountain guide: Jean-Pierre Charles (1796 - 1842).

“then came Charles the guide of the Duchess de Berri, and, about a fortnight ago, of the Princesse de la Moscowa with whom he went to the Brèche de Roland - shewed some good testimonials from several English men - Engaged him at 5/- a day for the time we stay here (or for 10 days) or as long as I want him -”

17 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/E/13/0078

Anne Lister’s first glimpse of Mont Perdu happened when she walked to the summit of the Pic de Bergons on the 19th of August 1830. Accompanied by Charles as she made her way to the top of Bergons, she seized the opportunity to have a look at the surrounding landscape. That day, the weather seemed to cooperate and the two enjoyed a good view of the surrounding mountains. 

“under the shade of a little mass of rock left the horse with the little girl that had come up for the purpose and stood some time admiring the fine view of the Brêche de Roland, the Marboré and Mont Perdu, the guide delighted that we had been so lucky -”

19 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/E/13/0079

Atop the Pic de Bergons, Anne compares yet again the Pyrenees with the Swiss Alps, which she had admired in 1827 when she travelled around the area with Maria and Jane Barlow.

“no comparing the Pyrenees with the Alps - the Tours de Marboré not much - the Brêche de Roland merely like a moderate sized gap in the wall of rock - the gradins of the cirque lost in the distance - the cascade merely a long white line, and the glaciers what be emphatically called in Yorkshire snow-bones - but the hoary rounded top of Mont Perdu interested me - merely a little line of snow round it a little below the summit - all the rest bare, peeping up like a little hill above the rest - fine chain of mountains, but not gigantic, and imposing like the snow clad Alps -”

19 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/E/13/0079

a sketch of a mountain range with labels for each summit
Panorama of the mountain landscape visible from the Pic de Bergons in the 19th century. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City Library of Toulouse. Image courtesy of Bibliothèque Municipale de Toulouse - Rosalis, Public Domain. Zoom in to see the image in detail.
View from the summit of the Pic de Bergons in 2020. Captured by Mathieu BourguignonZoom in to have a better look.

After walking to the summit of the Pic de Bergons, Anne and Charles spend some time touring the area around Barèges and Saint-Sauveur. Charles takes Anne on walks, hikes, and quick tours of the surrounding Pyrenean towns. As she explores and gets to know this area of the Pyrenees, Anne takes her time to make observations about her surroundings and points out churches and monuments, remarking also on the spectacular views she enjoys along the way. 

It is not surprising that, on the 23rd of August 1830, she's preparing for another adventure: a climb to the Brêche de Roland. For this expedition, Anne acquired a pair of crampons, which would re-emerge almost a decade later, in 1838, when Anne climbed Vignemale. 

"sat talking afterwards ordered crampons for going to the Breche de Roland -"

23 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/E/13/0080

handwritten notes writte in black ink half crossed off. some pencil notes can be seen
An excerpt of Anne's accounts from August 1830. Note that the accounts entry shown here is recorded as 5 September 1830, even though Anne recorded the acquisition of the crampons in the journal entry of the 23rd of August of the same year. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/TR/6/0047). 
a pair of blackened old iron crampons
A pair of 19th-century crampons. Image source: Schlesinger via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Brêche de Roland or Roland's Breach is a natural gap in the rock that serves as the border between France and Spain. The Brêche is located near the Cirque de Gavarnie and stands at an elevation of 2,804 metres, measuring 40 metres across by 100 metres high (“Roland's Breach”, n.d.). Legend attributes the creation of the Brêche to Roland - one of Charlemagne's paladins (Ibid.). A myth in particular states that Roland cut this opening on the rock so he could see France one last time before he perished after being pursued by Saracens on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees and lost his horse whilst trying to escape (Díaz 2011).

a black and white sketch of a mountainous landscape, showing the Brèche de Roland from the side of the village of Gèdre. there's a bridge in the foreground, with a couple of horses and people crossing
The Brêche de Roland, as seen from Gèdre, in a lithograph from the 19th century. Image courtesy of Amsterdam Museum, Public domain. 

