Anyone who's paged through a Washington hiking guidebook likely has Harvey Manning to thank; his legacy stands in dozens of local tomes, not to mention the very publishing wing of the Mountaineers organization. He helped bring North Cascades National Park, Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, and the Mountain-to-Sound Greenway into existence and he named the Issaquah Alps. Kick off a hike on Cougar Mountain today and you're likely at Harvey Manning Trailhead.
But in the 1960s Harvey Manning also pranked the entire climbing community with reports of a fake mountain range, part of Summit magazine's Reisenstein Hoax. Describing a stark, unclimbed series of peaks in the heart of British Columbia, the article served as a challenge to climbers furiously ticking off first ascents across North America. It took years for the climbing community to realize that the Reisenstein didn't exist.
Author Katie Ives sees no contradiction in Manning's two halves; the same passion for protecting Northwest wilderness, though a different lens, also drove his fervor for the weird mystery of unknown spaces. In her new book Imaginary Peaks: The Reisenstein Hoax and Other Mountain Dreams, Vermont writer (and editor of Alpinist magazine) Ives tackles Manning's trick and what it says about our hunger for new mountain enigmas.
Ives visits Manning's favorite outdoor spot, a mountain pass in the Northeast corner of the Olympics, to ruminate on just how humans have mapped the wilderness. Familiar Northwest figures pepper the book, from famous dirtbag Fred Beckey to Everest icon Jim Whittaker and airborne photographer John Scurlock, plus the midcentury growth of Seattle institutions like REI and the Mountaineers. She traces how the issues at the center of outdoor recreation today—Indigenous acknowledgment, climate change effects, wilderness overcrowding—have roots that reach far into our history.
And among the philosophical inquiry into the concept of imaginary mountains, Ives sketches a portrait of a man who contributed so much to the Northwest experience of exploration but still struggled with our human impact on the places he loved. In the space between the mapped and uncharted, she untangles the photographic hoaxes that cloaked the first known ascent of Denali, then wonders at a theoretical far-eastern Cascade glacier that may or may not exist.
In a world of GPS and GoPro footage, it may feel like there are no blank spots left on the map, but Ives notes that "so much irreducible mystery remains—even in what many of us think of as the known."
Seattle Met deputy editor Allison Williams interviews author Katie Ives at Town Hall on Wednesday, November 10 at 7:30pm; livestream also available.