Mountains and Social Class (part 2)

Scrambles Amongst the Alps

Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps (1870)
Mountaineering Collection, DQ825 .W64

In 1865, English wood engraver Edward Whymper made the first ascent of the Matterhorn, one of Switzerland's most daunting peaks. Scrambles Amongst the Alps, his illustrated account of his early climbs, became the first widely read mountaineering book. In introducing the sport to the middle class, however, some saw Whymper’s book as marking the end of the “golden age” of mountaineering among a more exclusive class of climbers.

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Photos of Queen Margherita and the Duke of the Abruzzi,  <br />

Photos of Queen Margherita and the Duke of the Abruzzi
Reproduced from Ronald Clark, The Splendid Hills (1948)
Mountaineering Collection, TR140 .S4 C4

Several members of the Italian aristocracy were mountaineers, including Queen Margherita. In August 1893, she climbed the 14,941-foot Punta Gnifetti on the Italian-Swiss border and dedicated the Capanna Regina Margherita, or Margherita Hut, the highest building in Europe. Climbing offered the Queen relief from the stresses of court life.

In 1906, Margherita’s nephew, Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi, made the first recorded ascent of the third-highest mountain in Africa and named it Margherita Peak. The Duke was among the most famous climbers of his day. Although he failed in his attempt to summit K2, the second-highest mountain in the world, in 1909 he set an altitude record, reaching a height of about 24,000 feet. His 1897 first ascent of Mount Saint Elias in Alaska, North America’s second-highest peak, was achieved at the age of 24. The Duke traveled in grand style. The iron bedstead that he slept on in his Alaska basecamp may have been hauled there by several college students he hired as porters in Seattle.

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The Challenge of the Mountains

Banff Springs Resort,
in The Challenge of the Mountains (1909)
Mountaineering Collection, F1090 .C22

Early Canadian alpine resorts, such as Banff in Alberta, were developed in part to attract first-class passengers en route to the Orient on the Canadian Pacific Railway. The grand hotels, built in the Scottish Baronial style, soon became exclusive destinations in their own right for wealthy adventurers.

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Robert W. Sandford, High Ideals: Canadian Pacific’s Swiss Guides

Robert W. Sandford, High Ideals: Canadian Pacific’s Swiss Guides (1999)
Mountaineering Collection, GV199.44.C22 R62797

Nineteenth-century British alpinism was governed by a strict set of rules which required climbers to use mountain guides. One effect of this was to differentiate leisure-class sport from middle-class tourism.

When the Canadian Pacific Railway was developing alpine hotels in Alberta and British Columbia at the turn of the twentieth century, it hired Swiss guides to escort climbers and enhance the hotels’ cultural cachet.

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Mountaineering books, journals, music, and stereoscope cards
Stereoscope view of a railway in the Alps

“The Mountain Encircled” and “O Climb to the Mountains”
From The Mountaineer (vol. 8, 1915 and vol. 9, 1916)
Mountaineering Collection, F886 .M92

The Alps as Seen by the Poets (1912)
Mountaineering Collection, PN6110 .P7 A5

“Will You Come to my Mountain Home?” (1845)
Mountaineering Collection, M1620.2.B74 W5

Stereoscope views of mountains (ca. 1900)
Special Collections Reading Room

Scholars use the term “middlebrow culture” to describe literature, art, music, and other pursuits that were once limited to the cultural elite but which the middle class later used to attain social prestige. This phenomenon affected mountaineering in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Shown here are examples of poetry, music, and photography that helped bring the aesthetic enjoyment of mountains to a wide audience.

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The History of the White Mountains<br />
<br />
Railroad ads for Glacier National Park, in The Mountaineer (vol. 6, 1913)<br />

Railroad ad for the White Mountains,
in Lucy Crawford, The History of the White Mountains (1886)
Mountaineering Collection, F41.44 .C893

Railroad ads for Glacier National Park, in The Mountaineer (vol. 6, 1913)
Mountaineering Collection, M1620.2.B74 W5

The development of railroads in the nineteenth century made traveling to mountains much easier than before. It also lowered the cost of travel, bringing mountains within the reach of the working class for the first time. Climbers from socially exclusive backgrounds, however, complained about this influx of “common” tourists.

