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For "Romance and Adventure": wilderness, masculinity, and the Osttheimer Expedition of 1927.

During the summer of 1927, as the "golden age of mountaineering in Canada" came to a close, Alfred J. Ostheimer III, a nineteen-year-old undergraduate student at Harvard University, travelled north from his native Philadelphia to Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies. (1) Along with two companions, also students at Harvard, a Swiss guide, and a small support team, he ventured into the remote Clemenceau Icefield region to execute an expedition he had been planning for several seasons. Aside from probable visits by Indigenous peoples, only four parties were known to have entered the region previously--one exploratory, another to survey the Alberta-British Columbia border, and two/'or mountaineering purposes. (2)

Given the limited human activity in the area, many of the mountains lacked European names and the valleys were largely unexplored. Recognizing this, Ostheimer noted that the "topography and location of many surface features, especially notes on the glaciation and natural history of the region, were lacking, and it was for these purposes, as well as for mountaineering achievements, that the 1927 expedition was organized." (3) While the expedition met its scientific objectives and in turn part of Ostheimer's degree requirements (he was enrolled in a summer geology course), the primary objective appears to have been first ascents.

Indeed, over a period of sixty-four days, members of the expedition ascended thirty-six mountains, of which twenty-eight were first ascents. (4) Ostheimer himself was involved in twenty-six of those first ascents. His overall goal was to ascend a mountain "every other day," an epithet that later became the title of his journal. (5)

It is perhaps surprising that a busy university student had the determination and capacity to plan such an expedition while still tending to regular academic duties. But Ostheimer was, and would remain throughout his life, an intense person with a proclivity for overachievement. (6) For him, mountaineering was a "never-ceasing battle between man and nature," and "[r]eal mountaineers ... make the battle a test of ability, keenness, preparedness, and endurance: they are the backbone of the sport." (7) However callow or naive his understanding of mountaineering--even by the standards of the day--fair credit is due: much was accomplished that season. Few contemporary climbers would be willing to cover the same ground. The approaches are long and arduous bushwhacking is required to reach the alpine zone.

While the members of the Ostheimer Expedition were not on a vacation, it is also true, with the exception of the support team, that they were not engaged in paid employment. Therefore, it can hardly be argued that Ostheimer and his companions were motivated by utilitarian purposes in the same practical sense as the surveyors who first entered the region. And although scientific research was a stated objective, in practice it was fairly clumsy; the "researchers" were undergraduate humanities students, not scientists. Significantly, however, Ostheimer understood mountaineering as a "battle between man and nature." Indeed, the cultural constructions of masculinity and wilderness (of man and nature) influenced, and can be seen as context for, the Ostheimer Expedition.

By the 1920s, very little frontier wilderness remained in the contiguous United States. At the same time, the ostentatious luxury of the urban environment was threatening to undermine the manly virility associated with frontier adventure. Further, the battlefield was not a readily available proving ground during the 1920s. As such, the usual paths to manhood were becoming outmoded or absent. For Ostheimer and his Harvard companions, the expedition provided an opportunity to simulate those more conventional paths to manhood. In this sense, the Ostheimer Expedition can be best understood as a determined attempt to symbolically come-of-age despite diminishing opportunities for such events.

Born in 1908 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ostheimer was the only child of Dr. Maurice Ostheimer and Martha Gibson McIlvain Ostheimer. Foretelling his desire to establish records, Ostheimer devoted his childhood energy to collecting autographs of World War I pilots and "first flight" air mail stamps. During his adolescence, when he was a student at Philadelphia's prestigious Episcopal Academy, he developed an interest in mountains, prompting him to join the school's mountaineering club. (8) As a charter school, the Episcopal Academy endeavoured to develop not only intellectual, but also athletic abilities. (9) The influence of this athleticism cannot be overlooked. Ostheimer and his Swiss guide, Hans Fuhrer, obsessed over ascent and travel times and were constantly attempting to break their own records and those of others--regardless of whether it was demanded by conditions or scheduling.

In terms of his ability to organize, Ostheimer probably also benefited from the pedagogy of the academy where "the rather elaborate courses of study ... helped students to bridge the occasional gap in their school experience by providing structure and direction for independent study." (10) In fact, the entire expedition was, in essence, an independent study, one that allowed Ostheimer to receive additional credit and graduate ahead of his peers. (11)

However, it is unlikely that Ostheimer would have developed as much, or as quickly, were it not for Dr. J. Monroe Thorington, an ophthalmologist living in Philadelphia. Thorington was a prolific climber who spent sixteen seasons climbing in the Canadian Rockies during the 1910s and 1920s. Along with Howard Palmer, another prolific American climber, he coauthored the first guidebook to the region in 1921, A Climber's Guide to the Rocky Mountains of Canada. (12) Apart from the Swiss guides (who normally received less credit than was due) it is not unreasonable to think of Thorington as the most knowledgeable Rockies mountaineer during this period. As a testimony to his importance, others have continued to update his original guidebook and it is now in its seventh edition. (13) Not only was Thorington from Philadelphia but--to Ostheimer's good fortune--he was also a family friend.