On the 24th of August 1830, Anne and her party travel to Gèdre and thence to Gavarnie. The excursion was intended as a sightseeing and sketching tour that would allow them to enjoy the Cascade de Gavarnie and its environs. 

“Off from there to Gavarnie at 11 1/4 - 20 mins from and then on 3/4 from there at the place where we alighted from our horses - Lady Stuart sketched - did not like going along the narrow path to the cascade - Miss H-[Hyriott] with Louisa who sketched a little nearer to the cascade -”

24 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0005

a black and white sketch of the cascade de gavarnie seen from the village of gavarnie. a few houses are seen in the foreground and the cascade and the mountainous amphitheatre are seen in the background
View of the Cirque and Cascade de Gavarnie from the village of Gavarnie in 1843. Lithograph by Jean-Joseph-Jules Defer. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City Library of Toulouse. Image courtesy of Bibliothèque Municipale de Toulouse - Rosalis, Public Domain.
a black and white sketch of the cascade de gavarnie, showing the waterfall and a couple of mountain walls nearby
The Cascade de Gavarnie in the 1840s by Adolphe Jean Baptiste Bayot. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City Library of Toulouse. Image courtesy of Bibliothèque Municipale de Toulouse - Rosalis, Public Domain.

As usual, Anne had some observations about Gavarnie, the cascade, and the environs:

“Gavarnie a small scattered village 10 or 12 houses and a little newly build church - the auberge the best house - (...) the cascade (fall of 1260 ft. calculating from the very top of its running certainly very fine - a mere Lauterbrunen at a distance but on nearing it I see that it falls perpendicularly I should think about 800 ft. (the height of Lauterbrennen) tho 4 indentures with a 5th little one besides and forms a fine broadish sheet of foam - great deal escapes in spray but by no means almost all as at L-[Lauterbrunnen] the Cirque certainly very fine the perpendicular strata or stripes very striking - it is en grand what Malham Cove is en petit - did not get quite up to it by about 100 fatiguing yards -” 

24 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0006

Later, on the 13th of September 1830, Anne would refer to her adventures of this day in a letter  to her aunt Anne: 

“Our excursion to Gavarnie took one long day - It was something to see the highest cascade in Europe (1266 ft.), the magnificent Cirque of marble rock, the Brêche de Roland, and so much that legends of romance have famed -”

Extract from a letter addressed to Aunt Anne - 13 September 1830 - SH:7/ML/446

Once they're done exploring and sketching the pretty Pyrenean landscape at the cascade, the party returns to the Inn at Gavarnie. There, Anne informs Lady Stuart de Rothesay that she's not to be expected until the following Saturday at dinner time (Lister 1830 Aug 24). 

“She gave me fifteen francs that she thought I should want shook hands and was really kind had left me the remains of their provisions and wine she gave me her black velvet beret yesterday and two little le[a]ther drinking cups one for me and one for Charles -”

24 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0005

Anne had previously gotten the final preparations done at Gèdre, so all that was left for her to do now was wait. 

“On taking leave of the party and finding myself alone with my guide in this lonely village of the Pyrenees, felt ce que c’est la solitude - (...) I have the Breche de Roland before me for tomorrow - the night at Golles [Goriz] is worse than a grange, and Thursday Mont Perdu si je pense - Courage!”

24 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0006

pencil notes half crossed off
Extract from Anne Lister’s travel journal showing the passage above. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archives Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/TR/6/0006). 

The Brêche de Roland and the Spanish side of the Pyrenees 

Monte Perdido, or Mont Perdu in French, is a mountain on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. It rises to 3,355 metres (11,007 ft) and is the third-highest mountain in this range (Wikipedia 2022). The first ascent of this snow-clad peak is attributed to Rondo and Laurens, two guides from Barèges, who were scouting a route to the summit (Beraldi 1898-1904, 75). This route would then be used by the celebrated naturalist and mountaineer Ramond de Carbonières, who reached the summit of Perdu on the 10th of August of 1802 (Ibid.), accompanied by these two guides. Interestingly enough, Anne doesn't seem to have mentioned Rondo and Laurens’ or Ramond’s ascents of Perdu in her journal entries of 1830. However, in a letter to her aunt on the 13th of September 1830, it becomes evident that Anne was aware of Ramond's ascent:

