Entity Type:
Tomasson, Beatrice (1859-1947)
Tomasson, Beatrice (1859-1947)
Nottinghamshire-born Tomasson undertook some outstanding turn-of-the-century Alpine climbs. At the age of 20 she became a private tutor, then ‘companion’ in the households of a series of Prussian Generals. After a spell as a translator of German literary works this unlikely Alpinist suddenly took to the crags in 1885. Basing herself in Innsbruck she became a member of the Austrian Alpine Club and started climbing with, amongst others, the 19-year old future editor and ‘thunderer’ of the Alpine Journal, E.L. Strutt. The pair did many climbs in the Tyrol, Otztaler, Stubaier and Karwendel. From 1896 onwards however, Tomasson began an intensive spell of climbing in the Dolomites and made Cortina her base. With the guide Michele Bettega she made several first ascents in the Pala group, and did some difficult routes with Arcangelo Siorpaes in the Cortina area. Her greatest achievements, however, were the first ascents of the North East Face of Monte Zebrua in 1898 (at this time the hardest ice wall in the Tyrol with 55 degree ice and Grade III rock); the South Face of the Dent di Mesdi in the Sella range in 1900; while her greatest achievement was arguably the South Face of the Marmolada in 1901. Some of the best climbers of the era had already made repeated attempts on this 500m, Grade IV route without success. Thomasson and her two guides took just one day to make their route, futuristically employing pitons and specialist climbing shoes. It was regarded for more than a decade as the longest and most difficult climb in the Alps. That such a prize should be claimed by a party including (and primarily driven by) a woman was greeted with scepticism by many commentators at the time, and this may be partly one of the reasons Tomasson’s achievements have been unfairly overlooked over the years. Tomasson retired from Alpinism after 1912, returning to Britain to concentrate on horse riding and hunting. After a life of independence she married a member of the Scottish gentry when she was 61 and moved to his Sussex estate where she spent the rest of her life. After her death she received little attention from the British mountaineering establishment, which continued to studiously ignore her extraordinary achievements. No obituary appeared in the Alpine Journal, despite her association with former President of the Alpine Club, Edward Strutt. Not that the indomitable Beatrice would have given two hoots. ‘We called her the old hairpin’, recalled her niece, on account of her ‘wiry’ and ‘masculine’ demeanour. With her hair combed straight back in a bun and with a smile rarely troubling her face, one imagines she would easily have sorted out the grey patriarchs of South Audley Street had she wished.
Standout climbs: 1st ascent North East Face of Monte Zebrua (with the guides Hans Sepp Pinggera and Friedrich Reinstadler: at this time the hardest ice wall in the Tyrol with 55 degree ice and Grade III rock); the South Face of the Dent di Mesdi in the Sella range in 1900 (with Luigi Rizzi South Face of the Marmolada (with Michele Bettega and Bartoldo Zagonel).
Further reading: Beatrice Tomasson and the South Face of the Marmolada, H Reisach (1999) High, 203, 32-35.

Biographical information is kindly supplied by Colin Wells.
2006-08-06 00:00:00
Maxine Willett
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Tomasson, Beatrice (1859-1947)