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  • Mountain Climbing as American Transcendental Pilgrimage: Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Colorado 14ers Packbaggers
  • Annette R. Hofmann
Tobin, Dennis . Mountain Climbing as American Transcendental Pilgrimage: Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Colorado 14ers Packbaggers. Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2003. Pp. 232. Appendices and index.

As a frequent visitor to the Colorado Rockies and an admirer of Ralph Waldo Emerson's work I chose to read this book with its long, but promising-sounding title. Moreover, the approach by the author, a cultural geographer, to the topic made me curious. I expected new perspectives and new approaches that differ from the methods used in sport history and indeed, this was the case, especially the interdisciplinary theoretical approach that aims at connecting Eastern and Western philosophies with mountaineering, linguistics, and geographical studies. But despite my high expectations, I was a bit disappointed by the book. Actually, the table of contents already warned me at first sight. The eight main chapters are divided into subchapters, most of which have one-word titles such as "Time," "Age," "Extra," and so on. Each of the main chapters ends with a conclusion. The last one bears the very appealing-sounding title, "Summary of Conclusions."

Let's focus on the content and the "peakbaggers," persons who have attempted to climb all of Colorado's fifty-four 14,000-foot mountains (p. ii). The so-called "14ers" who accomplish this task become members of the "14er club." In Tobin's opinion, "Their personal narratives and literature indicate ties to American Transcendentalism, a religion promoted by Ralph Waldo Emerson," as can be read in the preface. American Transcendentalism is mainly defined as described in Emerson's essay, Nature (1836), the manifesto of transcendentalism for many. Tobin draws parallels between the description of Emerson's [End Page 491] transcendental use of nature in mountain literature, the contents of this writing and the writings of the Colorado Mountain Club, but also the Appalachian Mountain Club between 1920 and 1998. However, instead of referring to bits and pieces of Nature throughout the book, Tobin would have helped the reader if he had first started with Emerson's ideas and beliefs and given a more general introduction to his Nature. Still, the connections he draws to Nature are certainly interesting, especially in the context of "mountaineering." Tobin asserts that he has analyzed narratives that "provide evidence of Transcendentalism within 14ers' peakbagging." He argues that the fundamental components such as concepts of Nature, correspondence, and cosmos are included: "Religion and belief provide a cultural base for spatial and temporal diffusion of these concepts" (p. 162).

Pilgrimage is another major topic that is taken up. "Pilgrimage is commonly accepted as the act of travelling to a holy place and then returning to the starting point. Religion, sacred place, and spatiality are key components of pilgrimage" (p. 26ff), Tobin states, referring to Professor of Geography Surinder Bhardwaj, one of his major theoretical sources. "Climbing a peak is identified with climbing steps of a sanctuary, and ascendance serves as a transition to the devine": Tobin connects this quotation by Eliade (1957) to pilgrimage activities.

To retrieve and analyze data Tobin uses the so-called "Transect Model," and the "Transcendental Ziggurat Model," both developed by himself. The former was used for the extraction and categorization of peakbaggers' demographic data and narratives over time. The latter "uses the word 'ziggurat' to denote transcendental worship involving height. . . . The ziggurat of early Babylonian religion is a pyramidal structure enabling the worshiper to climb to a transcendent sky, similar to a mountain peak" (p. 163). Tobin's model has the form of a pinnacle and its bases are the Egyptian religion of the Pharaohs, the Sumerian religion, and Hinduism. One top of these one finds Protestantism, Puritanism, and Unitarianism, followed by Emerson's Nature and various mountaineering clubs. At the very top the Transcendental narratives can be found. "Nature" is located on the summit but outside the pinnacle, just like "correspondence" and "cosmos" on the left and right wings of the model. Tobin hopes that this model can be used as a "heuristic device" for future geographic studies involving religion (p. 162f).

Certainly, the topic Tobin chose is...


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