“I could not resist mounting a little higher than the rest, and retraced the Duchess de Berri’s [steps] to the Brêche, and went beyond there to the summit of Mt. Perdu - When one hears that Ramond failed twice before he could succeed, it seems as if I had done a great thing - but he had the way to find, and was attempt it from the north side and had more difficulties to encounter than those who follow him by the southern, and the easier side -” 

Extract from a letter addressed to Aunt Anne - 13 September 1830 - SH:7/ML/446

Anne’s adventure started early on the 25th of August 1830 with a quick breakfast and a ride “to the foot of the corniche” en route to the Brêche de Roland (Lister 1830 Aug 25). When they’re halfway to the Brêche, Anne’s party stops to eat and rest for a moment. Anne takes some time to make observations about the view, which she recorded in her travel journal. 

“fine view from here of the cirque and cascade [de Gavarnie] - 2 large steps from the bottom of the step of snow before getting to the brink (with 4 channels) down which one sees it flow from below - the Marboré the rock contorted in all ways - one peak all turned north westwards - a regular climb up the rock to here, and it is the little ledges in the rock they call the Echelle - we came up as quick as the gens du pays - the Pic du Piméné is quite as it were en face - quite close - the 2 pics one above the other seem just over the way - It is a little grassy place we are sitting on - irises even here - plenty of them below going to the cascade -” 

25 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0007

a pencil sketch of a rock wall
Anne’s pencil sketch of the Brêche de Roland. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archives Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/TR/6/0007). 
a panorama of a rock face in a sunny day. some snow is visible
A panorama of the Brêche de Roland. Photo by Garrulus via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0). 

The party resumes their ascent towards the Brêche de Roland and reaches the glacier a little after ten in the morning, where they once again stop to eat and rest. Anne remarks that she feels comfortable despite the glacier and the cold air. A little while after they’re crossing the glacier. 

“put on our crampons and off again in ½ hour at 10 35/’’ - had passed the glacier to the last glacier where we made steps with an ax[e] at 11 40/’’ i.e. 1 5/’’ hour - the glacier would be easy but it is so steep - Charles never saw so little snow on it - it would have been impossible to carry the Duchesse de Berry up in a chaise à porteur now - just at the top of the glacier had to climb close over a great deep hole to avoid which we went on a little to[o] near the water of a little fall but not much wet -”

25 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0007

From their vantage point, they can see the surrounding mountains. Once again, Anne comments on the view:

very fine mountain view of all the summits - even the Pimené looks low and the Bergons a little hill - the perpendicular contorted strata of the Marboré always striking - Mont Perdu looks near and easy - franti nulla fides -” 

25 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0007

When she finally climbs the steps they cut on the ice with the ice axe, Anne slips and apparently falls into the Brêche de Roland. After getting herself upright, she is rewarded with a stunning view of the Spanish side of the Pyrenees:

“at 12 ½ had passed the glacier slipped at the top and honey potted down into the Brèche de Roland, mounted the Breche on the other side and looked into Spain - 1 mountain after another as far as I can see - all those near and bare - la Brèche magnificent 2 enormous walls of rock - a little lake in the basin at a little distance right -”

25 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0007 and SH:7/ML/TR/6/0008

The landscape as seen from the Brêche de Roland. Panorama by THE pi3docZoom in to have a better look.

Looking at the rock at the Brêche, Anne makes a note of the inscription left by the Duchesse de Berri and her party at the foot of the right wall just two years earlier.

“Marie Caroline de Naples Duchesse de Berri Duchesse de Reggio Marquise de Podenas Comte de Mesnard Comte de Mahln [Mailly] Marquis de Verdalle Comte de Serrant Chevalier de Larouriese 29 Aout 1828” 

25 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0008

The descent from the Brêche proves rather difficult for Anne and her party:

“very difficult descent among stones and masses of dark coloured rock - then by and by still more difficult piece than that just above the Cascade du Marboré - really difficult to scramble down en traverse the perpendicular face of rock - were it granite instead of schist, it would be impossible without cutting steps - descend into little stony shingle basin full of sheep fat and good looking -”

25 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0008

They make their way forward for another hour and a half. When Anne leans on a rock to rest for a moment, she once again observes the Pyrenean landscape, this time on the Spanish side.