Ostheimer took advantage of the situation and began climbing with Thorington during the summer of 1924. Along with Dr. Max M. Strumia, and under the guidance of Conrad Kain, the group left Jasper on June 26 for a month-long mountaineering journey through the Whirlpool and Rampart Groups, where four first ascents were made. They also visited the Robson Group, where Ostheimer was included in an attempted ascent of Mount Robson. (14) In addition to gaining valuable mountaineering experience, Ostheimer also learned how to organize an extended-length expedition in the Canadian Rockies.

Next, during the summer of 1926, and following his first year at Harvard, Ostheimer returned to the Canadian Rockies with Thorington and Strumia. Now the trio was guided by Edward Feuz with Jimmy Simpson in charge of outfitting. Few names are more synonymous with guiding or outfitting in the Canadian Rockies. As during the summer of 1924, Ostheimer gained a valuable apprenticeship under teachers at the top of their field. The team spent three weeks in the area of the Lyell Icefield where their achievements included first ascents of three of the Lyell peaks and the third ascent of Mount Forbes.


Following the expedition, Ostheimer prepared several articles (largely reportorial, although in part scientific) about his summer journeys and these were published in Harvard Mountaineering, The Canadian Alpine Journal, and The Geographical Journal. (15) Publishing was important to Ostheimer because, as Douglas A. Brown has noted, "self-constitution as a mountaineer did not rest exclusively on one's ability to scale a mountain." (16) Indeed, most of the mountaineers in Ostheimer's circle published articles and, in the case of Thorington, books about their journeys. (17) Brown has illustrated how the physical experience of the ascent was "legitimized only when translated into text-based narratives" and that its "value and meaning ... emerged from the intellectualization of physical accomplishments and the historical originality of the events." (18) Ostheimer clearly strived for both during the 1927 expedition. To intellectualize the mountaineering achievements, he and his companions collected geographical, geological, and biological data and later prepared reports for various journals as well as the Geographic Board of Canada. (19) And he was undoubtedly aware of the historic originality that a record-breaking string of first ascents would bring.

To leave such a record, Ostheimer needed a capable team, one where the members understood that the expedition was not "any vacation trip." (20) Given its unforgiving itinerary, it is unlikely the expedition would have been interesting to very many guides. But a guide was needed; Canadian Rockies mountaineering closely followed European tradition, and climbing without a guide was normally unacceptable. (21) Luckily for Ostheimer, Hans Fuhrer (his guide from a 1923 ascent of Mount Rainier) had moved from the United States to Canada and was living in Jasper and guiding in the surrounding region.

Plans were made over the winter of 192627 and the expedition commenced on June 22. In addition to Ostheimer and Fuhrer, the eight-member expedition was comprised of Ostheimer's classmates, John de Laittre and W. Rupert Maclaurin, both of whom assisted in collecting scientific information, and the support team (organized by Donald "Curly" Philips) which included Adam Joachim, a Metis horse packer; Don Hoover, the expedition's cook; Jean Weber, an amateur Swiss guide; and Kenneth Alien, general helper.

Ostheimer's motivations for organizing the expedition are not entirely clear. In his journal he is self-assured about its purpose: "We come to explore little known and unknown country; we come for first ascents and the acquisition of scientific knowledge." (22) But perhaps the competitiveness of the Harvard Mountaineering Club also played a role. As Andy Selters points out, "in the late 1920s, individuals from Harvard College practically took over the first ascent business in North America's big mountains. Under Henry Hall's leadership, the Club gave underclassmen ready access to the inspiration, maps, and partners for expeditions all over the continent." (23)

However, Ostheimer was probably motivated by more than competition. Indeed, throughout his journal he refers to the draw of "romance and adventure." For him, those two words were "integral parts of the compelling thread of the vast labyrinth of terra incognita." (24) These words illustrate that adventure and wilderness were, for Ostheimer, indivisibly connected. Simply put, he was attempting to find, in the remote reaches of Jasper National Park, the frontier that had been lost in the contiguous United States. He was attempting to discover a uninhabited frontier wilderness were he could create his own coming-of-age event.

However, the wilderness in the protected areas favoured by mountaineers had only recently become uninhabited. Prior to colonization by non-Native newcomers, the "wilderness" areas of North America were occupied by Aboriginal peoples who "modified vegetation and wildlife, caused erosion, and created earthworks, roads, and settlements." (25) This was the case in the Jasper area as well, a region where Aboriginal peoples lived prior to the arrival of European fur traders in the early nineteenth century. (26) However, when Jasper National Park was created in 1907, permanent occupation was prohibited. As such, the resident Aboriginal peoples--now squatters in their homeland--were removed from the park and compensated with land outside the boundary. (27) One of those people was Adam Joachim, the expedition's packer. Ironically, he was tasked with taking Ostheimer into that very "wilderness." Trudy Nicks and Kenneth Morgan have traced the genealogy of the Grande Cache Metis community and in the early nineteenth century Adam Joachim's great grandfather, an Iroquois trader named Joachim Tonatanhan, began operating in the Athabasca district. His descendents lived in the region for more than a century before park legislation forced them out. (28)

