Going Up to Balliol: Mountaineering at the College

21 April-10 June 2024 - see opening times
Balliol Historic Collections Centre, OX1 3TP

This exhibition will investigate the growing interest in mountaineering from the 18th century onwards when scientists and natural philosophers began their explorations. Right in the middle of Europe, the Victorians ‘discovered’ a wilderness which was barely mapped: the Alps. Historically these mountains had been surrounded in myth and superstition; in the 18th century a respected scientist, Johann Jakob Scheuchzer, had enumerated the species of dragon that were reported to be native to them.

It wasn’t entirely known if humans could survive at such altitudes. Balliol people were amongst the first to venture up to find out, and later to ascend mountains of even higher altitude across the globe. In 1909, the Oxford University Mountaineering Club was founded by Arnold Lunn (Balliol 1907) and its members undertook many first ascents around the world. Notable amongst them were Charles Evans, who was in the first successful expedition to Kangchenjunga in 1955; Tom Bourdillon (Balliol 1942), who climbed many hard Alpine routes in the 1950s and was a member of the Everest expedition in 1953 which made the first ascent; and Stephen Venables, the first British climber to summit Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen.

This exhibition will uncover the stories of Balliol people involved in some important expeditions, scientific innovations and adventures. We explore these through Balliol’s historic collections, with exhibits including a Mont Blanc board game from the 19th century and highlights from the archive of the Chalet des Anglais (a chalet shared between Balliol, University and New Colleges), as well as a few items borrowed from the Alpine Club, such as Tom Bourdillon’s Everest diary and down suit. The people included are by no means the only mountaineers connected to the College – there are many more in the past and there’ll be many in the future; theirs are just some of the stories we can tell about Balliol and the mountains.

Opening times:

  • Sunday 21 April, 11.00am—4.00pm
  • Thursday 25 April, 3.00pm—7.00pm
    • 7.00pm, Lecture: ‘Mountaineering to Alpinism: A Steep Learning Curve’ by Tim Exley
  • Friday 3 May, 11.00am—4.00pm
  • Wednesday 8 May, 3.00pm—7.00pm
    • 7.00pm, Lecture: ‘Getting High: Climbing the Seven Summits’ by James Ogilvie (Balliol 1976)
  • Monday 13 May, 11.00am—4.00pm
  • Sunday 26 May, 11.00am—4.00pm
  • Wednesday 29 May, 3.00pm—7.00pm
    • 7.00pm, Lecture: ‘Everest 1953’ by Mick Conefrey
  • Thursday 6 June, 11.00am—4.00pm
  • Saturday 8 June, 11.00am—4.00pm
  • Monday 10 June, 11.00am—4.00pm

The exhibition is also open by appointment: please email library@​balliol.​ox.​ac.​uk.