December 2009     Peak Climbing Section, Loma Prieta Chapter, Sierra Club   Vol. 43 , No. 12

PCS Annual Holiday Party

Date          December 8, 2009

Time          7:00 – 10:00 pm

Where       Aaron Schuman’s - The              Whisman Station                         Clubhouse

                  420 Kent Drive

                  Mountain View, CA            

Meeting Location (click for directions): 

Aaron Schuman's - The Whisman Station Clubhouse

Come to the 34th annual PCS Festivus party, on Tuesday, December 8, 2009, at 7:00 p.m., at the Whisman Station clubhouse, at 420 Kent Dr., Mountain View.

Bring a potluck dish that you will be proud to share with your fellow climbers. Bring 35 mm slides or a CD with 10 or 12 of your most thrilling climbing photos, from this year or from long ago. We’ll provide projector and screen. Bring your family and friends. Bring a swimsuit and a towel if you envision yourself dipping in the clubhouse hot tub. (Yes, a swimsuit! What? You think this is Tenaya Lake?)

Here’s your assignment:

A – D - appetizer
E – I - salad
J – N - main course
O – S – dessert
T – Z – beverages

In addition, feel free to bring your alcoholic beverage of choice, and of course, since we are a green organization, bring your own plate, cup, and eating utensils.

See you there!

Report on Old Scree Issues from Alan Ritter

Here is a summary of what I have found, what is missing.

 1975:  Have August - December, none before that.

1976:  Have full set

1977:  Have Jan, Feb, Mar, Jun, Jul, Aug, Nov, Dec.  Missing Apr, May, Sep, Oct.

1978:  Have only Jan, Nov, Dec.  Missing the rest.

1979:  Have full set

1980:  Have full set

1981:  Have full set

1982:  Have Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Oct.  Missing Sep, Nov, Dec.

1983:  Have none

1984:  Have Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.  Missing all Jan - Jul.  Also have Aug and Sep "Living it Up"

1985:  Have full set plus Dec "Living it Up"

1986:  Have full set plus Jun "Living it Up"

1987:  Have full set

1988:  Have full set EXCEPT Oct.

1989:  Have only Jan, nothing else.

If anyone has any of the missing issues and wants them scanned/OCR’ed, send ‘em to me and I’ll add to the set. 

New PCS Officers Elected

The PCS Nominating Committee is happy to announce that the PCS officer elections were conducted at the November PCS meeting (10th Nov, 2009) and all the nominated officers were unanimously elected.

For the 2010 term, these are the officers:

Chair: Jesper Schou
Vice-chair: Louise Wholey
Treasurer: Emilie Cortes
They take office from January 2010. Congratulations to the new team and thank you for volunteering to serve the PCS!

We also wish to thank the outgoing team of elected officers, Louise Wholey, Jeff Fisher and Jesper Schou and nominated officers, Judy Molland, Joe Baker, Steve Eckert, Lisa Barboza and Kelly Maas for doing a stellar job during their term in office.

The PCS Nominating Committee:
Jeff Fisher, Scott Kreider and Arun Mahajan

Chair column

A Big Thank You

As our year in service of officers of the Peak Climbing Section comes to a close, I want to thank the team that has kept the section going for this past year.  Many thanks go to

Jeff Fisher                 Vice-chair/Scheduler

Jesper Schou           Treasurer/Membership

Judy Molland            Scree Editor

Joe Baker                   Website Manager

Lisa Barboza            Mountaineering                                            Committee Chair and                                 Training Chair

Many thanks to the trip leaders who have contributed their time and expertise to lead the many trips we have enjoyed this year.

Christmas Party

December 8 is our PCS Christmas Party potluck at the Aaron Schuman’s clubhouse.  Many thanks go to Aaron for arranging the party location and to Judy Molland and Lisa Barboza for planning it.  This event is always great fun as people pull out there best photos of the year’s climbs.  This year is even more special because we have access to a hottub!  Bring your swim suit! 

