Ripping Yarns

Books for armchair adventurers.

Since the success of Into Thin Air, it’s become obvious that outdoorsy types spend more time—and possibly money—reading about adventures than actually experiencing them. The book trade has been quick to capitalize on this trend with a flood of titles involving tropical leeches, desert sun, and arctic cold.

For example, David Roberts’ Escape from Lucania (Simon & Schuster, $23), a slim tale of an almost-forgotten 1937 attempt on the then-highest unclimbed peak in North America, should come as a modest, welcome antidote. Two Harvard grads in their 20s, Robert Bates and Bradford Washburn (the famed photographer- mountaineer), bear little resemblance to pampered modern-day adventurers who pay tens of thousands of dollars for guided alpine ascents. Instead, after being airlifted to and stranded on a remote Canadian Yukon glacier (where the other half of their expedition party can’t reach them) they hardly even consider an immediate retreat. It’s the height of the Great Depression; neither one of them has a job or a wife waiting in the states. So climb on!

Sharing a single sleeping bag, singing cowboy songs to fight boredom during epic snowstorms, and regularly plunging into hidden crevasses, the two struggle to the first ascent of the snowy 17,150-foot Mount Lucania, after which the real adventure begins. They have to travel 80 perilous miles overland, with scant food, to reach the nearest hunters’ settlement. Their arduous journey puts one in mind of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, only Bates and Washburn are prepared for the hardship, subsisting on squirrels and wild mushrooms to forestall starvation. The book contains some filler, but the story is lean and remarkable.

WANT MORE? Here’s a holiday grab bag of similar titles and guidebooks suited for the coming winter months when Mount Si’s too muddy for hiking and Stevens Pass is too rainy for skiing:

Dead Reckoning: Great Adventure Writing from the Golden Age of Exploration (Helen Whybrow, ed.; Outside Books, $29.95). Great adventures from the 19th century are surveyed, from exploring the Missouri River to entering forbidden Tibet.

Points Unknown: The Greatest Adventure Writing of the Twentieth Century (David Roberts, ed.; Outside Books, $19.95). Another entry from anthology editor Roberts, a smart guy who’s also climbed many hard-man routes himself.

High and Wild: Essays and Photographs on Wilderness Adventure (Galen Rowell, Spotted Dog Press, $34.95). Sadly, the last volume from the noted climber and nature photographer, who died this year in a plane crash.

A History of Free Climbing in America (Pat Ament, Wilderness Press, $24.95). From the Gunks to Yosemite, Royal Robbins, Lynn Hill, Dean Potter, and other legends of the vertical realm are interviewed. You can almost taste the granite.

White Hurricane (David Brown, McGraw Hill, $24.95). Like the Galveston Flood, a savage 1913 storm hits the Great Lakes region, largely forgotten today but a catastrophe that killed over 200.

Scraping Heaven (Cindy Ross, Ragged Mountain Press, $19.95). The author, her husband, and their two small kids trek the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail over five summers using llamas and mountain bikes. (And, no, the llamas didn’t ride the bikes.)

Arctic Adventure (Peter Freuchen, Lyons Press, $17.95). Memoirs from the author (1886-1957), a longtime resident and explorer in Greenland, where he married into an Inuit clan.

Ocean Warriors (Rob Mundle, Harper Collins, $25.95). The author joins a nine-month round-the-world sailboat race, vomits copiously, and lives to tell the tale.

Tom Crean: Unsung Hero of the Scott and Shackleton Expeditions (Michael Smith, Mountaineers Books, $24.95). Unsung no more. C’mon—there’s still room on your Shackleton shelf, isn’t there?

Bicycling Cuba (Wally and Barbara Smith, Countryman Press, $19.95). Why not? It’s cold here, it’s warm there, and that embargo stuff is really stupid, anyway.

Washington’s Highest Mountains: Basic Alpine & Glacier Routes (Peggy Goldman, Wilderness Press, $17.95). For those inveterate peak baggers who insist on ticking off all the state’s high points, 60 of which are listed here.

Best Hikes With Dogs: Western Washington (Dan Nelson, Mountaineers Books, $16.95). Is Fido allowed on the Snow Lake trail? At Mount Rainier National Park? Here’s how to sort out the canine regs for maximum quadrupedal enjoyment.

Winter Walks & Hikes: Puget Sound (Harvey Manning, Mountaineers Books, $15.95). If you don’t feel like skiing, these low-elevation treks should be mostly free of snow this winter.

100 Best Cross-Country Ski Trails in Washington (Vicky Spring and Tom Kirkendall, Mountaineers Books, $16.95). Or, for those of you who are crazy about the white stuff, check out these routes—both east and west of the Cascade divide.

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