Stone Mountains, Best Climbs and Skiing Tales

“Stone Mountains,” by Jim Thornburg

“Stone Mountains” is 10 pounds of coffee table awesomeness. Photographer Jim Thornburg masterfully captures it all in this 320-page behemoth — in his photos, the rock is the star just as much as the climber. There are plenty of photos of climbers on moderate routes, which makes the book inspirational in a way — you might find yourself writing down names of routes and areas and planning your next trip around them. Thornburg’s photos truly span the continent, from Squamish to Potrero Chico and everything in between: Smith Rock, Tahoe, Yosemite, Tuolumne, Bishop, Needles, J-Tree, Red Rocks (and Vegas Limestone), St. George, Zion, Mount Lemmon, Cochise, Hueco, Horse Pens, Chattanooga, Obed, North Carolina, The New, Seneca Rocks, The Red, The Gunks, Rumney, North Conway, Devils Tower, Wyoming, Boulder, Rifle, Moab, Joe’s Valley, Maple Canyon, SLC and City of Rocks.

If you’re a climber, this book will make you count the days until spring, or go ahead and decide it’s okay to put a plane ticket to Joshua Tree or Red Rocks on your credit card. If you are buying a birthday gift for a climber, this book should be it. Jim Thornburg has spent 20 years of his life photographing climbing, and we can all be better off for it.

$59.99 at or

Best Climbs Series, by Stewart Green

Stewart Green must have spent most of his adult life writing guidebooks. He has more than a dozen to his name, including five or so mega-guidebooks to climbing areas in Colorado, Arizona, Utah, New England and Europe. Typically the climbing books are overviews of a state or region’s more worthwhile areas and run about 500 pages and contain more than 1,000 routes. He’s back with a series of three books from Falcon Guides — “Best Climbs Moab,” “Best Climbs Denver and Boulder” and “Best Climbs Rocky Mountain National Park” — which are much more digestible overviews to throw in a backpack. Each book contains 140-200 routes at the better crags in each area, and clocks in at a much more svelte 145 pages. Those who own Green’s earlier guidebooks can consider these more focused, localized versions of their wide-angle predecessors — the Denver and Boulder volume covers 25 crags in seven geographical areas, including trad, sport and bouldering, from 5.2 to 5.14a. Those who are just visiting for a weekend or three a year, or someone just getting started climbing in an area, can find enough climbs in one of these editions to keep them busy. Full-color photo topos, beefy pages and a sewn binding keep these up to the higher standard of the later generation of guidebooks, and beat the hell out of some of the hand-drawn black-and-white topos in the guidebooks of old. These are pure beta, with a minimum of historical info.

$18.95 at

“The Perfect Turn and Other Tales of Skiing and Skiers,” by Dick Dorworth

Dick Dorworth has probably been skiing longer than you’ve been alive. He raced for 15 years starting in 1950 all around the world, and set the world speed record in 1963. He coached the U.S. Ski Team and was director of the Aspen Mountain Ski School. Lucky for you, he can write about it, too. You may have read his stories in magazines such as SKI, Skiing, Powder, Snow Country, Men’s Journal, and your beloved Mountain Gazette — Chapter 6 of this book, “In Pursuit of Pure Speed,” appeared recently, in MG #173. If you liked that story, prepare for more tales from the heart of man whose life has been defined in large part by skiing and the people and places he’s encountered doing it. Dorworth, based in Ketchum, Idaho, fills these pages with striking narrative of skinning up Bald Mountain and the feeling of breaking 100 mph on skis; opines about the frustrating treatment of ski instructors in America; details the history of speed skiing; and reminisces about old friends (ski filmmaker Dick Barrymore) and chance encounters (the day he skied with Sen. Ted Kennedy). A great read on your way to make turns somewhere, in the middle of winter or before spring backcountry skiing.

$15.95 at

Take A Seat

“Take A Seat,” by Dominic Gill
In June 2006, Dominic Gill pedaled south from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, on a tandem bicycle loaded with video equipment and everything he needed to survive, but an empty seat on the back of the bike. He planned to bicycle the longest land route in the world, to the southernmost city in Argentina, picking up riding partners along the way. Gill’s movie documenting the trip, “Take A Seat,” won a special jury award at the Banff Film Festival. His book of the same title is good for those of us who want to spend a few more hours living the journey with him. The book’s strength lies in the adventure itself, with the built-in what-will-happen-next literary tension, rather than Gill’s storytelling — the book is linear, start-to-finish narrative, never straying too far from the daily struggles of an 18,000-mile bike tour with 240 companions, in 15 countries. And it doesn’t have to be. You’ll shake your head with incredulity at Gill’s good luck, getting a spare part just in time, or being offered shelter when a night in a tent might be dangerous, or just dangerously cold. Gill has penned an adventure book about an enormous, singular adventure with a colorful cast of hundreds, and it may leave you thinking about taking on a similar adventure yourself.

