In ‘Imaginary Peaks’, Katie Ives explores our fascination with mythical mountains


Sometimes I confuse clouds with mountains. After several years of absorbing the landscape of the Northwest, where peaks frame the horizon like reliable luminaries, my subconscious now imprints a crisp topography where there is none, especially in the flattest parts of the world. world. Most recently, I remember standing on my grandparents’ balcony in Virginia with a view of Chesapeake Bay, wondering for a brief moment when a huge snow-capped mountain range appeared on the Delmarva Peninsula. (Highest point: Stillpond Neck, 102 feet above sea level.)

Katie Ives, editor-in-chief of Alpinist magazine, is no stranger to this phenomenon. “I’ve had these recurring dreams since childhood of a giant woodpecker not existing in my own backyard,” Ives said by phone from his home in Vermont.

Ives develops this dream in his new book “Imaginary peaks: the Riesenstein hoax and other mountain dreams”(Mountaineers Books, $ 26.95) which she will discuss during a conversation with Seattle Met’s Allison Williams at City Hall on November 10.

“Physical peaks also infiltrate the geographies of our unconscious, where their outlines arouse desires that we might not otherwise have felt. Some areas of my own dream peak are patchworks of places I’ve been: a thrill of eastern Mongolian grasslands, hemlock darkness behind my childhood home, a high-ice world torn apart by the clouds in the North Cascades, ”she wrote. “For many climbers, sometimes both unexpected and ecstatic, the boundaries between the outer and inner worlds seem to dissolve. “

In a seemingly saturated outdoor scene with high-tech athleticism like the pursuit of the fastest known time records (FKT), Ives’ embrace of the mystical and mythopoetic nature of the mountains reads like an antidote to the FKT culture. An accomplished climber herself who always relies on paper maps, avoids GPS, and certainly doesn’t have a Strava account, Ives has found a soul mate in a beloved but cantankerous figure from the Northwest: The author and environmentalist Harvey Manning.

Specifically, Ives found herself fascinated by the Riesenstein hoax. In 1962, Manning and his co-conspirators Austin Post and Ed LaChapelle, two prominent figures in Northwest mountaineering history, posed as a trio of Austrian mountaineers and wrote a fictitious submission to the editors. in chief of Summit magazine describing a fantastic mountain range in British Columbia. Filled with photos, their tale of climbing through awe-inspiring granite spiers ended in a failure to reach the top. The editors, apparently deceived by the ruse (although Ives later speculates that they may have been involved in the joke), published the article with a provocative caption: “Who will be the first to climb it? “

At a time of voracious peaks to claim the first climbs, mountaineers of the 1960s were salivating at the idea of ​​setting up a new route in the previously unknown Riesenstein Range. However, doubt quickly spread and the climbing community eventually discovered that the photos were in fact real, but their geography had been faked. The granite walls in question were the Kichatna Spiers of Alaska, which famous climber Royal Robbins described as “Yosemite meets the North Pole”.

Ives first discovered the Riesenstein hoax in 2011 in Ways to the Sky: A Historical Guide to North American Mountaineering. “ Author Andy Selters continues after a few paragraphs, but the story stuck with Ives. She corresponded with the only living impostor – Post, a resident of Vashon Island – and wrote an essay for Alpinist. (In a later essay, she covered up another Manning hoax, that of the imaginary No Name Peak in the North Cascades.)

“I continued to be haunted by history and wanted to learn more about why these imaginary mountains were so appealing,” Ives said. “Not only to those caught up in the hoax, but in general to people of all cultures. “

Indeed, Ives’ book reads like two. The first half is a long soliloquy on the role of imagined and imaginary mountains from the ancient world to the present day. Everyone, it seems, has this premonition in common: early Chinese writers, Greek philosophers, medieval European cartographers, Persian geographers, Tibetan monks. The second half is a simpler tale of the various expeditions that sought to climb the enigmatic Kichatnas, though this story comes with its own set of characters whose experiences border on the supernatural realm.

An oblique biography of Manning, born in Seattle and raised largely on Bainbridge Island, who first fell in love with the mountains as a scout at Marmot Pass in the 1930s and who dedicated his life to a sometimes contradictory mission to encourage both outdoor recreation and protection of wild places.

Manning, who died in 2006, has not yet been the subject of an official biography, although his “Walking the Beach to Bellingham” is a sort of elliptical autobiography. “He writes it down so that no one can go his way,” Ives said. “I compare him to the authors of pilgrimage stories. Do not try to guide people from point A to B, but rather to guide people to a particular point of mind.

Ives, who studied literature at Harvard and earned a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, shares Manning’s penchant for nonlinear storytelling. “Imaginary Peaks” evokes the same dreamlike headspace as literary moments like Hans Castorp wandering in a white veil in Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” or Colonel Allen Forrester crossing a mountain pass in “To the Bright Edge of the World ”by Eowyn Ivey. “

While Manning edited several editions of The Mountaineers’ seminal mountaineering manual “The Freedom of the Hills” and author of a series of walking and hiking guides in the Northwest, Ives places the University of Washington graduate in a literary legacy that dates back to the early Italian poet Petrarch, whose 1350 account of the ascent of Mont Ventoux is widely regarded as the first modern piece to write about recreational climbing.

“Harvey himself read voraciously, and when you read his published and unpublished work, you see a lot of allusions to past literature,” said Ives, who sifted through the 126 boxes of Manning papers kept at the University of Washington. “His writing was a strange mixture of very lyrical and very satirical. He was certainly influenced by this larger story and this strange topography of non-existent and fabulous chains that helped to influence his imagination. ”

The snippets of Manning’s plea that shine through “Imaginary Peaks” predict a thinker ahead of his time. Manning preached using public transportation to reach hiking destinations in the 1980s, decades before King County finally got on board and launched Trailhead Direct. Like a climate change Cassandra, he foresaw the impact of global warming on the state’s glaciers that so captivated him in his youth long before Greta Thunberg went on a school strike.

“You can see [Manning’s] legacy in the extraordinary amount of unspoiled green space near Seattle, ”said Ives, highlighting his role alongside fellow conservationists in lobbying for North Cascades National Park (see“ The Wild Cascades: Forgotten Parkland ”) or by coining the term Issaquah Alps, which prompted vast expanses of Cougar, Squak and Tiger mountains to preserve as the forest trail refuges they remain today. “Harvey’s contribution to these larger efforts was literary: he was trying to create a bunch of environmentalists and politicians through compelling writing,” Ives said.

As Manning appears at many stages of life in “Imaginary Peaks,” Ives frequently returns to the image of Manning furiously typing on his typewriter – he would never own a computer and his reaction can only be imagined. to the impact of social media on wild places – in her Cougar Mountain home. Yet for all of his prodigious word creation, a simple mantra emerges that perhaps explains how Manning was able to encapsulate both an encyclopedic knowledge of Puget Sound and the Waterfalls as well as a vivid imagination creating new worlds from maps. and photos: “To make your world bigger, Slow down.”

Author event

Katie Ives with Allison Williams

Ives will discuss his new book with Seattle Met’s Allison Williams at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 10 at Seattle City Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave., Seattle; tickets $ 5; 206-652-4255,

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