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Alpine Adventure

Alpine Adventure

and Environmental Thinking

Nowadays, college professors hardly evoke the image of gray-haired, pipe-smoking authoritarians sitting in rocking chairs and reading Shakespearean literature. These days, many professors seem quite the opposite. Whether they’re extreme athletes, rock musicians, or Harley riders, college faculty are breaking the mold and are often writing about their unique interests.

One Westminster professor whose wild interests inform his scholarship is Dr. Jeff McCarthy.

With an extensive background in mountaineering, McCarthy, an associate professor of English and chair of environmental studies, has participated in expeditions to Kenya, North Africa, and Alaska, to name a few. Inspired by his love of mountain climbing and the environment, he recently wrote a book entitled Contact: Mountain Climbing and Environmental Thinking published by the University of Nevada Press.

“I decided to write a different kind of climbing book,” said McCarthy. “Contact weds stories of alpine adventure to patterns of environmental thinking. Like all the best ideas, it’s personal. I want readers to share the powerful environmental emotions I’ve encountered climbing
rock and ice over the years.”

McCarthy described his book as a collection of first-person mountaineering narratives that reflect various attitudes toward nature and the environment.

“The striking thing about climbing is that its participants cover the whole spectrum of environmental attitudes. What I mean is that some climbers are on peaks purely to conquer: put a flag on top, put a name on a route, get a photo, and get out. Others assume a role of maintaining a priceless resource and finding ways to save that gorgeous mountain life for others. Still others aim for euphoric moments of being—where the climber feels unified with the stone, and through this oneness, ascends.”

He explained that this is the whole spectrum of modern attitudes toward nature—conquest, caretaking, connection—painting the single practice of climbing.

McCarthy concluded:

“Environmental thinking has long been attached to mountain climbing. Look at John Muir and David Brower and Yvon Chouinard; for all these men, mountain climbing was the means to enhanced environmental awareness. In their writing and in their biographies, climbing occasions intimacy with nature. Consider John Muir’s sense of mountaineering as a way to fuller living—“climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.” Now I’m not saying that this book will have you hugging trees or founding a green corporation. What I am saying is that mountain climbing contains overlooked negotiations with our culture’s fundamental attitudes toward the natural world, and that my book offers the first close look at what being a climber means to the environment and what the environment means to being a climber.”

For more information on McCarthy’s book, visit