Mountaineers owe thanks to the Romantics

Despite the fact that humans have lived alongside mountains for all of our history, the concept of exploring mountains is a relatively new one. In the times of the Romans any reference to mountains bears little fundamental difference to references to deserts or seas. Even until the 1700s mountains were merely impassable barriers. Or put another way, it wasn’t until the Romantic movement in the 1800s that mountains became the subject as opposed to the backdrop of examination. The Romantic movement looked to nature for inspiration and for the first time the once inhospitable places were seen as deposits of pure natural, unspoilt by humanity (it comes as no surprise that this movement flourished alongside the Industrial Revolution).

Some of the best poetry of the time comes from the English Romantics, but the subject of mountains as playground came about in the Alps where Alpine clubs were established in France, Italy, and to an even greater degree in the German-speaking world, including Germany, Switzerland and Austria. If it weren’t for the scientific revolution that lead thinkers, or naturalists as early scientists were known, to examine the natural world and for the German Romantics to, well, romanticise natural and draw inspiration from it, the hobby of mountaineering might not be with us today.

That’s a thought that’s hard to fathom for some one so in love with the mountains as me. Even without the influences of the natural sciences and the Romantics it’s hard to imagine that I wouldn’t appreciate mountains in the same way, but then again people did for thousands of years so I suppose I’m wouldn’t have bene any different.

With so much to learn from spending time in the mountains—lessons that range from the specific and practical such as how to make a campfire or build a tent to the more abstract and broad such as how to be alone with one’s self or to exist cut off from others (and the internet!)—it’s hard to imagine what my life would be like without them.

Although I don’t claim to have much of a spiritual life, a great many people, including personal friends of mine, have said that being in the mountains can have the most positive spiritual effects, influencing one’s opinion and often decreasing one’s stress.

Whatever one’s desires and pursuits—be it adrenaline-inducing mountain sport such as hang gliding or downhill skiing, or more calmer endeavours like yoga, meditation, and painting—the mountains seem to have something for all. I remember myself regularly when I’m in the mountains of what a wonderful treat it is to have a strong connection to nature.

Especially since the mountains were seen as desolate wastelands for much of their history (from a human’s perspective) I find it all the more important to cherish them and reflect on how lucky we are to be able to reflect on how marvellous it is to spend time in nature.