First Aid Training

The PCS is offering a week-night Wilderness First Aid training course.  There will be 4 classes on Mondays and Tuesdays Jan 11-12 and January 18-19.  Contact Lisa Barboza,, to sign up.  Many thanks to Lisa for arranging the classes.

A weekend class is also available from the chapter Feb 6-7.  Details are on the chapter website:

Red Cross First Aid offers CPR and choke training, supplements to backcountry training.  The schedule is at

Old Copies of Scree

We will soon be in for a great treat!  Alan Ritter has completed the scan of the old issues of Scree and will be writing a CD containing them in early December.  Thanks so much to Alan for scanning them and to Thatcher Koch for making them available!

Happy Climbing and Skiing, Snowshoeing, Boarding,


Editor’s Notes

As the year comes to a close, I’m sure I speak for everyone in the club in thanking Louise for the many hours she has devoted to the PCS in 2009. Mil gracias, Louise!

Beginning with this month’s Scree, we are adding a Book Review section to our newsletter. (Thanks, Debbie, for getting this started.) I encourage everyone to submit reviews of their favorite mountaineering, climbing, and outdoors adventure books.

Lastly, what follows is my personal tribute to someone who became a friend for two short days. Ishun, this is for you.

Judy Molland

            ISHUN CHAN – In Memoriam

On the weekend of September 12 and 13, Kelly Maas led a PCS trip to Cherry Creek Canyon. There were seven of us, and we had a wonderful time as a group, getting to know each other pretty well. I had not met Ishun before, and especially enjoyed her sunny outlook, her positive approach (even when hiking through previously burned ground, now very overgrown) and her tales of climbing in the Sierras.

It turns out that Ishun was primarily a rock climber. On the weekend of November 8, she was climbing the Obelisk, a 9,700 foot peak southeast of Wishon Reservoir, when she had a freak accident and subsequently died. It is hard even now to write this, and harder still to realize that I won’t meet up with her again on another hike or climb.

Here are some tributes to her from others on our trip:

“I had the pleasure to hike down Cherry Creek Canyon with Ishun this September. She was as many in our community described her. A lovely, intelligent young woman full of the excitement of life. She was kind, gentle and caring. As we made our way down the canyon, we looked at the possible routes up the likes of Dome Sweet Dome and Mastadome. I am deeply sorrowed by her loss. May her memory in all the people she touched forever burn brightly.”

“This is such sad news.”

“That is terrible news. She was so friendly, enthusiastic and still had an innocence about her.”

For those who knew her, or would like to read more about her, her climbing buddies have created a Web site,

Rest in peace, Ishun.

              PCS Trip Calendar

These are required statements.

Note: CST 2087766-40. Registration as a seller of travel does not constitute approval by the State of California.

Note: All Sierra Club trips require you to sign a Liability Waiver.

Dec 29 - 30 – Tahoe Backcountry Skiing #1

Leader:  Louise Wholey

Jan 9 – Junipero Serra

Leader: Lisa Barboza

Jan 16 – 17 – Tahoe Backcountry Skiing #2

Leader: Louise Wholey

Feb 13 – 14 – Tahoe Backcountry Skiing #3

Leader: Louise Wholey

March 19 – 21 – Sierra Ski Mountaineering

Leader: Louise Wholey

PCS Trip Details

Tahoe Backcountry Skiing #1

Goal:  Tamarack Peak, or other, depending upon snow.

Location: Tahoe Basin

Dates:            December 29 - 20

Leader: Louise Wholey     

Difficulty: Advanced skiing skills

Come join us for the first in our new Tahoe Backcountry Skiing Series. We will ski wherever we can find the best snow, with the target always being fresh deep powder. December is often the best powder.

Requires advanced skiing skills (resort black diamond+), avalanche training. Randonee or Telemark skis, climbing skis, avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe.

