Few things suggest rugged individualism as powerfully as the solitary mountaineer testing his or her mettle in the rough country. Yet the long history of wilderness sport complicates this image. In this surprising story of the premier rock-climbing venue in the United States, Pilgrims of the Vertical offers insight into the nature of wilderness adventure.
From the founding era of mountain climbing in Victorian Europe to present-day climbing gyms, Pilgrims of the Vertical shows how ever-changing alignments of nature, technology, gender, sport, and consumer culture have shaped climbers’ relations to nature and to each other. Even in Yosemite Valley, a premier site for sporting and environmental culture since the 1800s, elite athletes cannot be entirely disentangled from the many men and women seeking recreation and camaraderie.
Following these climbers through time, Joseph Taylor uncovers lessons about the relationship of individuals to groups, sport to society, and nature to culture. He also shows how social and historical contexts influenced adventurers’ choices and experiences, and why some became leading environmental activists—including John Muir, David Brower, and Yvon Chouinard. In a world in which wild nature is increasingly associated with play, and virtuous play with environmental values, Pilgrims of the Vertical explains when and how these ideas developed, and why they became intimately linked to consumerism.
Clear, original, rigorous, and convincing, Pilgrims of the Vertical is like nothing else written on the subject. It represents a huge advance in the history of climbing as a sport and lifestyle. Taylor argues that climbing was always a complex social activity and offers valuable context in which climbers can accurately assess the value and risks of their sport. I believe this book has the ability to alter the way climbing literature is written, and I recommend it with great enthusiasm.
Well written and highly readable, this narrative history of climbing culture in Yosemite National Park demonstrates the ways in which environmental history can enrich our understanding of climbing. I thoroughly enjoyed it and expect it will find a wide audience of scholars and general readers inside and outside the climbing community.
Pilgrims of the Vertical (a phrase borrowed from climber-turned-entrepreneur Royal Robbins) is at once a chronicle of how the sport evolved in Yosemite and a fascinating social history that considers climbing in the larger context of American life...For the general reader, the book makes a fine introduction to the history of climbing and Yosemite's special place in its development.
During the second half of the 20th century, Yosemite Valley was the center of development for the sport of rock climbing in North America. Techniques of extreme rock climbing were developed on the rock walls of Yosemite, and modern attitudes toward this high-risk sport were developed by the valley's climbing society...This well-documented book makes a significant contribution to the literature about climbing.
Through his examination of rock climbing in Yosemite, Taylor illuminates important shifts in masculinity (and gender relations more broadly), morality, risk, environmental politics, constructions of nationhood, and consumerism that extend well beyond the rock climbing community to tell us something about (principally American) society more broadly. Even this list is not exhaustive, further testifying to Taylor's socio-historical insight...The breadth and depth of Taylor's analysis is impressive...Without a doubt, this book makes valuable contributions to a number of different bodies of literature, both within and beyond the sport history field. I recommend it to readers without reservation.
- 2010, Winner of the National Outdoor Book Award
- 384 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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