Suppose it is Victorian England, and an expedition is being sent to a new region. This expedition is tasked with creating a settlement once it gets there in order to build up trading and presence in the area. However, there is a very sheer range of mountains between them and this new region.

How would this expedition be able to scale this range of mountains using the technology available at the time, with the necessary resources for building a settlement?

Assume that there are no clean mountain passes for which to move through, and assume that the region which they are moving towards is habitable and has materials for construction. The technology level is that of Victorian Era England (i.e. steam engines, railroads, telegraphy, and telephony).

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    $\begingroup$ There is nothing which can be said in general about crossing mountain ranges. Basically, ever since the dawn of history, large expeditions have always done the same thing: ask the locals about the best route to cross the mountains, hire local guides and porters, and then put one foot in front of the other repeatedly until over the mountains. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 25, 2021 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ You don't scale mountains to cross them. You find the passes by asking the locals and use them. Then you ask what you need to cross safely because the passes still can be very high. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Apr 25, 2021 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ See the various British expeditions into Afganistan. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Apr 25, 2021 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ May I suggest you look in the history books, for how it was actually done in that period? People have been climbing mountains, finding mountain passes, and setting up trade routes through them since before recorded history. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Apr 25, 2021 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ This has the potential of being a useful question - but as written, it's too broad. For example, the supplies needed for a settlement next to a lake would be very different from the supplies needed for an alpine desert. Please select a specific spot on Earth you expect this expedition to get to, how large the expected settlement will initially be, and how the settlement is going to be used. (Keep in mind that a settlement that hard to get to might have very little real value.) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 25, 2021 at 18:15

2 Answers 2


The Victorians would climb mountains for sport, but the mission, as described, makes no sense if it is for trade and settlement. The right answer is to go around the end of this mountain range, by sea if necessary. If there is no practical route to the area beyond the mountains, go somewhere else instead.


In Victorian technology, if you need to transport large quantity of goods (fe to build settlement) and then transport more goods (trade) you would:

  1. check if there is available route by sea. This route may be way longer. Rail and telephones mean late XIXth or early XXth century tech, so this is not absolute as it would be in, say, XVIIIth century when sea route will be taken pretty much always, but it would still be preferred to crossing difficult mountain range. I'd say a 1000km long sea route will be chosen over 100km over difficult mountains.

  2. If not possible, a railroad will be built... But it would be a massive undertaking, something like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferrocarril_Central_Andino that will take 20 years to build 300km long track. So it will only be built if there already is something worth trading on the other side.

  3. If not the above, you are left with pack animals or, if the terrain is particularly bad, only people would be able to to carry stuff. Expeditions to Africa at this time used mix of those two methods. The problem is that you won't carry much that way. Expedition gear, tools, favorite food, whiskey and cigars for the expedition command and weapons, lots of them. This sort of thing. Settlement building materials would be obtained at the planned construction spot.

The problem is, you do not want passes. This is very improbable, unless you have Game of Thrones style Wall (just rock, not ice). And no passes will make nay traversal extremely hard. More realistic situation would be if the way was very difficult - narrow gorges, high passes - difficult enough that people would generally not cross it (with exception given to local hunters, sheep herders etc.).

I'd say you should look like real expeditions to Africa or central Australia looked in 2nd half of XIXth century (race to the source of Nile, Stanley and Livingstone etc). Just do not expect such expedition to move building materials. Everything, from wood to rocks to clay for bricks would be obtained locally after crossing the range.

  • $\begingroup$ This is the answer. The purpose of the expedition is to " build up trading and presence in the area.". If they have to scale mountains to get there nothing much will happen. There are reasons a party might scale the mountains but setting up an outpost as you propose is not one. They will take the long away around. There is always a long way around. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Apr 25, 2021 at 21:01

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