If you're in the market for a little armchair mountaineering this Christmas, consider Peter Bayers' "Imperial Ascent: Mountaineering, Masculinity, and Empire" (University Press of Colorado, 2003). For $29.95 you'll get a hardcover 174 pages with an index and photographs.
Bayers' thesis is simply stated: The conquest of the highest mountain in North America (McKinley) and the highest mountain in the world (Everest) was mostly -- as viewed from our safe and distant perspectives of almost a century in the first case and a half-century in the latter -- a product of the mind-set of the male Euro-Caucasian establishment. Thinly veiled, covert imperialist sentiment stocked the base camps, and male daring-do broke trail. Bayers' is a deconstructionist look at mountaineering.
If this sounds as if Bayers' text is just another example of early 21st century male angst and a guilt-ridden journey through the once glamorous world of high-altitude exploration, it shouldn't. There is sufficient adventure woven through the seven chapters -- three on McKinley, four on Everest -- to satisfy any armchair mountain enthusiast.
Bayers critiques the available first-person accounts of the main characters in the early ascents of the two peaks. For McKinley, the narratives of Cook, Browne and Stuck. For Everest, Sir Francis Younghusband's story of the 1924 "failed" march on that mountain and the "official" account of the 1953 Hillary-Norgay ascent. In all these cases, Bayers takes particular note of the attitudes displayed and voiced toward the indigenous peoples -- bearers and villagers alike -- by the mountaineers.