“nothing to be seen but the rugged ridge of Mont Perdu and its pic, all round one mountain rising above another - nothing to be seen but rock and shingle with little scattered patches of green -” 

25 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0008

Two Spanish shepherds approach the group and strike up a conversation with Anne’s guide, Charles. This serves as a good opportunity for Anne to snooze for a moment after writing some notes in her travel journal. Nearby, their contrabandier (smuggler) decided to do the same and snored audibly. After her little nap, Anne eats some chocolate she had carried with her and the party is moving again. They arrive at the cabane at Goriz a few minutes before four in the afternoon.

“walked leisurely and arrived at Gollis [Goriz] at the little hut of the shepherd at 3 50/’’ - about 3 yards by 2 - a little entrance to creep in at under the leaning mass of rock which forms 1/2 the roof -” 

25 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0008

a black and white photo showing two men standing in front of a mountain cabin carved in a rock
A photo of the old refuge at Goriz from the start of the 20th century. Note how it matches Anne’s description. Source: L’Agnouede via Wayback Machine

After having a quick look at their accommodation for the night, Anne goes outside again and admires the view of the Pyrenean landscapes on the Spanish side of the border.

“then strolled down to the stream from a pretty good fall direct from the glacier above - sat here on a rock by the stream eating chocolate (thanks to Lady S-[Stuart]) and drinking the limpid stream and looking at my map - this is the stream that falls into the magnificent Gorge d’Ortessa the high circular eastern crête of which my eye just catches from here - this gorge (magnificent, as peeped into from the hut) goes direct down upon Torla -” 

25 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0008

View of the valley of Ordesa from an elevated vantage point slightly above the modern refuge of Goriz. Panorama by Aidan FentenZoom in to have a better look.

Anne’s climb of Mont Perdu 

The 26th of August 1830 started very early for Anne Lister. Having slept very little after dining and laughing with her guide and two shepherds at the cabane de Goriz, Anne was awakened a little after 1 a.m. when Charles mistakenly thought it was much later. The party would only leave the cabane around 3 20/’’ and they’d start their ascent of Mont Perdu in a perilous way: by candlelight. 

“off at 3 20/’’ walked slowly - after getting about ½ way I began to feel much fatigued - we had gone at first as far as we could by candlelight, and it was 4 ½ before we began to see well -”

26 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0009

If progress had been slow before, now it became more arduous: 

“shingle all the way some rather difficult climbing before getting to the premier dégres did it (straight up the face of the rock) to save us 1/2 hour - the crête the 2nd dégres very difficult when much wind - it the narrow crest 50 or 60 yards or more by 3 or 4? a ridge of a high wall of rock - the 3d dégre some very difficult climbing quite as bad as the Echele of the 4th dégre or summit - there at 8 in 4 40/’’”

26 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0009

A 360-degree view of the start of the climb from Goriz to Perdu. Panorama by Aidan FentenZoom in to have a better look.
A 360-degree view of the steep climb before the summit of Mont Perdu. Panorama by Aidan FentenZoom in to have a better look.

Anne had finally conquered the summit of Mont Perdu and she took the time to observe the landscape from her vantage point. 

“on the top ½ hour - very fine mountain view tho’ Spain hid in clouds ditto the valley of Saint Sauveur and Luz - F marked 38º - a good deal of wind but not very cold - put the thermometer on the snow - saw the green lake below -”

26 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0009

Though Anne had completed one of the greatest mountaineering achievements of her career, the description of her ascent recorded in her journal was relatively brief (merely four lines). 

handwritten notes in black ink
Anne's brief notes regarding her ascent of Mont Perdu, as recorded in her journal. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/E/13/0081). 