It is unlikely that Ostheimer appreciated this connection. Given that the Clemenceau and Athabasca regions were uninhabited when he arrived in 1927, it is not unreasonable to presume that he might have thought it always was. One of the more entrenched European myths--then and now--is that of a pre-contact landscape that is "primarily pristine, virgin, a wilderness, nearly empty of people." (29) Ostheimer's view of Aboriginal peoples and their connection to mountainous regions is made clear in the opening lines of his journal where he acknowledges that Aboriginal people knew about the region, about the "rock-pinnacled summits, [the] green-lapped valleys, [the] mysterious ice rivers that characterize the Rocky Mountains of Canada" but that they "understood them not." (30)

For Ostheimer, wilderness--especially in the alpine zone--does not include Aboriginal people because they are "superstitious and content to linger at lower levels." (31) When Joachim travels to higher elevations, he becomes a curiosity to Ostheimer and his companions. Indeed, upon learning that Joachim and Jean Weber visited one of the higher-elevation climbing camps in his absence, Ostheimer was sorry--not because he missed an opportunity to enjoy Joachim's company, but because he and Fuhrer "longed more than all else to have been witnesses to the scene of a red man--ice axe in hand and snow goggles over his eyes--following in the footsteps of a Swiss Guide." (32)

Ostheimer's conception of wilderness as a place that does not include Aboriginal people was consistent with general American views about wilderness during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This was a relatively new way of understanding wilderness in the United States, one that came about with the erosion of the formerly vast frontier. Mark David Spence illustrates how wilderness represented, prior to the conservation movement, a frontier standing in the way of progress. When this was still the case, Native American peoples were included in European constructions of wilderness. As an example, Spence draws attention to frontier artists such as George Catlin who included Native American people in their paintings. (33) Wilderness and Native American peoples were indivisible. However, when it became clear that the frontier was a diminishing resource, citizens began to make calls for its preservation. This prompted the creation of Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Spence outlines how this created an ironic situation where Native American people had to be removed from an area so that an uninhabited wilderness could be created and preserved through protective legislation. (34)


At the same time that a division was being established between Aboriginal peoples and wilderness, mountaineering came to be indivisibly associated with wilderness. However, mountains were not always a place that humans viewed favourably. Until the seventeenth century, mountains evoked terror among Western peoples and were alien to their experience. Beliefs began to change, however, with the scientific ideas of the Enlightenment. Many Western peoples began to look at the complexity of wilderness with awe. But the Enlightenment also made possible technology that many people resented. In reaction to this, wilderness in the eighteenth century came to be idealized in the Romantic tradition often associated with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. (35) By the middle of the nineteenth century, mountaineering in Europe became popular in and of itself and traditions from there were imported to North America, many of which were rooted in the Romantic tradition.

A conspicuous feature of this early mountaineering is that it depended on the availability of wilderness. Indeed, its primary purpose was exploration and the acquisition of first ascents. By 1885, when mountaineering really began in the Canadian Rockies, such a state no longer existed in Europe, but Canadian mountaineering was "new" and therefore mountaineering here "retained a rather strong Romantic orientation." (36) For Ostheimer, then, the Canadian Rockies were an idealized frontier place more suitable for proving his manhood than any other place in the contiguous United States.

Although it more or less ended in 1925 with the first ascent of Mount Alberta--the last of the "unclimbable" mountains--the Ostheimer Expedition was still, in 1927, grounded in the mountaineering ethic of the golden age. That ethic had three main components: parties must contain three or more climbers, always be led by a mountain guide, and focus exclusively on first ascents. (37) The members of the Ostheimer Expedition adhered to each of these except the first. Ostheimer and his guide made almost all of their first ascents as a party of two, an arrangement that Ostheimer favoured to "avoid the worry of a third or fourth man." (38)

Ostheimer's peers in the Harvard Mountaineering Club had the year before climbed several major peaks in the Rampart Group without a guide. One route in particular involved considerable technical rock climbing. (39) Ostheimer must have known about these more radical ascents. However, his deference to the traditions of the golden age is reflective of his conservatism, which is in turn reflective of his nostalgia for wilderness. He was going to symbolically make the transition into adulthood, not by making more difficult ascents up already-climbed mountains, but by travelling as deep as possible into the frontier wilderness. Mountaineering for Ostheimer was less a sport and more a wilderness activity where he could wander and live the "unknown" among "the ice and snow, the berries and the flowers, the trees and rocks, the lakes and rivers." (40) To be clear, both Ostheimer's and his peers' more radical ascents can be seen as coming-of-age events; the difference is that the latter group relied upon advanced technique while Ostheimer embraced frontier wilderness.

While Ostheimer's peers chose to climb in the relatively accessible Tonquin Valley of the Rampart Group, Ostheimer, by choosing the Clemenceau region, was intentionally putting distance between himself and the highway. Only a place absent of tourists would constitute a wilderness for him.

