Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Adventuring in the Public Eye

While Harrer’s book covers several interesting individual narratives, its main focus is on the mountain of Eiger itself (or to be more accurate, one face of Eiger), so my response will also be more widely applied to his treatment of the mountain rather than the climbers. We’ve come to understand several different geographical locations in this course so far, but this text shows how fundamentally different alpinism is in the Alps compared to places like the Himalayas or Alaska. The idea that climbers are struggling, and in many cases dying, on a mountain that contains railroad tracks seems unthinkable to me after getting used to Everest and Denali, which could only be reached by extended preliminary hikes. The encroachment of civilization onto (and into) the face of Eiger seemed to drive an unexpected disconnect between the concepts of wilderness and adventure that we haven’t seen so far. Of course, you don’t have to be way out in the remote wilderness to have an adventure, but realized that the precedent of earlier texts had somehow lulled me into that belief. The settled surroundings of Eiger also affected the public nature of these climbs, with onlookers following the progress of each expedition from afar. I can only imagine that it would apply extra pressure to the climbers to know that there are interested spectators watching constantly from below, scrutinizing their every decision and move. The public nature of these climbs seemed to set them apart from others we’ve seen in interesting ways that I’m sure we’ll talk about today.     


  1. Your post regarding wilderness made me aware that I also have come to expect adventures to take place in wilderness settings, but this trend is not applicable to all adventures. It all depends on your definition of adventure, which is something that I don't really want to get into again here. Instead, I wanted to comment about your point about the contrast of the location of the Eiger's North Face and other mountains that we've encountered through the texts in this class. I do agree that the proximity of the climbers to developed landscapes adds a new dimension to the attempts on the summit, but I would add that the route to the summit is similarly remote in the fact that rescue is extremely difficult should trouble arise, and that the proximity of other people does not necessarily guarantee aid.
    There is definitely an interesting interaction between people and the landscape in this particular area of the Alps. From what we've read, we have been presented with, or at least made aware of, a number of different perspectives of this particular landscape. The influence of mountaineering on that interaction is interesting to think about, especially when considering the close proximity of development to the severity of the face. That the area was settled amidst such scenery speaks to part of what people often place value on when examining landscapes, namely the aesthetics. The public interest in the climbs and the climbs themselves speaks to another transition in perceptions of the mountain.

  2. I actually focused on this in my paper a bit. This alpinism was unique in the development of tourism around the mountain, and that armchair adventuring, as it were, grew into today's armchair adventuring. Today we have narratives and footage with which to participate in the adventuring, but back in the 50's when climbing was entering its Golden Age, there weren't many sensational climbing stories in print like there are today. People had stuff like Whymper's and Harrer's texts, which weren't particularly exciting - more like guide books than anything else. So people found a way to participate in the climb directly from afar. But I don't think that the climbers were thinking much of those observing them in any way different from the rest of the "world" observing them. They were probably busy thinking about other things.

  3. I think you bring up a very interesting new dimension to our discussions. As you say, the Alps are a very different environment from others we have so far explored. Take the quote from Moore, the first to reach the summit of the Eiger: "It is rather remarkable (and fortunate)that while the northern face... is cut away abruptly, in such an inaccessible manner, its western face should be so comparatively easy and predictable" (13). The Eiger is in a way a melding of worlds: one face is accessible by many who attempt it (in a sort of tourist attraction sense), the other is dangerous and requires a great deal more training and experience. This makes the Eiger a perfect location for the "arena, a natural stage, on which every movement of the actors can be followed" (14).