Graduation Year

Spring 2014

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Tamara Venit-Shelton

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Rights Information

© 2014 Allison M. Barnwell


Mountaineering is not typically considered an academic subject. Nor is there much scholarship on the sport, let alone its history in the state with the smallest population, Alaska. Yet through analysis of the sport, deeper connections in the relationship between humans and the environment, the history of colonizing both indigenous peoples and land, and the place of gender and sport in Alaska come to light. Mountaineers that traveled to Alaska in the late 19th century and early 20th century were some of the first advocates for protecting its land, yet also displayed their imperialist and masculine values in the mountains. The effects of these approaches to climbing structurally excluded women and furthered the project of colonizing the land by both physically and metaphorically claiming the peaks of mountains for the nation. Their climbing also contributed to the idea that humans conquered nature; by dominating the peaks these climbers saw themselves in a battle with nature, and reaching the summit was their victory. As World War II hit Alaska, new approaches to climbing surfaced, reflecting both the spirit of war time in Alaska and the resulting population boom. Organized through the branches of climbing and environmental clubs, women began to participate with a distinctly female culture of climbing. Women sometimes expressed views of the union between humans and nature, and men also organized as environmental protectors due to their experiences in the mountains. Yet as this thesis will point out, in viewing nature and humans as separate mountaineers encouraged the view that Alaska and its land were a wilderness resource for recreation, rather than a land to act in community towards. This thesis attempts to complicate the sport of mountaineering, documenting the ways people climbed and the different meanings they embedded in their climbing activity.