Paul Sutter has examined the evolution of the idea of wilderness in the United States and has concluded that wilderness came to be, during the interwar period, a place that was not yet accessible to automobile tourists. As the automobile became more common, Americans began to argue that their presence in the parks was "antithetical to wilderness preservation." (41) Suddenly, wilderness was no longer a place to defend only from industrial economic development, but also now from tourists and lovers of nature. Already in 1927 there was a road in the Athabasca Valley. Although it did not yet connect with Lake Louise, Ostheimer's team used it as far as they could on the trip south of Jasper. Although the road allowed the team to make better time, Ostheimer nevertheless lamented the fact that only a century after the arrival of fur traders, "a highway will pierce the terra incognita of the Rocky Mountains of Canada; steel bridges will cross the mighty rivers flowing from the great Icefield; hotels will sit upon the valley floors, and an end will come to the vast solitudes." (42)

Wilderness--at least as it had existed since 1907 when the park was created--was becoming increasingly scarce. But scarcity alone does not explain why Ostheimer was attracted to the remote Clemenceau region. In fact, something more compelling was drawing Ostheimer away from the automobiles and people.

Donald Worster has tried to understand American conceptions of wilderness through comparative research with similar conceptions in Canada. He argues that wilderness represents, for Americans, freedom, and that this--rather than its relative scarcity--is why they value wilderness more than Canadians, and proportionally have more land under legislative protection. To reach this conclusion, Worster compares the founding origins of both countries. By adapting Seymour Martin Lipset's fragent thesis, Worster proposes that Americans value freedom--and therefore the frontier wilderness--as a result of their revolutionary origins. This is in contrast to Canadians, who tend to value stability and societal order over the frontier wilderness as a result of their counter-revolutionary origins. (43)

Worster also employs Northrop Frye's garrison mentality to illustrate how Canadians have found their frontier wilderness psychologically formidable and so have focused their lives and literature around the forts, where order and cooperation prevailed. In the United States, on the other hand, the frontier wilderness represented an equalizing place where even a destitute person could make their fortune. This national myth has important implications in the United States because through it "the two ideals of wilderness and personal freedom became fused into one." (44)

Seen this way, the back country of Jasper National Park represented a surrogate for the lost frontier of the American West. For Ostheimer, the Clemenceau Icefield was a region "distinctly remote from the beaten track and the blazed trail; its peaks and icefields had scarcely been touched by the foot of man; many of its secrets were still hidden from the photographer, topographer and scientist, not to mention the alpinist." (45) Ostheimer lamented that unknown areas such as the Clemenceau were "rapidly diminishing [in] number and in a short while all will be known, for it is not an axiom that nothing can hide from the march of men and science and remain long concealed!" (46)


His ability to physically wander through a relatively unknown region gave him access to a mythologized frontier that had existed for previous generations in the western United States. Although it is true that this surrogate frontier was hardly the great equalizer that the actual frontier had been for previous generations, travelling into it did give Ostheimer a comparable advantage over his peers. Indeed, by completing the expedition and gaining extra summer credit toward his degree, Ostheimer was permitted to graduate ahead of his peers and this permitted him to "embark upon the stream of life a year early." (47)

The above analysis illustrates how the cultural construction of wilderness was integral to the coming-of-age event that Ostheimer and his companions created in the backcountry of Jasper National Park. However, given the lack of female expedition members, it is important to also explicitly examine the role of masculinity. This is not to suggest that women are never masculine. Nor is it to suggest that women were excluded from adventuring in the Canadian Rockies. Women had been involved in Canadian Rockies mountaineering from the beginning. However, it is often the case that historians ignore the gender of men as an area of study. This is likely an oversight resulting from the ubiquity of the traditional default male focus of the discipline. Michael S. Kimmel has sought to reverse this trend. He specifically examines men as men, as a gendered phenomenon. He reminds his readers that the "quest for manhood--the effort to achieve, to demonstrate, to prove their masculinity--is one of the animating experiences in the lives of American men." (48)

Like wilderness, masculinity can be understood as a cultural construction--that is, as a perceived, rather than an actual condition. In no way is this to suggest that it is only a cultural construction. Indeed, like wilderness, masculinity is also an actual condition that exists independent of human thought and culture. But how these actual conditions affect our experience is often less significant compared with the impact of the perceived condition or cultural construction. With masculinity, it is common to define between simple masculinity--the characteristic male traits that develop after the biological determination of sex--and hegemonic masculinity--which is all about one social group maintaining power over another, of men over women, and more powerful men over less powerful men. (49) Masculinity has been, and continues to be, central to risk-taking sports such as mountaineering. The audience for such activities is often other men. Men are compelled to engage in such activity to prove "one's masculinity and virility." (50) Much of that risk-taking activity has in the past occurred in a frontier wilderness setting.

There appears to be a clear connection between the exploration and conquering of wilderness, and the expression and development of masculinity in Western cultures. As R. W. Connell has observed, "the exemplars of masculinity, whether legendary or real--from Paul Bunyan in Canada via Davy Crockett in the United States to Lawrence 'of Arabia' in England--have very often been men of the frontier." (51) The above characters can all be associated with escapism. Most often--and this was true also in the 1920s--these men were heading to the frontier to escape the feminizing influence of the urban environment.

