Giants everywhere reared their splintered crests. "A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains" by

A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains comment by Dervla Murhpy.


At the foot of the precipice below us lay a lovely lake, wood embosomed, and snowy ranges, one behind the other, extended to the distant horizon ... Pike's Peak, more than one hundred miles off, lifted that vast but shapeless summit which is the landmark of Southern Colorado. There were snow patches, snow slashes, snow abysses, snow forlorn and soiled-looking, snow pure and dazzling, snow glistening above the purple robe of pine worn by all the mountains; while away to the east, in limitless breadth, stretched the green-grey of the endless Plains. Giants everywhere reared their splintered crests. "A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains" by

So wrote a 42-year-old clergyman’s daughter in 1873 as for months she rode alone through Indian territories outside the Union, only sparsely settled by Europeans. Her letters to Henrietta, a beloved younger sister, were published in book form, prompting a Spectator reviewer to describe her as ‘the ideal traveller’. And so she seemed to me as a wanderlustful teenager, longing to be surrounded by ‘snowy giants’.

But Isabella was born exactly a century before me, in 1831, and even before her death in 1904, that ‘congenial life of the wilds’ had been despoiled by tourist ‘amenities’. Therefore in 1975 I again turned east (for the fifth time) and found my limitless breadth of snowiness in mid-winter Baltistan where the Indus is young and the mountains are over twenty thousand feet high, dominated by K2.

Forty years later, the ‘hospitality industry’s’ brash ugliness has been able to despoil even the Karakoram. So which way should my grand-daughters turn? Perhaps they and their descendants will have to savour the congenial life of the wilds at second hand in the books of more fortunate generations.


Dervla Murphy (born Lismore, County Waterford, 1931) was determined to write, not to marry and to travel to India. She realised two of these ambitions in Full Tilt, her first book, which describes her exuberant bicycle ride from Lismore – where she still lives - to India, through Iran and Afghanistan. It has been followed by some twenty further titles, including an acclaimed memoir, Wheels within Wheels. Her most recent book is Between River and Sea: Encounters in Israel and Palestine. She has a daughter Rachel and three granddaughters.