The race to climb Everest catapulted mountain climbing, with its accompanying images of conquest and sport, into the public sphere on a global scale. But as a metaphor for the pinnacle of human achievement, mountaineering remains the preserve of traditional white male heroism.
False Summit unpacks gender politics in the expedition narratives and memoirs of mountaineers in the Himalayas and the Karakoram. Why are women still a minority in the world's highest places? Julie Rak proposes that the genre has itself reached a "false summit" – a peak that proves not to be the pinnacle – and that mountaineering is not ready to welcome other ways of climbing or other kinds of climbers. For more than two centuries mountaineering, as an activity and as an ideal, has helped shape how the self is understood within the context of conquest, adventure, and proximity to risk. As climbing shows signs of becoming more diverse, Rak asks why change is so hard to achieve and why gender bias and other inequities exist in climbing at all.
Exploring classic and lesser-known expedition accounts from Everest, K2, and Annapurna, False Summit helps us understand why mountaineering remains one of the most important ways to articulate gender identities and politics.
About the author
Julie Rak is a Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. She holds an Eccles Fellowship at the British Library for 2017-2018 and is also a Killam Professor at the University of Alberta for 2017-28. She is the University of Alberta nominee for the Royal Society of Canada 2018 Lorne Pierce Medal for excellence in Canadian literature scholarship. The author of Boom! Manufacturing Memoir for the Popular Market (2013) and Negotiated Memory: Doukhobor Autobiographical Discourse (2004), Julie has contributed as an editor to many volumes of critically-acclaimed work. With Hannah McGregor, she is the co-author of the Counter-Letter against UBCAccountable, and she sponsors the letter and signatures on a website, accompanied by resources about the controversy. Julie was born on traditional Haudenosaunee territory in New York State, and grew up in Delmar, NY, the traditional territory of the Kanien'kehaken (Mohawk). She currently lives and works on Treaty 6 and Metis territory in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
"The rewards of False Summit are many, not least of which is the opening up of the critical field for further scholarship focusing on other 'non-traditional' mountaineering bodies. Rak has the rare ability to combine sophisticated critical thinking with direct formulations of insights and a wonderfully accessible writing style." Amrita Dhar, Ohio State University
“Julie Rak’s False Summit is the most important work on gender and mountaineering in many years. The gender politics of climbing Annapurna, K2, and Mount Everest were recorded in nonfiction writing over the last century. For even longer, images of mountaintop figures standing above a sea of clouds (à la Caspar David Friedrich) have invited viewers to imagine themselves in the summit position of the sovereign individual. Rak notes that to substitute someone else into this position requires an equivalence, a form of physical embodiment, that often excludes those who are not white, male, and Euro-American. These challenges make it difficult for others to occupy this position which creates the “false summit” of the book’s title. False Summit should be widely read and will have an impact in many fields and in areas well beyond the mountains.” JAAAS: of Austrian Association for American Studies
"Rak provides a convincing analysis of gender in mountaineering on Annapurna, K2, and Everest that will reshape how climbers and readers understand who belongs in the mountains, the politics of style in climbing and writing, and the possibilities for more inclusive stories in the future." Peter Hansen, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Other titles by Julie Rak
Life Among the Qallunaat
CanLit in Ruins
Manufacturing Memoir for the Popular Market
Not Drowning But Waving
Women, Feminism, and the Liberal Arts
The Life and Writing of Nello “Tex” Vernon-Wood in the Canadian Rockies, 1906-1938
Auto/biography in Canada
Doukhobor Autobiographical Discourse