This phenomenon is well known. It allows men to protect and preserve hegemonic masculinity. It is also not anything new. As Kimmel reminds his readers, since the early nineteenth century "men have been running away--off to the frontier, the mountains, the forests, the high seas, the battlegrounds, outer space" to retrieve an "essential part of themselves, their identity, their manhood." (52) Ostheimer too was motivated to escape to the frontier and leave behind what he called the "softening influences of cities and towns." (53)

Although Ostheimer was clearly more taken than many of his peers by the possibilities in escaping the urban environment, almost all young men in the 1920s would have been susceptible to the escapism idea. Indeed, few children or adolescents during that period would have escaped the influence of the boy scouting movement, the central institution legitimizing masculine escapism during the early twentieth century. Whether in Britain, Canada, or the United States, there was a general fear that boys living in an urban environment would become feminized by excessive contact with women. As such, the "scouting movement celebrated the frontier, but it was actually a movement for boys in the metropole." (54)

Although Ostheimer may not have been a boy scout himself, he belonged to institutions that promoted the same values--perhaps even to a greater degree. At both the Episcopal Academy and at Harvard University he belonged to the mountaineering clubs. As such, he was actively engaged in mountaineering, the most recommended of all scouting sports, "combining as it does cheapness, physical fitness and spirituality." (55) Further, mountaineering culture in Canada during the golden age, emphasizing as it did a "discourse of rewards for moral and physical fitness, manliness, patriotism, and mastery over nature," aligned perfectly with the values of the boy scouting movement. (56) The mountains thus provided a "training ground for character." (57)

The development of character was important to Ostheimer. He especially valued manly virility, or masculinity, in full vigour. At its most basic, this simply meant that Ostheimer valued strong and attractive physical characteristics in his companions. For example, Ostheimer described Fuhrer as a "fine-looking man" with hair "little thinned by so many years of work and exposure among the mountains." (58) It is also clear that not all expedition members were equal. Among his Harvard companions, Ostheimer preferred Maclaurin, with his "long legs and a handsome countenance." (59) Manly virility also took on a mental form. For example, when Fuhrer and Ostheimer embarked on a thirty-six hour peak-bagging spree at the Columbia Icefield, they did not discuss their physical exhaustion "for fear of damaging the morale of the Light Artillery." (60)

Such individualism was an important aspect of the coming-of-age event because it encouraged Ostheimer and his companions to become "self-made" men. The self-made man is an entrenched value in the United States with underpinnings in the Protestant ethic of the early nineteenth century. (61) Ostheimer strived to fulfill the ethic of the self-made man. He planned the expedition, brought together the people, and managed the itinerary in the field. He was also careful to look the part of the mountaineer. In a photograph with a relaxed-looking Fuhrer, Ostheimer appears charged and ready to climb. Although they are clearly standing in the valley bottom, Ostheimer has on his knickers and glacier goggles, and the rope is neatly coiled on the pack ready for instant deployment. (62)

When the expedition is seen as a coming-of-age event, the clothing becomes a defining component of identity. As Richard Dyer illustrates, a man's clothes "are bearers of prestige, notably of wealth, status and class: to be without them is to lose prestige." (63) Ostheimer had earned the prestige of being an active, rather than a qualifying, member of the Harvard Mountaineering Club. In order to achieve active member status, a qualifying member had to first gain "real mountaineering experience in the Alps, Canadian Rockies, or equivalent regions." (64) By climbing Mount Rainier and Mount Temple at only fifteen years of age, Ostheimer had taken this initiative to become a self-made man at a young age. If there remained any doubt that he was a self-made man, it was eliminated by the 1927 expedition.

Fantasy is an integral part of becoming a self-made man. Indeed, one has to first imagine what they might become before engaging in a coming-of-age event. The problem for American men during the 1920s was that the conventional paths to manhood had become outmoded by the closure of the frontier wilderness. (65) Ostheimer did what could have been done: he joined mountaineering clubs, first at the Episcopal Academy and later at Harvard University. As such, the escape fantasy for him was not the common one of the cowboy and the mythologized American West. Instead, Ostheimer created an escape fantasy influenced more by the Everest drama that was unfolding with successive (ultimately tragic) British attempts to ascend the mountain during the 1920s. Ostheimer named several peaks after members of the Everest expeditions, including Edward Felix Norton, a World War I British military officer and deputy leader of the 1922 Everest expedition, and Sir Francis Edward Younghusband, famed British Army officer, president of the Royal Geographical Society, and organizer of the three British expeditions to Mount Everest.


That these men were war heroes first and mountaineers second is illustrative of a more basic fantasy underlying Ostheimer's motivations. Not only had the frontier long since been closed by the 1920s, but there was also no major war effort in which young men could participate. Thus, the expedition provided Ostheimer an opportunity to realize his fantasies of military bravado. Early in the summer, Ostheimer began calling himself and Fuhrer the "Light Artillery," a moniker that Ostheimer felt was appropriate because of the "speed and precision" of their ascents, where they did not take "one pound more than necessary." (66) As with much military language, this moniker was designed to move the men forward in the face of adversity. Ostheimer noted that "psychologically, the name added 50% to our climbing strength. We breathed harder, moved more rapidly, climbed in a steadier manner, and cautiously planned each move so that the reputation of the Artillery was at all times upheld." (67)