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Tour bus at Mount Shuksan, Washington

Tour bus at Mount Shuksan, Washington, ca. 1930
B.W. Huntoon (photographer), Galen Biery Papers and Photographs
Center for Pacific Northwest Studies Bieryscrapbook13_05MtBakerLodge28

The coming of the automobile in the twentieth century, like that of the railroad a century earlier, expanded middle-class access to mountains.

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Mazama (menu) Photo of mini golf at Mount Baker Lodge

Menu from the summit of Mount Hood, in Mazama (July 1903)
Mountaineering Collection, GV199.8 .M39

Photo of mini golf at Mount Baker Lodge, ca. 1930
Galen Biery Papers and Photographs
Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, GB0847

Fears that mass tourism would lead mountains and mountaineering down a path from the sublime to the absurd were not entirely unfounded. Participants in a 1901 Mazamas club outing to Mount Hood in Oregon staged an elaborate banquet at the summit. The menu included puree of ice, flounder in snow-bank, snow-ball croquettes, white beans, white wine, and snow-crust pudding with glacier sauce. It also noted that “At the conclusion of the banquet there will be smoking in the crater.”

The sight of hotel guests playing mini golf on the slopes of Mount Baker would have seemed even more comical to followers of Enlightenment and Romantic conceptions of mountains as a source of high ideals.

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Ads for clothing and equipment in The Mountaineer (vol. 21, 1928)

Ads for clothing and equipment in The Mountaineer (vol. 21, 1928)
Mountaineering Collection, GV199.8 .M39 and F886 .M92 

Buying fashionable outdoor gear to show off one’s socio-economic status is nothing new, as these historical advertisements from a Pacific Northwest mountaineering journal reveal.

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James Ramsey Ullman, The White Tower

James Ramsey Ullman, The White Tower (1945)
Wilson Library, PS3541 .N65 W5

James Ramsey Ullman, High Conquest: The Story of Mountaineering (1941)
Wilson Library, G510 .U4

After World War II, “armchair mountaineering” reached new heights. The White Tower, a wartime novel set in the Swiss Alps, sold half a million copies and was made into a feature film in 1950. Ullman wrote other works of mountaineering fiction and history that were also well received. Historian Maurice Isserman has attributed this middle-class desire for vicarious adventure to postwar suburban malaise.

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Students hiking on the Hogsback, Mt. Baker

Students hiking on the Hogsback, Mt. Baker, 1947
Records of WWU Office of University Communications and Marketing
wwuarc_85-021_007_1947_010_1

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“Near the top of Mt. Shuksan,”

“Near the top of Mt. Shuksan,” undated
Records of WWU Office of University Communications and Marketing
wwuarc_85-021_Scenery_007

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Photo of crevasse on Mt. Baker

Photo of crevasse on Mt. Baker, undated
Records of WWU Office of University Communications and Marketing
wwuarc_85-021_Scenery_006

Mt. Baker Club brochure, 1926
Special Collections Vertical File (Recreation)

Western Washington College of Education recreation bulletins, 1942, 1947
Special Collections Vertical File (Recreation)

Kulshan Cabin register
Special Collections, Campus History Collection

By the 1920s, many American colleges and universities were organizing their own mountaineering clubs, popularizing the sport among yet another class of society—students. Western Washington University (or the Washington State Normal School at Bellingham, as it was called at the time) offered annual outings to Mount Baker beginning in 1919 and maintained the Kulshan Cabin about a mile from the summit. Then as now, the opportunity to combine study and recreation was a lure for prospective students.

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“Requiem”
Ella Higginson, “A Sepulchre of Snow”
“Four of Six Victims of Snow Slide”

“Requiem” by Charles Butler (1939)
Records of the President’s Office, University Archives, 19390731FisherEulogyps8

Ella Higginson, “A Sepulchre of Snow” (1939)
Special Collections Vertical File (Avalanche, Mt. Baker, 1939)

“Four of Six Victims of Snow Slide” (1939)
Special Collections Vertical File (Avalanche, Mt. Baker, 1939)

On July 24, 1939, twenty-five students from the Western Washington College of Education (the forerunner of WWU) were struck by an avalanche while hiking on Mount Baker. Six died. The campus community remembered them through various tributes, including the two poems displayed here.