Junipero Serra

Goal:  Junipero Serra

Date:  January 9, 2010

Leader: Lisa Barboza        

Difficulty: Class 1

Carpool: Morgan Hill, 7:00 AM - Carl's Jr. Dunne Ave Exit

Greet the New Year with a fun conditioning hike to the summit of Junipero Serra Peak. It's a 10 mile round trip, 3900 feet gain to the summit. This peak is the 2nd highest in the Santa Lucia range. On the summit, we'll find exotic ponderosa pine, white fir, and other plants normally associated with the Sierra. We'll start at the trailhead at 10AM, summit by 2PM and be back at the cars by 5PM. This is a class 1 day hike open to all.

Carpool: 7:00 AM: Meet at Carl's Jr. at Dunne Ave exit from 101 in Morgan Hill and caravan from there.

Note: The requirement for an adventure pass was suspended for this area in 2005. See this link: For more information, call Lisa @ 650/493-8099 or email at

Tahoe Backcountry Skiing #2

Goal:  Tamarack Peak, or other, depending upon snow.

Location: Tahoe Basin

Dates:            Jan 16 - 17

Leader: Louise Wholey     

Difficulty: Advanced skiing skills

Come join us for our second of the Tahoe Backcountry Skiing Series.
We will ski wherever we can find the best snow, with the target always being fresh deep powder.

Requires advanced skiing skills (resort black diamond+), avalanche training. Randonee or Telemark skis, climbing skis, avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe.

Tahoe Backcountry Skiing #3

Goal:  Tamarack Peak, or other, depending upon snow.

Location: Tahoe Basin

Dates:            Feb 13 - 14

Leader: Louise Wholey     

Difficulty: Advanced skiing skills

Come join us for our third of the Tahoe Backcountry Skiing Series. We will ski wherever we can find the best snow, with the target always being fresh deep powder.

Requires advanced skiing skills (resort black diamond+), avalanche training. Randonee or Telemark skis, climbing skis, avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe.

Sierra Ski Mountaineering

Goal:  To Be Determined

Location: Tahoe Basin

Dates:            March 19 - 21

Leader: Louise Wholey     

Difficulty: Advanced skiing skills

Come join us for our grand finale of the Backcountry Skiing Series, skiing in the high Sierra. The peak will be announced at the beginning of winter.

Requires advanced skiing skills (resort black diamond+), avalanche training. Randonee or Telemark skis, climbing skis, avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe.

Private Trip Calendar

Important: Private trips are not insured, sponsored, or supervised by the Sierra Club. They are listed here because they may be of interest to PCS members. Private trips may be submitted directly to the Scree editor.

Jan 2010 – Kilimanjaro

Leader:  Warren Storkman

Jan 29 - 30 – Jim Weaver Memorial Ski Trip

Leader:  John Cordes

March 6 – 7 – Yosemite-Glacier Point

Leader: Terri Michel

March 25 – 30 – Mosquito Flats Hut and Rock Creek Lodge

Leader: Terri Michel

May 2010 – Annapurna Loop

Leader: Warren Storkman

October 2010 – Trek into Tibet

Leader: Warren Storkman

Private Trip Details

Kilimanjaro 19340 ft / 5895 m, Tanzania, Africa

Peaks:     Kilimanjaro 19340 ft / 5895 m
Dates:     January, 2010
Contact:  Warren Storkman (650-493-8959,

Trip will be similar to Warren’s previous trip to Kilimanjaro in January 2002.  A couple of detailed reports on Summit Post supply myriad detail:

Jim Weaver Memorial Ski Trip

Location: Clair Tappan Lodge

Dates:            Jan 29 – 30, 2010

Leader: John Cordes

Difficulty: Beginner to Advanced Beginner

Learn the joys of cross-country skiing on gentle terrain in the Soda Springs/ Norden/ Donner Lake Area. This trip honors the late Jim Weaver, long time Sierra Club trip leader, who faithfully lead this trip annually. We’ll stay at the Sierra Club’s Clair Tappan Lodge in Norden. On Saturday we’ll ski the groomed trails around Clair Tappan. On Sunday, we will venture into beginner level backcountry in the area. People completely new to cross country skiing are encouraged to take a lesson from the lodge staff. Gear rental is available at the lodge. Sign up by contacting the leader, but please make your own lodging reservations by calling Clair Tappan Lodge (530-426-3632). The cost is $55+tax/nite-person for lodging and 3 meals. For more information about Clair Tappan, visit the Sierra Club website ... For more information about the trip, contact the leader. We will meet at the Living room at 9:30 AM. Saturday morning.

