The Scottish Mountaineering Club was formed in Glasgow in 1889, as a result of correspondence in the Glasgow Herald initiated by William W. Naismith. Although other Scottish clubs existed at this time, such as the Cairngorm Club, these had only local membership and limited technical aspirations. By contrast, the founder members of the SMC included a good number who already had Alpine experience and wished to use their skills in their native country.
In the period up to the Great War the SMC thoroughly explored and described our mountains and crags, recounting their exploits in the SMC Journal, which has remained in continuous publication from 1890 to the present. From the first, they also placed as a high priority the publication of descriptive guidebooks to the Scottish hills.
Apart from Naismith himself, some prominent members of this early period were Hugh T. Munro, who described and classified the mountains; William Douglas, who edited Volumes 2-10 of the Journal; Norman Collie, John Bell and Harold Raeburn, who explored many important crags and corries. Under Douglas's editorship, the information collected by Munro and others was published in a Guidebook section of the Journal as soon as it became available. Later, thanks to a grant from the disbanded Gaiter Club (an exotic association of aristocrats and political leaders), these sections were published separately as Guides to the various mountain areas.
In the period following the Great War, activity within the SMC declined, due to losses and the failing health of the pioneering members, but was eventually restored when new members such as James Bell were joined by an influx of bold climbers from the Glasgow Section of the Junior Mountaineering Club of Scotland, notably Bill MacKenzie, Bill Murray, Alex Small and Hamish Hamilton.
After the Second World War, exploratory climbing proceeded apace, with a fresh injection of new blood from Aberdeen: Bill Brooker, Tom Patey and their many associates showed that the Cairngorm mountains could offer high quality climbs to rival the traditional stamping grounds of Skye, Ben Nevis and Glen Coe. This was soon followed by extensive technical advances from an Edinburgh group of members headed by James Marshall and Robin Smith.
By the late 1960s, this second 'Golden Age' of exploration was almost complete: apart from the neglected North-West Highland area, most traditional major lines on major crags had been accounted for. The climbers of the 80s and 90s, armed with new techniques for summer and winter climbing have ably filled the spaces in between, at the same time exploring many minor and remote crags and sea-cliffs.
In the early 1960s the SMC formed a charitable trust, the Scottish Mountaineering Trust. Part funded by revenue from the SMC's guidebooks, the Trust has given support to many projects over the years, including to the National Trust for Scotland and of the John Muir Trust and to footpath maintenance projects generally. The Trust also supports Mountaineering Scotland.