Darwin and adventure

12:28 p.m. on November 21, 2007 (EST)
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I came across an interesting article (multi page) on National Geographic's website that has to do with survival. Of course, it has a lot of sidebars selling stuff, but you can just read the series of essays and ignore those (some of the stuff has to do with survival, too, like the video on dealing with grazzlies).

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/survival/skills/index.html

10:20 a.m. on November 30, 2007 (EST)
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Bill, I noticed many of the pages on the National Geographic site were written by Laurence Gonzales who wrote Deep Survival. http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?z=y&EAN=9780393326154&itm=1

The book is an excellent read. From the title I would have guessed it's another book on how to light a fire in the rain, but bought the book after hearing the author on the radio. The book has nothing to do with physical survival techniques. Instead the book deals with why we get into survival situtations in the first place and how our brain and body reacts to these situations. I have a hard time putting it down and plan on reading the book a second time.

11:55 a.m. on November 30, 2007 (EST)
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Deep Survival is one of several books I include in the recommended reading list for the courses I teach on expeditions and high adventure wilderness travel. Unfortunately I find most of the students in the courses are more interested in "nuts and bolts", handholding guides to how to camp in winter, do through-hikes, get out into the wild places, etc, and don't want to think about the psychological aspects (which really are the keys to not just surviving, but enjoying the woods and hills).

3:53 p.m. on November 30, 2007 (EST)
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I get bored reading the "nuts and bolts" type of books as personally I learn better by seeing things first hand than from books. What makes Gonzales's book interesting are the stories of people who are truly experts and still screw up from simple things such as brief mental distractions. For example, Lynn Hill forgetting to secure the rope and falling from a rapel; the expert kayaker who is too focused on kayaking that he can't see that the river is moving too swiftly and will likely, and does, kill him.

Deep Survival should be read first, the how to books can follow years later.

What are the other books on your list?

7:52 p.m. on November 30, 2007 (EST)
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Shackleton's and Worsley's books on the Endurance expedition (different authors, different viewpoints on the same expedition.

Art Davison's Minus 148 degrees on the ill-fated Wilcox expedition (Wilcox's book is too selfserving and defensive), and the more recent heavily researched book on the same topic by James Tabor, Forever on the Mountain

John Graham's Outdoor Leadership (Mountaineers Press)

Alex Kosseff's AMC Guide to Outdoor Leadership (happens to feature a friend as an example of an outstanding leader)

Warren MacDonald's A Test of Will (you have seen me mention Warren's disaster and recovery a number of times here)

And a whole lot of nuts and bolts books.

Seeing this list, I half-expect (no, more than "half-expect") a couple of people who post on Trailspace from time to time to berate me for recommending a bunch of "disaster" books while decrying "reality TV". In doing so, they will miss the point of these books. They are not about Disaster/Extreme/Death/Destruction. They are about the difference between those who survive in the face of great odds and those who don't, and about learning to live By Nature's Rules (to steal the name from a really awful instructional film made back in the 1960s - it had many good things to say, but it lacked, shall we say, "production values").

I think the main reason people want the nuts and bolts is that they want to get out and do things. There is also a certain amount of hubris, belief that "it won't happen to me". An example of this is a comment I often see in the student evaluations of my "Weather for the Outdoorsman" presentations - "Too many pictures of clouds, just tell me how to predict the weather." Ummm, well, clouds and how they move and change with time form one of the most important tools for anticipating weather changes over the next few days when you are in the hills with no access to satellite photos and out of reach of NOAA Weather Radio or the internet weather sites. You want nuts and bolts for weather? Learn about clouds!

1:23 a.m. on December 1, 2007 (EST)
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Ordered it through the library. Thanks for the tip.

8:32 p.m. on December 2, 2007 (EST)
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i love deep survival. i read it while i was on an internship in africa. i too think that people should read it before the other manuals, because all of the technical knowledge in the world doesn't mean anything if you blank in panic. deep survival shows you how situations come up unexpectedly, and how true survivors deal with the stresses of the situations. i feel like it changed my outlook on being in the backcountry, or anywhere that i might get into a dangerous situation

9:38 a.m. on December 3, 2007 (EST)
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I'm going to order myself a copy of the book - thanks for the info!

One of the best survival books I read was written by a guy named Larry Dean Olsen back in the 1970's. Now, I'll admit that it was oriented towards the desert southwest, but I really liked his attitude towards taking full advantage of any materials that nature, through design or chance, throws your way. It was not so much the particular skills that his book illustrated as the open minded thinking that it encouraged that I have found to be helpful on more than a couple of occasions.

I wonder what box that book is in, now that I think about it, along with Downward Bound, Advanced Rockcraft (RR) and a really cool tome about climbing in the British Isles ....(written in the 1960's, referencing different types of boot nails, qualities of hemp rope and the importance of particular wood types for ice axe shafts ....)

11:08 a.m. on December 3, 2007 (EST)
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Bill wrote, "Art Davison's Minus 148 degrees on the ill-fated Wilcox expedition (Wilcox's book is too selfserving and defensive), and the more recent heavily researched book on the same topic by James Tabor, Forever on the Mountain"

Uhh, maybe you mean Howard Snyder's book, "Hall of the Mountain King".

Minus 148 was about the first winter ascent of Denali. Hence the title.

I didn't particularly care for Forever on the Mountain. Wierd can of worms to open back up. The updated bio's on the guys involved was pretty interesting, though.

Wilcox's "White Winds" is a fair read, especially given the attention he got following that trip.

Yeah, Warren McDonald's book is a good read.

Cheers,

-Brian in SLC

11:44 a.m. on December 3, 2007 (EST)
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You're right, Brian - Hall of the Mountain King. I guess I have been reading too many books. Davison's book is a good read, too, though on a bit different expedition. Still survival in a tough situation.

2:03 p.m. on December 3, 2007 (EST)
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"i love deep survival. i read it while i was on an internship in africa. i too think that people should read it before the other manuals, because all of the technical knowledge in the world doesn't mean anything if you blank in panic. deep survival shows you how situations come up unexpectedly, and how true survivors deal with the stresses of the situations. i feel like it changed my outlook on being in the backcountry, or anywhere that i might get into a dangerous situation"

I feel exactly the same way. Deep Survival drove home the idea that getting a grip on your emotions will help you more than worrying about whether you can, for example, trap an animal. Most things follow one another, that is, it is much easier to start a fire if you have your emotions in check rather than some helter skelter rush to get a fire lit.

4:38 p.m. on December 3, 2007 (EST)
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exactly. for instance, when i was in a game park in burkina faso, we decided (probably most unwisely) to walk into the woods and try to get close to the elephants on foot. since i had read the book, i made it a point to know how far i was from the buildings, and how long it would take me to get there. i also made sure that there were enough trees to slow down a possible charging elephant, but not too many that i would be held up. before i read the book, i would have made the trip without thinking, and possibly gotten myself killed by a stampeding elephant. i love how the book stresses not only keeping your emotion in check, but also planning for emergencies, not just for the fun.

6:43 p.m. on December 4, 2007 (EST)
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I always try to take some books out with me, especially on long backpacking trips(one reason my pack weighs 75 pounds), and I've been able to find some good ones at a used book store so I can buy them cheap and burn them page by page to lighten my load. Here are a few I remember:

Beck Weather's LEFT FOR DEAD
Book about the ESSEX TRAGEDY
NOT WITHOUT PERIL about Mt Washington
Book about the KARLUK TRAGEDY
SOLDIERS AND SHERPAS by SAS soldier/climber Bronco Lane
Of course the Larry Dean Olsen book(expert flint knapper)
ORDEAL BY HUNGER: THE DONNER PARTY, great read on winter trips.

I loved Minus 148 and read it many years ago on another trip.

Some of the Clint Willis series books about high mountain survival are good, too.

11:56 a.m. on December 6, 2007 (EST)
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Good grief! You must be a disciple of Norman Clyde (I had the privilege of meeting him a couple times, once on the trail in my favorite part of the Sierra, the Palisades, and yes, he did carry a pack full of books).

But somehow your choice of reading .... death, dismemberment, disaster for "light reading" while in the wilderness! Reminds me of the time I was on Denali, sitting out a 7 day storm at the 17,000 foot camp. I had brought a little book by the Dalai Lama, giving his philosophy on life. About the 3rd day, I got to the chapter on death and dying. Somehow, I just couldn't bring myself to finish that chapter. Now realize that the Buddhist view is that death is part of the life cycle, in which there will be reincarnation until you free yourself and reach Nirvana (a drastic over-simplification). But still, I wasn't ready to head for my next reincarnation at that point (still not), and unlike Doctor Who, I wouldn't just switch bodies tight there on the spot, ready to finish the climb. The book went back into my pack. I didn't summit that trip, since one of my partners had lost all feeling in his feet by the time we reached 19,000 ft, telling us "time to turn back".

I certainly can't see reading Minus 148 at the 17,000 foot camp in a storm, knowing that I was within a kilometer of where they went through their ordeal. But on winter camping trips with young scouts (frequently in the Donner Pass area) when I was Scoutmaster, I did always read the letter from the young member of the Donner Party, Mary Reed, to the scouts in the evening. Along with To Start a Fire and Sam Magee. Great poems for a stormy winter evening! (at least when you are warm and dry).

3:26 p.m. on December 6, 2007 (EST)
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ahh the The Cremation of Sam Mcgee...I remember it well (althogh I'll admit to googling it for the text) -

by Robert W. Service

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam ‘round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell.”

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see;
It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.”

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of moan:
“It’s the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet ‘taint being dead—it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.”

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it’s up to you to cremate those last remains.”

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows—O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the “Alice May.”
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry, “is my cre-ma-tor-eum.”


Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;

Then I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.


Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.


I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: “I’ll just take a peep inside.
I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked;” . . . then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close that door.
It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm—
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”


There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

3:50 p.m. on December 6, 2007 (EST)
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That's some trip report.

7:48 p.m. on December 6, 2007 (EST)
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Yeah, the scouts love it and those from previous trips ask for it so the first-timers get to hear it.

By the way, a lot of people do not realize that Jack London wrote two versions of To Build A Fire, the earlier version (1902) in which Tom Vincent, the protagonist, finally succeeds in keeping the fire going and survives, and the later version (1908) in which he freezes to death, after which the dog trots off to "the camp it knew". At the time of the second version, London was suffering a series of ilnesses and financial difficulties, and apparently quite depressed. It often proves an excellent object lesson in using care in picking your campsite and where you build your fire, as well as a warning about walking on frozen streams and ponds.

And don't forget Service's The Shooting of Dan McGrew, another poem the kids really like, just ribald enough for that age range, but tamer than PG-13.

11:06 p.m. on December 6, 2007 (EST)
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Bill S: I first read about Norman Clyde in a book by ???, titled something like "Tramping Thru the World". The author wore little wool felt caps and on the cover he stands in shorts and hiking gear.

He wrote some chapters on Clyde and his peculiar heavy-packing life, the old cars they'd use to get them to the Sierra mountains, the "hospital" Norman went to when he felt sick(sitting in a lawn chair by a high mountain lake), his first ascents(Clyde Peak), and other great stories. Even his death in a nursing home much later.

I remember the trump-line packs he used, Trapper Nelson? And the books, the cast iron skillets, the extra leather boots, et.al. To me, Norman Clyde is today the perfect antidote-symbol to the current Ultralight fanaticism, so I guess he's one of my heroes . . .

7:52 a.m. on December 7, 2007 (EST)
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Tipi - in some ways I think the "ultra-light revolution" is a reflection of our affluence and reliance on technology to "conquer" nature (which is an absurd concept, as we are and have been through our evolution, very much a part of nature).
Having the latest and greatest (and lightest) to many seems to be a way for them to announce to the world "look what I'm able to spend on my hobby!" - much like driving a Hummer H1 tells people "I can spend whatever I want on a vehicle and don't care about the cost of gas - I'm rich and important".
Perhaps it's a function of my age or maybe just some quirk of my personality, but I like to read in camp, and I like to be comfortable in camp. When I was younger I used to take great pride in the number of miles I could cover in a day, but now, a year away from my 50th birthday, I'd rather amble on the trail, take in the sights, sounds and smells and spend nice, unhurried time in camp watching birds and other animals, invesigating mosses and lichens under a magnifying glass, cooking food that makes my "ultralight" camp neighbors jealous and enjoying myself.
I missed a lot in my mega daily mile years - upon reflection I think the generations that came before me, who covered fewer miles during the day but had far richer experiences on and off the trails had it right.
Plus - it's a lot nicer to wait out bad weather in a comfortable camp, well fed, with something to read than it is to hunker down in a bivy sack, cold and damp, facing the prospect of getting wetter still to prepare some ramen noodles and tuna flakes ....

Or maybe I'm just a nut who carries older, heavier gear!

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