Leader: John Cordes 650-288-9645 email:

Yosemite – Glacier Point Turnaround

Location: Badger Pass, Yosemite

Dates:            March 6 – 7. 2010

Leader: Terri Michel

Difficulty: Intermediate Skiing Skills

We'll ski from Badger Pass to Glacier Point and back in one day -- for those of you with stamina! Our lodging for Fri and Sat nights is a recently remodeled charming mountain A-frame cabin in Yosemite West (convenient to Badger Pass), with great views and a hot tub on the deck. Saturday we'll ski the 22-mile round trip to Glacier Point for the spectacular views of Yosemite Valley. Sunday's options include trails near Bridalveil Creek, Dewey Pt, or tele-skiing at the Badger Pass ski area. Other options are available if there is either too much or not enough snow. Cost est for two nights lodging, one dinner and two breakfasts is $140 (based on avg 6 people). Due to new Sierra Club rules, you cannot write STS leaders checks for more than $50 in advance. So please send a check for $50 now and pay the remaining amount when you arrive at the trailhead. The $50 deposit is nonrefundable unless a qualified replacement is available. Limit = 8 participants. All participants must sign a Sierra Club Liability Waiver and a Sierra Club Medical form and send both completed and signed forms to the leader prior to the trip. Send your email address to obtain the forms and mail the $50 check made to: Terri Michel, 131 Ortega Ave, Mtn View, CA 94040. Leader: Terri Michel, 650 965 8456 .

Mosquito Flats Hut and Rock Creek Lodge

Location: East side - Tom’s Place

Dates:            March 25 – 30, 2010

Leader: Terri Michel

Difficulty: Strong to Advanced Intermediate Skiing Skills

Five lucky people will enjoy early Spring skiing and take Thursday off work so they can have a leisurely drive to Tom's Place (near Mammoth) for Thursday night the 25th; then on Friday the 26th ski the 5 miles from the Rock Creek SnoPark to the Mosquito Flats Hut. We'll spend 3 nights at the hut so we can take advantage of glorious backcountry in the incomparable Little Lakes Valley and beyond, then return for Monday night to modern cabin accommodations (including good food, hot showers and sauna!) at Rock Creek Lodge . The next day after breakfast, we'll tour back to our cars at the trailhead for the drive home. Cost est for five nights lodging, four dinners and four breakfasts is $325 (based on 5 people). Due to new Sierra Club rules, you cannot write STS leaders checks for more than $50 in advance. So please send a check for $50 now and pay the remaining amount when you arrive at the trailhead. The $50 deposit is nonrefundable unless a qualified replacement is available. Limit = 5 participants. All participants must be comfortable skiing 5 miles and 1,500' elevation gain with an overnight pack, bring metal edged skis, climbing skins, a winter sleeping bag and and avalanche transceiver. Our tours all start > 10,000' so high altitude endurance will be necessary. Participants must also sign a Sierra Club Liability Waiver and a Sierra Club Medical form and send both completed and signed forms to the leader prior to the trip. Send your email address to obtain the forms and mail the $50 check made to: Terri Michel, 131 Ortega Ave, Mtn View, CA 94040. Leaders: Terri Michel, 650 965 8456 and Janet Hoffmann, 408 374 0435

Annapurna Loop

Location: Nepal

Dates:            May 2010

Leader: Warren Storkman

We will do the Annapurna Loop and/or climb Chula West 20,505 feet. For more details, email or phone 650-493-8959.