The travel journal entries from that day, cited throughout this section, provide many more details than she included in her main journal entry. The travel journal also includes a draft of Anne's accounts for this part of her travels, which isn't included in the surviving main account book and private day book from that period. In these travel journal accounts, Anne adds a note regarding the payment to the contrabandist who accompanied them to the summit of Mont Perdu: 

half-crossed handwritten notes in black ink. some pencil notes are visible in the background
An excerpt from Anne's draft accounts of 1830, showing the amount paid to a contrabandist who accompanied Anne's party to the summit of Mont Perdu. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/TR/6/0047). 

However, it is in a letter to her aunt that Anne elaborates on her motivation to undertake this climb as well as her feelings when she reached the summit of Perdu. 

“I do not, however, mean to say, the ascent was without difficulty, tho’ it was certainly more fatiguing than difficult - the view was magnificent, particularly towards Spain - It was not, however, entirely for the view that I had gone up - I was curious to try the effect of the air at so great an elevation - but more of the inconveniences so often complained of, affected me at all - I felt only that the breeze was light and exhilarating - I forgot that I had passed a sleepless night in the miserable cabane of a Spanish shepherd, that we had had 4 hours of laborious ascent, and that from setting off by candle-light at a quarter past 3 in the morning, I had had no breakfast - It was the perfect solitude, the profound stillness that gave me a sensation I had never had before - there was no trace of living thing - no sound that reached the ear, for even the very waters were too far below us to be heard -” 

Extract from a letter addressed to Aunt Anne - 13 September 1830 - SH:7/ML/446

View of the surrounding landscape from the summit of Mont Perdu. Panorama by Paul LabrancheZoom in to have a better look.


After her climb of Mont Perdu, Anne and her guides return to the cabane at Goriz and rest. She sits on the same rock she had used as a makeshift bench the day before and observed that she was "glad to have finished [her] ascent to the Mt. Perdu instead of having it to begin" as she felt "a good deal fatigued" (Lister 1830 Aug 26). She tried to drink some water and get some rest, but the sun was too hot and prevented her from sleeping outside and she "would not venture to sleep in the cabin" (Ibid.). Almost a decade later, Anne would remember this day and remark to Lady Stuart de Rothesay:

"No moment of my life has made a deeper impression on me, than the moment of my return from Mt Perdu." 

Draft Letter to Lady Stuart de Rothesay - 21 February 1839 - SH:7/ML/1044

From Goriz, Anne and Charles, accompanied by two Spanish shepherds, would descend into the valley of Ordesa. 

“Off again at 3 10/60 the gorge magnificent - very fine sheep and goats - and stream originally from the glacier of Mont Perdu which flows by Golis [Goriz], fed by many mountain streams right, and falls in about 20 little cascades not counting the fine one at the head of the gorge a fine the cirque -” 

26 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/0009

a vibrant green valley seen from an elevated standpoint. a couple of mountains are visible
Valley of Ordesa seen from the Spanish side (intermediate zone of the Senda de Cazadores). Photo by José María Sánchez (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Charles and Anne would eventually arrive in Torla, a town on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. On the way, they cross the river Ara via the Puente de la Glera and are followed by children. 

“on getting to the bridge and crossing the stream (a very narrow old arch close to it) at the foot of the hill mounting to Torla some children followed -” 

26 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/00010

On arriving at Torla, Anne is asked for her passport, but a merchant she and Charles had met previously vouched for her. 

“then went to the Douanier who immediately wanted my passport the [meek] merchant Charles and I met the other day happening to be in the court said who I was and all was civility and I was shewn to my room immediately without my passport being seen -”

26 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/00010

Anne and Charles would spend the night at Torla and take some time to rest. Anne would also take the opportunity to have "a good wash of my person" (Lister 1830 Aug 27). The following day, Anne's papers are inspected by a Captain from Broto, who had been told that Anne was travelling around and making military sketches. 

