Mountains of the Mind

An Exhibition of Alpine Landscape Photography by Will Nourse

I’ve been enthralled by mountains for virtually my entire life. As a child, I spent time hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with my father; as an adult, I’ve climbed and skied in the Canadian Rockies and the Alps; and now as a father, I enjoy hiking and climbing and skiing with my daughter both locally and in the Alps.  Mountaineering and climbing inspire my mind – both through doing and through reading.  I have read widely, voraciously consuming stories of mountaineering, from the White Spider to Into Thin Air and have a large library of mountaineering literature.


Summit of Mont Blanc - September 2003The feelings that mountain landscapes evoke in me are hard to describe, but when I came across Robert Macfarlane’s book, Mountains of the Mind: A History of Fascination, I felt a little closer to finding an answer.  His writing resonates deeply within me.  It is lyrical, almost poetic at times, yet is grounded in his personal experience as a mountaineer.  The book attempts to address the fundamental question of what inspires (some of) us to ascend,


What is it that draws us toward the summits today, when only a few hundred years ago, the heights were places of fear and to be avoided?  Why do we challenge ourselves, sometimes obsessively, in such a fundamentally pointless pursuit? Lionel Terray, a noted French mountaineer who was part of several first ascents of the world’s highest peaks, entitled his autobiography Conquistadors of the Useless, recognizing the futility of the sport.


Although ultimately, the reasons that people climb are personal, Macfarlane concludes “Mountains seem to answer an increasing imaginative need in the West. More and more people are discovering a desire for them, and a powerful solace in them. At bottom, mountains, like all wildernesses, challenge our complacent conviction – so easy to lapse into – that the world has been made for humans by humans…By speaking of greater forces than we can possibly invoke, and by confronting us with greater spans of time than we can possibly envisage, mountains refute our excessive trust in the man-made. They pose profound questions about our durability and the importance of our schemes. They induce, I suppose, a modesty in us.”


When I go into the mountains, I am refreshed.  As John Muir wrote, “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean… Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature’s peace will flow into you as the sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”


Ice Climbing on Mont Blanc du Tacul – September 2003


Shot in the French and Swiss Alps, these images are my attempt to capture and communicate the beauty, grandeur and scale of these places, to give some sense of the siren’s song that the mountains sing and to show where humanity fits among them. Photography and mountaineering have a long history, dating from the late 19th century and the work of Vittorio Sella and continuing to the modern day, both as documentation of climbs as seen in publications such as the American Alpine Journal and glossy magazines such as Alpinist, Climbing or Rock and Ice.  Complementary to these images is writing, whether it be route descriptions, epic survival stories or more meditative expositions.  I’ve paired each image in this exhibition with a quote that I feel is complementary, and in some way gets at the essence of being in the mountains.

Click the link below to visit a virtual exhibition of the images and their accompanying text.

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