This article identifies the American philosophical antecedents that informed Woodrow Wilson Sayre's failed attempt to climb Mount Everest in 1962. Sayre, a philosophy professor at Tufts University, was an extreme proponent of individualism and saw the challenge of climbing Everest as a struggle of one man against cold, “antiseptic” Nature. In his writings on the subject Sayre uses some of the same cultural notions about humanity and mountains that were current in American intellectual culture during the 19th century. The paper traces these notions from the Transcendentalists and American poetic descriptions of mountains through to Sayre's writings. The paper ends by describing the official response to Sayre's expedition as revealed in archival sources.