“about 9 a captain to inquire what I was about - had been told I had been making military dessins - explained -”

27 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/00011

With this matter cleared, Anne would explore a little bit of Torla during that day and she also tried the Spanish hot chocolate:

“cup of excellent chocolate but too rich I feared for my stomach so made Charles drink it and I had grapes and bread and water and a little wine -” 

27 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/00011

a few brown buildings in the foreground and a mountain in the background
Torla in 2021. Photo by Pedro Sanz

The two departed Torla in the afternoon of the 27th of August 1830 and made their way back to France via the Port de Bujaruelo or, as she writes, Port de Bouchero. At the port, Anne gets to stand in two countries at once: 

“Off at 4 55/’’ 1 50/’’ in getting to the summit where stood with one foot in France and 1 in Spain”

27 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/6/00012

Anne spends the following night at Gavarnie and rejoins the Stuart de Rothesay party on the morning of the 28th of August 1830. That evening, she'd sit and talk with Lady Stuart de Rothesay and that's when Anne tells her travel companion about the ascent of Mont Perdu. 

“Lady Stuart and I sat up talking till 1 - told her the sort of place Gollis [Goriz] was and all about it saying I did not mean to say much about it to people in general for it was not quite a ladys expedition” 

28 August 1830 - SH:7/ML/E/13/0081

After they left Saint Sauveur, Anne and her party travelled eastwards and settled for a time at Bagnères de Bigorre. From there, Anne would embark on a few excursions around Bagnères de Luchon and cross into Spain again, where she would eventually run into some trouble with a Spanish Customs Officer at Benasque. On the 2nd of October 1830, she would meet the Stuart de Rothesay party again at Saint Gaudens. After being lectured by Lady Stuart de Rothesay due to her unfortunate encounters with officers of the law in Spain, Anne writes: 

“she hoped it was a lesson that it would have been dangerous to go farther and on my seeming to think not for that no party would have hurt me she thought it would not have been decent to go farther and I merely said I had returned as soon as I could she received me with a shake of the hand and very well but I think she does not much like my character of enterprise I feel this and am genée and in my present mind wished we were really back again and I rid of the affair after all independence is the charm of life and if this and high society are incompatible I shall not hesitate which to choose”

2 October 1830 - SH:7/ML/TR/7/0029

Anne Lister would leave the Pyrenees that day and the party would then travel to Toulouse and thence to other towns in the south of France. Anne herself would stay away from the Pyrenees for almost a decade. She found herself back in the Pyrenees in the summer of 1838. This time, Anne was accompanied by Ann Walker, who had been prescribed baths in the thermal springs of the Pyrenees to cure an ailment (Lister 1838 Jun 4). When the two ladies arrived at Saint Sauveur on the 9th of July 1838, it became evident that Anne had left an impression in the minds of the locals.

“but I had been on the look-out for Charlet and M. Flamand said he had seen the carriage – followed it – sure I was the dame who had gone to the top of Mt. Perdu, and was waiting for me – Mr Flamand too had recognised me – glad to see poor Charlet –”

9 July 1838 - SH:7/ML/E/21/0144

After Anne’s pioneering ascent of Vignemale, and whilst she tries to prove that she reached this summit before the Prince de la Moskowa, she encounters another aubergiste (innkeeper) who was aware of her climb of Perdu: 

“the aubergiste (Mr Palasset, Maire) had said he recognised me on 1st seeing me again and said he was sure I should ascend the Vignemale – yes! said Charles he knew of our ascending Mt. Perdu –”

17 August 1838 - SH:7/ML/E/21/0169

Earlier that same day, Anne makes one rare comment about people’s reactions to her ascent of Perdu:

“I thought not of certificate – nor cared more for mounting the Vignemale than Mt. Perdu the ascent of which last mountain nobody believes –”

17 August 1838 - SH:7/ML/E/21/0169

It seems that the intrepid Yorkshire mountaineer left an indelible impression in the minds of the locals in 1830, which her Vignemale adventure of 1838 and subsequent proof and recognition of her achievement cemented for posterity. 

Archival documents and Mont Perdu

When Anne Lister went to Mont Perdu, she took very little baggage with her. Though she doesn't make a very detailed description of the items she took, some of them are mentioned in the journal and travel journal pages in which she recorded her adventure for posterity. Items such as her crampons, her Maclean tartan cloak, and her great cloak are mentioned in connection to the ascent of Mont Perdu. But what about her papers?

