Lesson 7: Mountains in the Imagination - favorite bits

I loved this segment, mostly because it sparked many trains of thought.

  • Hannibal crossing the Alps with his elephants reminded me of the great but somewhat forgotten children’s book I Marched with Hannibal by Hans Baumann (1961). The depiction of the trek through the mountains is very vivid.
  • It was great to learn about Mount Kailash being too sacred to climb; the tension between the European desire to “conquer” a mountain “because it’s there” and the reverence of the various religions that find meaning in leaving it untouched is fascinating.
  • Wilderness as a place of terror reminds me of the origin of the word “panic” - from the fear inspired by the voice of Pan, the god of the wild woods and lonely places. Interesting how the Wordsworth quoted in the video, and the Shelley poem “Mont Blanc” referenced, both focus on the sounds of the mountains.
  • Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra is a wonderful book in many ways, and the section quoted captures some of the tremendous delight and joy in the wilderness that he expresses. But it’s also a very misanthropic book, downright racist about the indigenous populations, and that’s a general aspect of the myth of the frontier that could be drawn out a bit more. Especially in the US, the early conservation movement saw wilderness as “pristine”/”virgin”/untouched by humans, and the native inhabitants as almost a contaminant - at least unable to appreciate and treasure the wilds the way white Europeans supposedly did. And in parallel, the frontier existed as a depopulated landscape to be settled because of the diseases brought over in the Columbian Exchange. (Side note - the two Charles Mann books on that topic, 1491 and 1493, are fantastic).
  • The health benefits of mountains reminded me of another favorite children’s book, Heidi by Johanna Spyri (1881), where mountain air (and goat’s milk) cure the invalid Clara and allow her to walk again.
  • Finally, I was surprised to see an old favorite included on the shelf of climbing/mountain literature - Beyond the Black Stump by Nevil Shute. I don’t remember anything about climbing in it. Wikipedia identifies the setting as the Ophthalmia Range in Australia, but mountains, if any, are a minor backdrop to the story of a culture/moral clash between an Australian woman and her American fiance. Now I want to re-read it!

As often, you already listed my favorite bits. :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

I’ll just add one more: the word circumambulation is a goody!

In the live session today David mentioned The Alpine Club a few times. This article is worth a read on the group as it should the sort of people that were becoming attracted to mountain climbing in Victorian Britain.

Albert Smith was prominent and he pretty much ‘transformed social climbers into mountain climbers.’ His book ‘The Story of Mont Blanc’ has this, which made me think of those spending tons of money climbing Everest:

‘If there is anything more delightful than travelling with plenty of money, it is certainly making a journey of pleasure with very little — provided always that health and spirits are good, and that one can find a companion similarly positioned. Circumstances and necessities throw you out of beaten tracks of proceeding, and make you acquainted with odd folks and adventures : not being bound by any conventional laws of travelling, you are more independent to wander wherever you please; and above all, there is little after-regret at the prospect of overbalancing the pleasure derived from the trip by the anticipation of winter retrenchment, to make up for the expenses thereby incurred.’