Trek into Tibet

Location: Tibet

Dates:            October 2010

Leader: Warren Storkman

Trek into Tibet including around Mt.Kailas - 18-day trek. For more details, email or phone 650-493-8959.

Trip Reports

The Ledge Trail, Yosemite, May 2009

             by Dana Chaney

The Ledge Trail is notorious as an abandoned trail that has been the location of several deaths over the years.  I climbed it on Memorial Day weekend and found it to be a fun and vigorous hike/climb and I would recommend it to anyone fit enough to climb over 3,200 feet and who can handle some steep terrain and loose rock.  However, loose rock is a hazard so small parties are best and be very careful about climbing below someone else. 

It is a very early trail from the valley floor to Glacier Point and it is an old fashioned trail, much too steep for modern standards.  It starts behind Curry Village, climbs a steep scree/rockslide chute, cuts up to the right on a broad ledge and then cuts back left when the ledge reaches the bottom of the creek gulley feeding Staircase Falls.  At the top of this gulley where it opens into a pine forest, and a few hundred yards up and to the left, is Glacier Point, a climb of about 3,275 feet. The trail is steep in places and has exposure if one wanders off trail too far.  The Ledge Trail was abandoned in about 1954 and is now posted with notable (“LICK GRANITE”) keep-out signs at the top and bottom of the climb:

A little history:

As to the trail itself, it was in use at a very early date and the first recorded death occurred in 1881.  Florence Hutchings was the first non-native child born in Yosemite in 1864, the daughter of James Hutchings who was a very early resident, promoter, and inn keeper. She was a tomboy who often guided tourists in the early years.  She was described by John Muir who saw her in 1870 as “a little black-eyed witch of a girl, the only one in the Valley.”

Florence Hutchings at about age 7

In 1881 when she was 17 she was climbing the Ledge Trail with either some friends (according to her younger sister) or guiding tourists (according to others) when a person ahead of her kicked a rock loose which struck her causing her death.  As a tribute, Mount Florence was named after her.  It’s in the high country between Mt. Lyell and Mt. McClure and can be seen from Glacier Point.

Paraphrasing what others have stated is in the book Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite by Ghiglieri and Farabee: there were fatal incidents on the Ledge Trail in 1965, 1970, 1972, 1976, 1993, and 1998.  It is said to be the third most common location for fatalities in Yosemite behind El Capitan and the Merced River.  The incident in 1998 was noteworthy because two died; Miguel Lopez, 16, and Manny Castillo, 18.  They were not experienced with this kind of climbing, apparently got off trail and both fell to their deaths about half way up.

I think the explanation for the deaths, injuries, and rescues occuring on this trail is the fact that a lot of inexperienced people have access to it.  The trail is located immediately behind Curry Village with its 628 guest tents and rooms and a short distance from three campgrounds with hundreds of spaces providing for nearby overnight guests numbering 3,000 or 4,000.

It is said that the park rangers will not acknowledge that the trail exists which is understandable given the trail’s known hazard to life and resulting liability potential.  The Fresno Bee story about the deaths in 1998 states that the trail was built by the Sierra Club but abandoned in 1954.  One story online states it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Certainly someone put some effort into trail building as evidenced by the remains of rock stairs in some places, cleared trail in others, and the orange and yellow paint marks still existing in many places.  Current maps do not show the Ledge Trail although I found a 1941 park service map which has it marked:

Anyone who has some experience with mountaineering or off trail travel should have little trouble with climbing or route finding on this trail.  However, in the rockslide chute at the bottom of the climb there is obvious loose rock hazard.  A more remote possibility is to be hit by naturally falling rock given the busted up fresh granite scattered around in this part of the climb.  I would say that it would be best to climb abreast in parties no larger than three or four.