That Ostheimer had adapted his military fantasies to the alpine environment is not a surprise. Without a war in which to participate, the mountaineering expedition served as a substitute coming-of-age event that allowed him and his companions to escape the malaise of the industrialized, urban existence of the interwar period. (68) The language used in Ostheimer's journal supports this. For example, when he and Fuhrer were preparing to make a second attempt to access the bench of the Columbia Icefield, Ostheimer wrote "the Light Artillery turned in for a long sleep before our Icefield trip should begin. This time, we would not be repulsed. Either we would succeed, or spend our strength in charging and counterattacking the superb entrenchments and fortifications of the Columbia Icefield." (69) The alpine weather was described similarly. When making an attempt to climb Mount Shackleton, Ostheimer noted that the "imaginary defenders ... formed brigades of thunderheads, packed with lightening and snow, and catapulted these deadly missiles upon the attacking force." (70)

In fairness, it should not be assumed that Ostheimer was completely eager to participate in war; indeed, as a middle class university student, his participation would have been somewhat unlikely. Caralyn Kelly has noted the importance of reading mountaineering texts to determine the extent to which the "heroic language and metaphors" are "a reflection of individuals appropriating a pre-conditioned fashionable vocabulary." (71) Many of Ostheimer's mentors, including James Monroe Thorington, had fought in World War I. As a doctor, Thorington served with the American Ambulance Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine. (72) He employed military metaphors in his own writing and this may have influenced Ostheimer's writing. (73) Nevertheless, it is perhaps surprising that individuals like Ostheimer, without any military experience, would embrace such a language so wholeheartedly. But as Donald D. J. Mrozek points out, "although most men in post-hunting societies did not actually engage in war themselves, the military became a model of male association and bonding and of manly values; and it remained so into the modern era." (74)

This might explain why several place names applied by Ostheimer paid respect to war heroes. An example is Lawrence Peak, named after Thomas Edward Lawrence, a "Welsh-born hero of desert warfare in the First World War." (75) In any event, whether in language or in actions, it is apparent that the expedition was, for Ostheimer, an important substitute for the military experience. Few activities constitute a coming-of-age event as clearly as fighting in a war. "Conquering" a mountain and naming it out of respect for a military officer was perhaps the next best thing to actually enlisting in the military.

In conclusion, the Ostheimer Expedition is best understood as a coming-of-age event for Ostheimer and both his Harvard companions. Specifically, the back country wilderness of Canada's Jasper National Park provided a surrogate for a frontier that had been closed in the United States since the beginning of the twentieth century. This surrogate frontier allowed the expedition members to access an uninhabited wilderness in which they could engage the male escape fantasy and at the same time develop the masculine virility necessary to transition into manhood. To this end, the expedition members were successful, especially so Ostheimer. With his guide Hans Fuhrer, he was able to make twenty-six first ascents during the summer, a remarkable achievement given the reality of Canadian Rockies mountaineering. Despite the stated objectives of exploration, scientific knowledge, and mountaineering achievements, the expedition's real purpose was to provide Ostheimer and his Harvard companions a suitable venue to symbolically transition into manhood. As such, the determination displayed by Ostheimer and his Harvard companions is not a surprise when it is understood as an essential component of their successful transition to manhood. Ostheimer quit climbing almost completely after the expedition and focused on his career in the insurance industry. He later wrote:
   The mountains have been practically
   forgotten, especially since 1937 when I
   tried taking my spouse up a few of them
   only to discover that I was so far out of
   condition that climbing was no fun at all
   and might even be dangerous. Can you
   picture my embarrassment when said
   spouse clambered serenely well about ten
   thousand feet while I had rubber legs, four
   hearts, and no lungs? (76)

Ostheimer no longer had any reason to climb in the mountains. The valleys and summits had long before provided him what he was seeking, something that he was now achieving in tending to career and family. This--and not mountaineering--provided for the continual reaffirmation of his manhood.

This analysis raises an interesting question of other expeditions comprised of much older participants, such as those organized by James Monroe Thorington. If their age precluded their expeditions being coming-of-age events, what specifically was the motivating factor? Perhaps these more mature mountaineers were simply reaffirming their own masculinity developed on the actual frontier, before Ostheimer's time. In this sense, Ostheimer and his companions can be thought of as among the first generation of Americans forced to simulate their own coming-of-age event. This is a trend that continued and likely still continues today. Although there are now new frontiers available--technology, space, markets--the wilderness persists as a venue for the coming-of-age event. If one ventures into the mountains today they will encounter men and women participating in the various "extreme" sports--parasailing, ice climbing, adventure races. General mountaineering, as practised by Ostheimer, has fallen out of favour. However, the mountains have not failed to attract. In fact, the mountains have in many ways become a new frontier. No longer the "gentleman" activity of the middle class, technological advances and highways have made mountaineering more accessible. In this sense, the mountains have, in a small way, regained an equalizing quality of the mythologized frontier of the American West.

Jeffrey Doherty is a fourth-year Canadian Studies student at the University of Lethbridge. He enjoys exploring the trails and history of the Canadian Rockies.