Breaking Into the Backcountry

“Breaking Into the Backcountry,” by Steve Edwards
In 2001, Steve Edwards, a 26-year-old Purdue University professor who had “never been much of an outdoorsman,” won a PEN/Northwest writing residency, earning him a seven-month stint as the caretaker of a backcountry homestead on Oregon’s Rogue River. He was a flatlander, a virgin fly-fisherman, 70 miles from the nearest town or friend, and still nursing wounds from his divorce. “Breaking Into the Backcountry” is the story of his time as the caretaker, through the eyes of a writer seeing the West with dew still on it, and his transformation during that period of wild solitude. Edwards paints wonderful scenes of this place, detailing his walks along the Rogue, bears devouring apples on the homestead and the wilderness surrounding him. Even more endearing are the honestly told, personal stories of how he dealt with the solitude — hearing the news of 9/11 on the radio, going days without seeing or talking to another person and experiencing silence in a quantity most of us will never have in our lifetimes. “Breaking Into the Backcountry” is a great vicarious literary escape for the rest of us poor schlubs living with millions of neighbors.

In Search of Powder: A Story of America’s Disappearing Ski Bum

In the 2002 book, “Downhill Slide: Why the Corporate Ski Industry Is Bad for Skiing, Ski Towns, and the Environment,” author Hal Clifford wrote (I’m paraphrasing here) that ski towns used to be cool because they attracted fringe elements like ski bums, hippies and artists, but then rich people found out about them, and of course, priced all the cool poor people out of these funky towns, and now they aren’t as cool (still paraphrasing). Eight years later, author Jeremy Evans has dug deeper into this issue — why ski bums can’t afford to be ski bums anymore, and thusly are dying out. If you want to lament the ski towns’ loss of character and characters, this book provides ample fodder: Evans is a former newspaper reporter and has stocked this book with interviews of ski bums past and present, facts and figures, research and personal experience. He lives in Lake Tahoe, where 70 percent of the houses on the south shore are second homes and are dark 50+ weeks a year, and the median price of a single-family residence went from $168,000 to $540,000 between 1998 and 2006 — and no one knocks on your door at Halloween anymore. You’ll read stories of the good old days of the ski bum, and the present day, which looks drastically different: ski town work forces are largely immigrants; lots of the workforce commutes from the next town over (“Aspen is alive and well … in Basalt”) and ski hills are owned by large corporations (“We’re a resort town, not a ski town”). Pro skiers and snowboarders are mega-celebrities with 6- to 7-figure incomes, and even ski porn is big business. A great read if you want to understand what’s changed in the past 50 years in the ski industry.

Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America

Say you get five books in your library. I pick Hemingway’s “Moveable Feast,” “The Great Rock (and roll) Discography,” by Martin C. Strong, “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy” (counts as one, because that’s how Tolkien wrote it), Darwin’s “On The Origin of Species” and now this: “Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America.” In a coffee-table offering that is both awe-inspiring and relevant, authors Chris Davenport, Art Burrows and Penn Newhard have created something credible, compelling and cinematic — name another recent print product that does that! With the help of accomplished ski mountaineers such as Lou Dawson, Andrew McLean, Lowell Skoog and Jimmy Chin, they chronicle North America’s biggest and most-famous ski mountaineering faces. Some, like New Hampshire’s Tuckerman’s Ravine, have seen millions of tracks. Others, such as the North Face of Mt. Robson in British Columbia, have been skied only once. All are given the same treatment with super-short, spot-on commentary and incredibly well-picked photography that shows the character of the skiers and especially the mountains and descents themselves. Davenport single-handedly brought the storyline back to American off-piste skiing when in one year over 2006 and 2007, he climbed and skied from the summit of all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks. Here, the cast of skiers happily expands, as does the number of gorgeous descents.

Desert Towers: Fat Cat Summits and Kitty Litter Rock

I know it’s ski season, not climbing season, but this is my favorite book to come across my desk ever since I started doing this column. And climbers need something to read in the off-season. Boulder climbing legend and desert tower connoisseur Steve “Crusher” Bartlett has put together a masterpiece: The history of tower climbing on the Colorado Plateau, with archival photos and essays collected in one 352-page volume. Beginning with John Otto’s 1911 ascent of Colorado National Monument and continuing through present day, Crusher captures the adventure of the early days of desert exploration, and the balls it took to go for it in pre-guidebook days. Photos and essays from the fi rst ascensionists bring to life the tales of Spider Rock, the Totem Pole and Cleopatra’s Needle, the “Three Best” towers, all now illegal to climb because of their location on Navajo Nation land. Legendary climbers like Layton Kor, Fred Beckey, Eric Bjornstad, Harvey Carter, Lou Dawson, Huntley Ingalls, Steve Roper, John Sherman, Ed Webster and others share the tales of battle on other sandstone icons: Castleton Tower, Standing Rock, The Titan — maybe you get the point. This book is Crusher’s labor of love and gift to climbing geeks, and if you’re not a climbing geek, this book might make you one. $49.95.

Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 50th Anniversary Edition

Most of us who have gone look- ing for enlightenment in the big hills, armed with crampons or ropes or ice axes or other implements — but without paying for professional mountain guides — have a worn copy of one of the first seven editions of

“Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills” somewhere on our bookshelves. It’s sold more than 600,000 copies worldwide and has been translated into 10 languages, and Mountaineers Books, since it began in 1960, now has more than

500 books in print. The 8th edition of “The Freedom of the Hills” celebrates the 50th anniversary of the publication of this tome of self-reliance, and thankfully, Mountaineers Books didn’t choose to make it a Kindle or iPhone edition. No less than 32 climber-authors were involved in this edition, which includes a few updates — how to travel safely in “border country,” more information on fitness and training specifically for mountaineering and lots of stuff us climbing geeks would get excited about (“fisherman’s knot” is now “fisherman’s bend”!). Still, no chapter on how to convince your partner to lead all the hard pitches, or how to sneak the beers into his/her pack before the climb. Here’s to 50 years of staying alive up there.

Ranger Confidential: Living, Working and Dying in the National Parks by Andrea Lankford

If you’ve spent any amount of time in our beloved national parks, you’ve probably seen some pretty bizarre stuff. A friend of mine who guides in the Grand Canyon once saw a woman actually pick up and throw a squirrel over a cliff at one of the South Rim viewpoints after it scampered up to her and stole some of her snacks. We all probably have our stories. Park rangers have thousands. Andrea Lankford, a former ranger in Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains and Denali, finally took up the job of collecting some of those stories, writing them down and sharing them with us. “Ranger Confidential” has a great pace, each story finishing in 12 pages or less, making Lankford that person sitting around the campfire entertaining you with one tale after another. She warns in the book’s introduction that “ranger reality is rated R,” and then gets right to the action, with a ranger arresting a public masturbator standing over a topless sunbather on one of Cape Cod’s beaches, a gunfight, a driver dragging a loggerhead sea turtle to death behind his pickup and a rescue in Yosemite that ends in the confiscation of several pairs of nunchakus from a backcountry martial arts class. That’s all before page 50. You get the picture. Lankford survived her 12 years as a ranger; some don’t. She tells those stories, too.

Wilderness Survival Handbook: Primitive Skills for Short-Term Survival and Long Term Comfort

Michael Pewtherer’s “Wilderness Survival Handbook” is broken into two parts: Part I is “Seven-Day Survival,” covering all the skills you’ll need to stay alive for a week in the woods, and Part II is “Beyond Survival,” covering everything you’ll need to drop off the radar indefinitely. Essentially, if you buy this book, you should rip it in half, and keep the first half in the glove compartment of your car, and the second half in a glass case in your house for when you’ve finally had enough and want to walk the Earth in a breechcloth and hunt or gather everything you eat. Survival expert Pewtherer includes all kinds of great stuff for weekend warriors in the first half: building your own shelter in any season, navigating (with and without a map and compass), finding and purifying water and building a fire — all without anything you can buy at REI. The second half is pure Robinson Crusoe-style survival: building your own arrows and spears, hunting methods, trapping, tanning hides, how to cook in the wild, building long-term shelters, building baskets, spinning fibers into cordage, fishing (by hand, spear and hook and line), etc. A good reminder of how tough we all used to be a few hundred years ago.

One Mountain, Thousand Summits

In last month’s MG, I reviewed Graham Bowley’s book, “No Way Down: Life and Death on K2,” about the 2008 K2 disaster in which 11 climbers died. I talked about how impressive Bowley’s reporting on the event was, especially because he wasn’t on K2, and wasn’t even a climber. Well, climber and author Freddie Wilkinson has definitely one-upped “No Way Down,” in terms of a quality book about the K2 tragedy. Wilkinson matches the quality reporting of the actual incident, and then takes it upon himself to travel across the globe and do more investigation,  resulting in a much richer account. Insight borne from Wilkinson’s experience on expeditions in the Himalayas and some of the world’s other great mountain range aid the explanation of the incident, and fuel his drive to figure out what really happened and also to explain the culture of Nepalese and Tibetan Sherpas and high-altitude crew. Later in the book, Wilkinson goes so far to reflect on and criticize his own coverage of the incident. Wilkinson’s writing has been previously published in climbing publications like Alpinist, Rock and Ice, Climbing and the American Alpine Journal, but with this book, he establishes himself as an author and a true journalist.