By Nadin Hassan, Guest Curator
As part of our mobile exhibition program which brings the MONOVA experience out into the community at recreation centres, libraries, and other public buildings across North Vancouver, The Lure of the Mountains is now on display at Lions Gate Community Recreation Centre (1733 Lions Gate Lane).
This new exhibit explores the allure of experiencing the wilderness, the self-reliance of early mountaineers, and the sometimes dangerous conditions in the mountains.
Mountaineering as a European Settler Tradition
Mountaineering in the 19th century, as introduced by European settler traditions, was historically linked with “scientific pursuits” and daring to reach incredible summits. As noted by mountaineer James Adam Craig:
“[…] climbing a mountain, was a leisure time activity that may have attracted men in Britain among the affluent, the academics, people in certain professions, all of whom could go to the Alps when they wished.” – James Adam Craig fonds, Inventory No. F243, 1966-2007.
As these European climbers explored internationally, they “discovered” new landscapes. These are landscapes that local Indigenous Peoples would have known intimately, but remained largely “undocumented” outside of the realm of Eurocentric scientific discovery.
Environmental Impact of Early Mountaineering
Groups such as the British Columbia Mountaineering Club and Alpine Club of Canada, established in the early 20th century, were concerned with collecting natural history samples for scientific research, the development of national parks, and the protection of trail areas from industrial activities such as logging. However, despite these initiatives, there was not initially as much awareness about the impact of mountaineering activities on the environment.
In the early half of the 20th century, mountaineers often used equipment that was destructive to the terrain, pounding pitons (or spikes) into the rock to act as an anchor and then hammering them out, causing damage that would later be known as “piton scars”. As climbing and sports equipment became more accessible to the wider public in the 1950s and 1960s, and the masses went out into the wilderness seeking the freedoms of nature, these effects worsened exponentially.
A major shift to the climbing community happened in the 1970s. American-based climbing equipment company Chouinard Equipment published a highly influential essay in 1972 acknowledging the damage caused by their hardened steel pitons in Yosemite Valley. Tom Frost and founder Yvon Chouinard advocated for “clean climbing”, using chocks which would be easily removed and cause minimal damage.
A few years later, in the mid-1970s, spring-loaded camming devices became the preferred equipment, and these are still used today. An example of this is on display in the exhibition alongside the metal piton.
Mountain Climbing Today
What about mountain climbing today? In recent years, the mountain climbing community has been addressing the issue of climate change and the need to reduce our carbon footprint.
From the 1970s onwards, the climbing community embraced these messages and began to develop educational materials including messaging such as “leave only footprints” or “take only photographs”. These ethics of “leave no trace” resulted in the founding of the nonprofit organization Leave No Trace in 1994, which continues to protect public lands from damage and pollution. The principles of Leave No Trace became adopted universally, and Leave No Trace Canada was officially signed on as a branch in 2007.
The preservation of mountain regions and their flora and fauna is one of the key objectives of the Alpine Club of Canada. They promote responsible and sustainable recreational use of wilderness areas that is respectful of the Kathmandu Declaration and Leave No Trace.
What ideas do you have to be more environmentally-conscious when hiking or mountain climbing?
The Lure of the Mountains is on exhibit at Lions Gate Community Recreation Centre (1733 Lions Gate Lane) until 2023.
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Donations are accepted through the Friends of the North Vancouver Museum & Archives Society, Registered Charity No. 89031 1772 RR0001.
We respectfully acknowledge that MONOVA: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver is located on the traditional lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, whose ancestors have lived here for countless generations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live, work and learn with them on unceded Coast Salish Territory.