(1) Popular historians generally point to 1925 as the end of the "golden age of mountaineering in Canada," that is, the period of exploration and significant first ascents. See Chris Jones, Climbing in North America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), Chic Scott, Pushing the Limits. The Story of Canadian Mountaineering (Calgary: Rocky Mountain Books, 2000), and Andy Selters, Ways to the Sky. A Historical Guide to North American Mountaineering (Golden: The American Alpine Club Press, 2004)

(2) Alfred J. Ostheimer, "From the Athabaska River to Tsar Creek," Canadian Alpine Journal, 16 (1926-27): 23. In this study, references to the Canadian Alpine Journal are derived from the DVD Ever Upward. A Century of Canadian Alpine Journals 1907-2007 and, therefore, pagination is inconsistent with the original publications.

(3) Alfred J Ostheimer, "The Report of the 1927 Expedition to the Athabaska and Chaba Rivers, Jasper National Park, and the Clemenceau Icefield, British Columbia." Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1928, Volume I (Whyte Museum Library and Archives, Ostheimer Expedition Fonds), 15

(4) Peter Donnelly reminds contemporary mountaineers that indigenous peoples may have ascended mountains for "mystical or practical reasons, or for any other reason" However, knowledge of these first ascents was not generally available to Europeans. See "The Invention of Tradition and the (Re) Invention of Mountaineering," In Method and Methodology in Sport and Cultural History, ed K. B. Wamsley (Dubuque: A Times Mirror Higher Education Group, Inc., 1995), 235

(5) The Ostheimer Expedition fonds are housed at the Whyte Museum Library and Archives in Banff, Alberta. Ostheimer's journal, which complements the technical reports, has been transcribed by Robert William Sanford and Jon Whelan, eds, as Every Other Day. The Journals of the Remarkable Rocky Mountain Climbs and Explorations of Alfred J Ostheimer III (Canmore: The Alpine Club of Canada, 2002).

(6) Jon Whelan, "Alfred James Ostheimer III: April 25, 1908-September 1, 1983," preface in Sanford and Whelan, eds,, 12.

(7) Sanford and Whelan, eds, 126-27

(8) Ibid., 12-13.

(9) Episcopal Academy, "Episcopal Academy Facts," Episcopal Academy, < aspx?ptid=19&contentld=23> (accessed July 3, 2009).

(10) Kim Tolley and Nancy Beadie, "A School for Every Purpose: An Introduction to the History of Academies in the United States," in Charter Schools. Two Hundred Years of Independent Academies in the United States, 1727 1925, eds. Nancy Beadle and Kim Tolley (New York: Routledge/Falmer, 2002), 6.

(11) Sanford and Whelan, eds, Every Other Day: The Journals of the Remarkable Rocky Mountain Climbs and Explorations of Alfred J Ostheimer III, 23, 130. The specific course, Geology S20b, was facilitated by Kirtley R Mather, a politically and socially active scientist and geology professor at Harvard University For biographical information on Mather see Kennard B. Bork, "A Scientist Concerned About Society: Kirtley F. Mather (1888-1978)," GSA Today 6, July (1996): 8.

(12) Howard Palmer and J, Monroe Thorington, A Climber's Guide to the Rocky Mountains of Canada (New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1921).

(13) Robert Kruszyna and William L. Putnam, American Alpine Club and Alpine Club of Canada Climber's Guide: The Rocky Mountains of Canada North., 7th ed. (New York and Banff: The American Alpine Club and the Alpine Club of Canada, 1983). This edition remains the only comprehensive guide book to the region Scan Dougherty's Selected Alpine Climbs in the Canadian Rockies (Calgary: Rocky Mountain Books, 1991) provides contemporary route descriptions but dismisses the work of Thorington and others as the product of "poorly informed non residents." See review by Robert Krusznya in the American Alpine Journal 35, no. 67 (1993): 316,

(14) See J. Monroe Thorington, "A Mountaineering Journey through Jasper Park," Canadian Alpine Journal 16 (192627): 71.

(15) See Alfred 1. Ostheimer, "The Lyell Peaks and Mount Forbes," Harvard Mountaineering I, no I (1927): 18; "A Journey in the Rockies of Canada in 1926," Canadian Alpine Journal, 16 (1926-27): 108; and "Climbs in the Canadian Rockies, 1926," The Geographical Journal 70, no. 6 (1927): 558.

(16) Douglas A. Brown, "Fleshing-out Field Notes: Prosaic, Poetic and Picturesque representations in Canadian Mountaineering, 1906-1940," Journal of Sport History 30, no. 3 (2003): 347.

(17) Most articles were published in the Canadian Alpine Journal but see also J. Monroe Thorington, The Glittering Mountains of Canada: A Record of Exploration and Pioneer Ascents in the Canadian Rockies (Philadelphia: John W. Lea, 1925).

(18) Brown, 2003, 347,

(19) See Ostheimer, Harvard Mountaineering, 1927, 18; Canadian Alpine Journal, 1926-27, 108; and The Geographical Journal, 1927, 558. See also Appendix B--Report to the Geographic Board of Canada," in Sanford and Whelan, eds, 227-31.