On the 25th of August 1830, Anne comments that she sat on a rock eating chocolate and looking at her map (Lister 1830 Aug 25). This map is not, unfortunately, the same she used in 1838 as that one had been acquired that year along with Anne's copy of Vincent de Chausenque's book (Lister 1838 Jun 29). However, two other items can be proven to have gone to Mont Perdu with Anne: one of her travel journals from that trip and her passport. 

As she travelled around in the Pyrenees, Anne diligently made notes in her travel journal. These notes were often copied into her main journal. However, in a few journal entries about this trip, there's a clear separation between the level of detail that goes into the main journal and what Anne kept in the travel journal. Her journal entries are often less detailed and more focused on the social aspects of her travels with Lady Stuart de Rothesay, whereas the travel journals keep the details and observations about the places Anne visits along the way. 

Given its ubiquitous nature as a place to safeguard notes in the heat of the moment, the travel journals are relatively small volumes and would easily travel with Anne without becoming cumbersome. Her notes in the travel journals from this period are often made in pencil and inked later on in an attempt to preserve them. In the case of the travel journal in use when she went to Mont Perdu (SH:7/ML/TR/6), most of the notes were written in pencil and many were also crossed off after Anne transposed some or all of their contents onto the main journal. 

In reading this travel journal, it becomes evident that one note that occupies a page and a half is penned by someone other than Anne Lister herself.

a note written in pencil. cursive handwriting
Composite of two pages showing a note in Anne Lister's travel journal of the 26th of August 1830. Written in Spanish. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/TR/6/0010 and SH:7/ML/TR/6/0011). 

The note was written by a captain from Broto, who had inspected Anne's papers in Torla, after she had climbed Mont Perdu. Considering that Anne went to Torla from Mont Perdu and that this same travel journal includes the pencil notes of her expedition, it is safe to say that the travel journal went with Anne to the summit of that mountain and then continued to travel with her until she ran out of space to make notes in it. 

The other item that went with Anne Lister to Mont Perdu is her passport from 1830. The document was made in the spring of 1830 and included travel permits from various embassies, such as that of Spain. As Anne travelled, the document would be checked by the authorities and new stamps and notes would be added to it. In the summer of 1830, this document accompanied Anne to the Pyrenees and it was also checked by the Spanish authorities when she went to Torla in August 1830.  

When Anne returned to France after her short expedition in Spain, her interest in that side of the Pyrenees didn't abate. In fact, she became more interested in Spain and even considered travelling to Barcelona by diligence (Lister 1830 Sep 10). Those plans didn't materialise, but Anne did indeed return to Spain again. This time, she went to the source of the river Garonne and stopped at Viella. It is there that her passport was checked and stamped as we can see below.

stamps and a couple of notes in black ink
The note showing the Viescas stamp in Anne's passport. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/319). 

Since she never changed passports and brought this document to Torla (after climbing Perdu) and later to Viella, it's safe to say that this is indeed another document that survived the climb of Mont Perdu.

Thus, we can say that both the travel journal and the passport went to Mont Perdu with Anne Lister and are seemingly the sole surviving items from that trip. 



Thank you to Kat Williams and Steph Gallaway for their feedback and assistance in proofreading this article. I would also like  to thank the team at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, for kindly allowing me to reproduce the images from their collections included in this article.

How to cite this article

If you'd like to cite this article in your works, please do so in a manner similar to this:

Oliveira, Marlene. 2023. “‘Not quite a Lady’s expedition’: Anne's climb of Mont Perdu” Packed with Potential. https://www.packedwithpotential.org/stories-articles-writeups/lister-mont-perdu (accessed MONTH DAY, YEAR).

Note: Don't forget to replace "MONTH", "DAY", and "YEAR" with the corresponding date in which you accessed this article.

See also this talk by the author, Marlene Oliveira, and fellow contributor Amanda Pryce at the Anne Lister Research Summit on15 Oct., 2021:

You can see the Twitter thread from @PackedWith for further commentary: