You are hereBook Review: Missing In The Minarets: The Search for Walter A. Starr, Jr

Book Review: Missing In The Minarets: The Search for Walter A. Starr, Jr




Missing In The Minarets: The Search for Walter A. Starr, Jr

By William Alsup

Hardcover (February 2001)

Yosemite Assn; ISBN: 1930238088

Reviewed by George Sinclair May, 2001 

On a recent trip to Yosemite I noticed a new book was being offered at the
visitor center called Missing in the Minarets.  As I have always been
interested in anything involving Norman Clyde or Jules Eichorn, I
immediately purchased the book.  However, I was a little puzzled how the
author, William Alsup, could take the relatively simple story of Peter
Starr's disappearance in the Minarets almost 70 years ago and make an
entire book out of it.  I was already familiar with the facts of the
incident, and had already read the accounts written by Norman Clyde and
Francis Farquhar.  I was also familiar with the story from my interview
with Jules Eichorn done a few years before he died.  I was very curious to
see what the author could add to what was already known about the Starr
disappearance.

On reading the book I found that the author enhances the basic story of
Starr's disappearance with a good amount of background on the various
personalities involved.  Although I already knew most everything contained
in the book about Clyde, Eichorn, and Farquhar, I did learn a few new
things about Peter Starr, the Starr family, and Glen Dawson.  However,
much of the book is taken up with search trivia, and the author's attempt
to make more of a mystery out of the basic story.  Alsup takes up many
pages going over the issue of whether Starr climbed Clyde Minaret or not
just prior to his fateful climb of Michael Minaret (it is known that he
did climb it the year before).

He also devotes many pages to the mystery of whether Starr climbed Mt.
Ritter on August 30, or August 31.  Even for a devoted Sierra historian
such as myself, I did not find this level of trivia particularly
interesting.

For the most part the author's attempt to make the basic story into an
engaging mystery doesn't work.  For much of the book either the details he
investigated, and then spends many pages describing are too trivial, or
the reader eventually learns that there basically isn't any mystery
involved.

However, when the reader gets to the last chapter things change.  Suddenly
several exciting mysteries surface in the chapter describing a recent
visit to Starr's grave by Steve Roper (which Roper believed hadn't been
disturbed in over 50 years).  Many aspects of the grave did not fit the
description given by Eichorn and Clyde.  Did they lie to protect Starr's
family?  Also, what ever became of the knapsack, which to this day has
never been found, that Starr was wearing when he died?

Someone who knows nothing of the Starr disappearance may interpret this
book very differently.  For myself, in addition to the additional
information contained on various personalities, I found that the book
provided a good glimpse of Sierra mountaineering circa 1930.  The use of
many historical photos adds to the feel of the book.  I also found the
footnotes, of which there are many, to be very interesting.  I think the
star of the book (no pun intended) is Peter Starr's father, Walter Starr. 
An early explorer of the Sierra himself, Starr senior was drawn back into
a more active role in the Sierra Club as a result of his son's death.  He
played a very important role in the early career of Ansel Adams and Jules
Eichorn.  In addition to Starr's Guide, he also was involved in getting
several other important Sierra Club books published.  One of these books,
done with the help of Ansel Adams, was instrumental in creating Kings
Canyon Park.

On a personal note, I was somewhat surprised that the author made no
mention of my interview with Jules Eichorn.  Instead, Alsup, who
apparently only met with Jules briefly just prior to his death, relies
heavily on an earlier interview done by a friend of the Eichorns that
existed only on audiotape.  To my knowledge, my interview with Jules
Eichorn was the only comprehensive one done that was also later edited and
printed.

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