(20) Sanford and Whelan, eds, 36

(21) Zachary Bass Robinson, "'Selected Alpine Climbs': The Struggle for Mountaineering in the Canadian Rockies, 1886 1961" (PhD dissertation, University of Alberta, 2007), 21. The sanction against unguided climbing was beginning soften. During the summer of 1926, a separate group of Harvard students made the first ascent of Mount Blackhorn, in the Tonquin Valley, without a guide. See Bradley B Gilman, "Guideless Climbs in Jasper Park, Canada," Harvard Mountaineering I, no 2 (1928): 70

(22) Sanford and Whelan, eds, 128.

(23) Selters, 2004, 113.

(24) Sanford and Whelan, eds, 210

(25) William M. Denevan, "The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492," in Canadian Environmental History. Essential Readings, ed. K. B Wamsley (Toronto: Canadian Scholar's Press Inc., 2006), 105.

(26) I. S. MacLaren, "Cultured Wilderness in Jasper National Park," Journal of Canadian Studies 34, no 3 (1999): 13

(27) Ibid., 20-21.

(28) Trudy Nicks and Kenneth Morgan, "Grande Cache: The Historic Development of an Indigenous Alberta Metis Population," in The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Metis in North America, eds. Jacqueline Peterson and Jennifer S. H. Brown (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1985), 165 67

(29) Denevan, 2006, 93.

(30) Sanford and Whelan, eds, 32.

(31) Ibid., 130.

(32) Ibid., 176.

(33) Mark David Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 16-18

(34) Ibid., 33-39.

(35) Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, 4th ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 44-49.

(36) Douglas A. Brown, "The Modern Romance of Mountaineering: Photography, Aesthetics and Embodiment." in The International Journal of the History of Sport 24, no. 1 (2007): 11.

(37) Robinson dissertation, 21-23

(38) Sanford and Whelan, eds, 132

(39) Gilman, 1928, 70

(40) Sanford and Whelan, eds, 130

(41) Paul Sutter, "Putting Wilderness in Context: The Interwar Origins of the Modern Wilderness Idea," in American Wilderness. A New History, ed. Michael Lewis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 168

(42) Sanford and Whelan, eds, 128

(43) Donald Worster, "Wild, Tame, Free: Comparing Canadian and U.S. Views of Nature," in Parallel Destines: Canadian American Relations West of the Rockies, eds. John M, Findlay and Ken S Coates (Seattle: Centre for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, 2002), 259.

(44) Ibid., 260.

(45) Ostheimer, "From the Athabaska River to Tsar Creek," 21-22.

(46) Sanford and Whelan, eds, 127

(47) Ibid., 130

(48) Michael S. Kimmel, The History of Men: Essays in the History of American and British Masculmities (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005), 6

(49) Ibid, 6-7.

(50) Roger Lancaster, "Subject Honor, Object Shame," in The Masculinity Studies Reader, eds, Rachel Adams and David Savran (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2002), 42.

(51) R.W. Connell, "The History of Masculinity," in The Masculinity Studies Reader, eds. Rachel Adams and David Savran (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2002), 245

(52) Kimmel, 2005, 20

(53) Sanford and Whelan, eds, 58

(54) Connell, 2002, 252.

(55) Allen Warren, "Popular Manliness: Baden Power, Scouting and the Development of Manly Character," in Manliness and Morality: Middle-Class Masculinity in Britain and America, 1800 1940, eds J. A. Mangan and James Walvin (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987), 203.

(56) Robinson dissertation, 14.

(57) Allen Warren, "Popular Manliness: Baden Powell, Scouting and Development of Manly Character," 212.

(58) Sanford and Whelan, eds, 43.

(59) Ibid., 47.

(60) Ibid., 92.

(61) Michael Kimmel, "The Birth of the Self-made Man," in The Masculinity Studies Reader, eds Rachel Adams and David Savran (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2002), 136-37

(62) Sanford and Whelan, eds, 29.

(63) Richard Dyer, "The White Man's Muscles," in The Masculinity Studies Reader, eds. Rachel Adams and David Savran (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2002), 262-63

(64) Henry S Hall, "Forward," Harvard Mountaineering 1, no 1 (1927): 3.

(65) Kimmel, 2005, 29.

(66) Sanford and Whelan, eds, 61.

(67) Ibid., 161

(68) Richard G. Mitchell, Jr., Mountain Experience: The Psychology and Sociology of Adventure (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 222-24.

(69) Sanford and Whelan, eds, 79.

(70) Ibid., 201

(71) Caralyn J Kelly, "'Thrilling and marvellous experiences': Place and Subjectivity in Canadian Climbing Narratives, 1885-1925" (PhD dissertation, University of Waterloo, 2000), 272

(72) Robert H. Bates, "In Memoriam: James Monroe Thorington," American Alpine Journal 32, no. 64 (1990): 337.

(73) Thorington, 1925, 219

(74) Donald D. J. Mrozek, "The Habit of Victory: The American Military and the Cult of Manliness." In Manliness a Morality: Middle-Class Masculinity in Britain and America, 1800-1940, eds. Mangan and James Walvin (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987), 221.

(75) Glen W Boles, Roger W Laurilla, and William, L. Putnam, Canadian Mountain Place Names: The Rockies and Columbia Mountains (Calgary: Rocky Mountain Books, 2006), 149.

(76) Whelan, preface in Sanford and Whelan, eds, 16
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Author:Doherty, Jeffrey
Publication:Alberta History
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Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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