chapter  3
Legislators and interpreters: An examination of changes in philosophical interpretations of ‘being a mountaineer’
Pages 18

Mountaineering is usually understood as a battle between human endeavour and wild nature. When mountaineering emerged as a sport in the nineteenth century it appeared to offer an empathetic allegiance to a philosophy drawing heavily upon the tenets of Romanticism (Oelschlaeger, 1991; Reid, 1992). Notions of physical challenge, wilderness, solitude, contemplation, self-development, spirituality, mystery, authenticity and awe in the face of sublime nature were all formative in establishing a mountaineering tradition that can be shown to exist today. This tradition has established and operates a set of ‘rules’ which collectively define what it means to be a mountaineer. Commensurate with the emergence of a rule-bound mountaineering tradition, however, a parallel process of rationalisation can be identified that reflects discursive ideas of control, mastery, organisation, systematic measurement and recording that undermines the very Romanticism from which the established tradition of mountaineering has developed. Thus a paradox exists within a sport that both claims a heritage of heroic endeavours of mountaineering explorers while being immersed in a contemporary context of a mountaineering world that operates through detailed maps and guidebooks, using sophisticated navigation aids, clothing and equipment and has packaged adventure holidays available for anyone to purchase. The rationalisation of mountaineering has therefore facilitated its democratisation so that, today, almost anyone can become a mountaineer if they so choose.