My traverse along rock wall towards start of climb.Rock slide area in center, ledge slants up and right

The crux of the trail is at the bottom getting to the ledge in the first place.   A large part of the Curry Village cabins were closed and fenced off when I was there and I went left to the unfenced area and maybe 200 yards to the left of where most trip reports start.  I climbed through the brush and up a small scree slope to the sheer cliff wall and traversed right from there.  The traverse was easy and the path obvious as altitude was gained bringing me to the rock slide area high on the left side and avoiding climbing out in the open chute.  From there it was more stable close to the rock wall on the left until near where the ledge starts although there was some scrambling in the open slope.

The broad ledge leads up at a fairly gradual slope until it crosses the stream that comes down the gulley on the left.  The stream goes immediately over the wall when it reaches the ledge and becomes Staircase Falls.  The trail becomes steeper in the stream gulley and the paint marks disappear here and there, requiring some minimal route finding.  In the spring the water flow is enough to get into the trail and requires some wet climbing although with care the water didn’t flow over the toes of my boots.  The brush appears towards the top of the gulley but is moderate and easy to push through although not in full leaf when I was there.  A loose cable remnant also appears at the top of the gulley.  When I came out into the forest at the top, the orange marks and old trail were still apparent for a while and then faded away.  Heading straight up the now shallow gulley leads to the Four Mile Trail, while going up and left heads straight towards Glacier Point after a quarter mile.

Top of the rock slide area; it feels steeper than it looks as usually seems to be the case with mountain photos

I returned on the Four Mile Trail which is a knee pounding 4.6 mile descent.  For good measure, the buses don’t stop at the trail parking area and it is a 2.2 mile walk back to Curry Village.  The Four Mile Trail was built as a toll trail in 1872 by John Conway, who also built the trails to Nevada Falls and Yosemite Falls.  I don’t know if those were toll trails as well.  Perhaps the Ledge Trail obtained a certain amount of usage by persons unwilling to pay the toll to hike to Glacier Point via the Four Mile Trail.  As the years went by the trail was rerouted and probably made somewhat less steep and became 4.6 miles although the name was never changed.  No doubt there are people disappointed to find that the steep hike up is longer than the trail name would


The Memorial Day Weekend crowd filled the roads with traffic when I departed the valley, requiring a half hour to get through the traffic jam because there simply is no limit on how many cars are allowed in the valley.  I did the climb from San Jose in a day, four hours to Curry Village, about seven hours round trip including packing, photos stops, lunch on top, etc., and four hours back to San Jose.  Really quite a nice day trip.  For another description of this trail and more photos, check for Bob Byrd’s trip report.

The stream gulley running up towards Glacier Point

Stolen – Kennedy Peak (11,433’)                                 

November 7 - 9

By Lisa Barboza

Photography by Lisa Barboza

 Participants: Louise Wholey, Frank Martin, Tim Hilt, Lisa Barboza

Trip Abstract:

Day 1: Lewis Creek TH to Frypan Meadow, climb Kennedy, back to camp

Day 2: Investigate climbing Harrington, hike out

There are peaks you climb in the glorious days of summer; and peaks you climb in autumn in declining light.  There are peak baggers, and there are peak nabbers.  On this trip, we fit into the latter category.

Saturday, November 7th.  7100 feet of gain, and 16.4 miles describes our day.

After a wonderful dinner at Fermin’s Steak house in Sanger, CA (highly recommended), we camped at the Road’s end parking lot at Cedar Grove on Friday night.  A very hungry young raccoon had it’s head in our backpacks (we had just put our food in the bearbox) before we had our bivi’s spread out.  Without a doubt, this poor creature feasted on the litter of summer tourists, and was now starving to death; unafraid of humans and willing to venture within 3 feet.  We woke at 5AM, breakfasted and were on the trail up Lewis Creek TH at 6:45 AM.  The day started cold, fitting for early November, but quickly warmed up to a comfortable 48 degrees F.  We reached our campsite at 1130 AM, made camp, and departed for the climb to Kennedy Peak.  After a long traverse, all on trail, we reached Kennedy Pass.  From the pass to the peak was a short distance, about 45 minutes, and we summited at 3PM. By 330PM we were on our way down. There was very little snow

