“Men who can last”: Mountaineering Endurance, the Lake District Fell Records and the Campaign for Everest, 1919-1924
- Publisher: Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
This paper examines the post-First World War reconstruction of masculinity around notions of endurance in the British outdoor movement. From the 1860s onwards, long-distance walking trials in the Lake District became part of the regional mountaineering and rambling culture, offering middle-class mountaineers strenuous physical challenges which were expressions of regional pride and in which the Lake District became a synecdoche of the Alps, a place for excursive rehearsal of Alpine-scale ambitions. Part of a wider cultural turn towards gigantism in sport and exploration prior to the First World War, these challenges increasingly deployed insights from the life-reform and body-management movements of the late nineteenth century, drawing on developments from other endurance sports such as cycling. They culminated in the standardized but largely informal Lake District Twenty-four Hour Fell Record, the pre-war record being established by Dr Arthur Wakefield of Keswick in 1905. Post-war efforts to beat Wakefield's record by Eustace Thomas of the Manchester-based Rucksack Club demonstrated increasingly sophisticated applications of nutritional, body management and training programmes. Thomas's adoption of theoretical models of human vital capacity, based on the work of the Manchester anthropometrist and public health researcher Dr Alfred Mumford suggest that, far from amateur athletes rejecting medical and scientific advice, the adaptive physiological model that emphasized the human ability to endure and to transform itself via habituation was deeply appealing in a post-war context. Innovative experimental physical regimes and recursive strategies pioneered in the regional outdoor movement were understood by participants to have wider implications for imperial mountaineering ambitions, notably the post-war campaign to climb Mount Everest.