on the south slopes, but the north slopes were deep in snow.  To get down, we descended directly down the south side of the peak, down rock gullies with treacherous footing, and managed to arrive at the intersection of the trail just as night was falling. We estimate that this saved us at least 2 hours had we gone back to Harrison pass and taken the trail down.  From there, it was headlamps back to camp; and we arrived to a cold camp at 6:30PM.  A well deserved and quiet dinner, for temperatures would dip into the 25F range overnight.  And we were in bed, and warm, by 7:45PM.

Sunday, November 8th; 3200 feet of gain, and 14.2 miles of hiking

Up early.  We were dubious that Harrington would be free of snow.  We left camp at 6:20 AM.  And arrived at the overlook to Harrington Peak, CL3 at 11:45 AM; after hiking most of the way on trail to Grizzly lake (we left the trail ˝ mile before the lake, and went cross country), and then going to Harrington Pass, easy CL1.

We got up on the ridge from Harrington Pass, all CL1 or CL2, and went to the overlook of the northwestern face of the peak.  We took a long look at the route, and determined that it was mostly on snow.  Ugh – CL3 snow, and it was very cold, in the 30s. And the snow wasn’t soft, and easy to climb through. It was hard, and frozen.  Our crampons would have come on and off about 20 times, using up the limited daylight that we had.  After a lot of discussion, we decided that discretion was the better part of vaor, and we decided to climb the peak some other time.  As it was, we got back to the car at 5:00 PM.  Had we climbed the peak we would have returned by 9:00 PM.  Too late for those of us who have to work for a living.  All in all – we stole Kennedy, and put Harrington away for another day.  The road to Road’s end closed a few days later; and we were able to climb without too much snow.

         ***** Book Reviews*****

Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line  by Martha A. Sandweiss (Penquin Press, 2009)

Reviewed by Debbie Bulger

If you’re like me, you have been delighted on more than one occasion at the imposing sight of Mount Clarence King and may even have climbed one of its challenging routes. Some of you may have read King’s exuberant account of his Sierra adventures, Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, (a terrific read) first published in 1872. King’s many first ascents included Mount Tyndall and Mount Clark.

King came to California in 1863 after graduating with a degree in chemistry from Yale. He soon joined the famous 1864 geological survey of California headed by Professor Josiah D. Whitney. In later years, King would conduct a geological exploration of the 40th Parallel and was subsequently appointed as the first head of the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

All his life the famous and popular Clarence King was known as one of the most eligible bachelors of high society. A new biography by Martha A. Sandweiss reveals King’s incredible secret life: In September 1888 King married a black woman named Ada Copeland under the assumed name of James Todd. Keeping his marriage a secret from his friends and family, King passed as a black man among Ada’s friends. Even Ada didn’t know the real identity of the man she married. Together they had five children, four of whom survived to adulthood.

When King was away from Ada, he dined with President McKinley, hobnobbed with the Secretary of State, and traveled as a mining consultant. At the home he shared with Ada in New York City, he lived a middle class life and claimed to be from Baltimore and later of West Indian origin.

King continued to live a double life from 1888 until his death in 1901. He explained his long absences from his wife by claiming to be a Pullman porter and later a traveling steelworker.

All in all, Clarence King was one of the most fascinating characters of United States history. This new biography will interest many peak climbers.

Early Days in the Range of Light – Encounters with Legendary Mountaineers  by Daniel Arnold (Counterpoint Press, 2009)

Reviewed by Joe Baker

Daniel Arnold, a mountaineer and rock climbing instructor from Southern California, revisits significant first ascents by Sierra mountaineers, from Brewer’s ascent of Mount Brewer in 1864 to the roped ascent of Thunderbolt in 1931. 

In addition to giving us insights into the lives and characters of the early mountaineers, Arnold also retraces their routes, leaving aside modern equipment and attempting to experience the mountains as they did.  On the early climbs, he travels alone, without sleeping bag, tent, rain gear, stove, or maps.  He uses only the description of the first ascent as a guide.  Climbing a dangerous snow slope approaching Michael Minaret, with a thin layer of soft powder over old ice, Arnold curses Michael’s lack of an ice axe and his own slavish insistence on following suit.

Arnold gives insightful and sympathetic portraits of many of the early mountaineers, including Brewer, King, Brown, Muir and Clyde.  His stories of Brown and Clyde are particularly moving, much more so than the typical “he carried a 100 pound pack!” anecdotes that one is used to hearing.  He describes Clyde’s happy and passionate 1915 marriage to Winnie Bolster, who tragically contracted tuberculosis only a year later and died in 1919.  Clyde never recovered.  Arnold considers whether he would retreat to the mountains, as Clyde did, if his own marriage and climbing partnership were to founder.

Arnold’s approach of weaving the stories of the mountaineers with his re-creations of their ascents is an effective one.  While it is impossible to truly see the mountains through their eyes, by removing our modern gear and maps and GPS units and Spots, Arnold gets close.  After spending a frigid night curled on the ground in a shirt, emulating Muir’s ascent of Mt. Ritter, Arnold gains a much better understanding of Muir’s prose, “ How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountain!  To behold this alone is worth the pains of an excursion a thousand times over.”

Highly recommended for anyone who loves the Sierra, or who would like to explain their love to puzzled spouses and families.

K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain by Ed Viesturs with David Roberts (Broadway Books, 2009)

Reviewed by Judy Molland

Yet another book on K2? Haven’t we read enough already? It turns out that we haven’t, or at least not from the unique perspective of a man who climbed K2 himself in 1992, and is anxious to chronicle the attempts to conquer K2 in order to ponder what it is that makes a great climb. Beginning with the 2008 tragedy, when eleven climbers died in a thirty-six-hour period, moving on to discuss his own successful summit in 1992, with Scott Fischer and Charley Mace, Viesturs goes back to cover every attempt on the world’s second highest mountain. Yet though he covers them all, it is in the two central chapters, Brotherhood, and The Price of Conquest, that we understand why Viesturs wrote this book.

Chapter Five, Brotherhood, recounts the American attempt on K2 in 1953, led by Charlie Houston. The team failed, largely because at 25,800 feet one of its members, Art Gilkey, was diagnosed with thrombophlebitis, and developed a pulmonary embolism. What happened next makes memorable and amazing reading, as the rest of the team set out on the task of carrying him down the treacherous slopes. That story is desperate and tragic, and although they failed, Viesturs is emphatic in his praise: “In my opinion, the high point of American mountaineering remains the 1953 American Expedition to K2. The courage, devotion and team spirit of that expedition have yet to be surpassed, and still represent the standards of conduct toward which all American mountaineers should aspire.” Coming from a mountaineer who has ascended all fourteen of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks, a man of deep personal integrity, I accepted his judgment without question.

It was an Italian team, led by Ardito Desio, who in 1954 made the first successful summit of K2, and Chapter Six, The Price of Conquest, documents this ascent. However, compared to the brotherhood of the rope which bound the 1953 American team together, the Italian team seems to have been mired in selfishness and controversy. Viesturs has clearly devoted endless hours to untangling the truth of what happened, and the details he documents are both fascinating and horrifying. Enough to say that members of the Italian team ended up suing each other, defending themselves in court against a libel suit, and signing a letter of protest against Desio’s book recounting the trip, claiming it was full of distortions and outright lies. As Viesturs puts it, “When all is said and done, what lingers about the first ascent of K2 is the feeling of just how sad a story it is.”

Viesturs’ honest voice speaks clearly throughout this book. He has done his homework thoroughly, and makes reference to many of the K2 classics, paying special tribute to K2: The Savage Mountain by Charles Houston and Robert Bates, and Galen Rowell’s In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods. A great read!

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