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Arctic Wilderness

Arctic Wilderness, by Robert Marshall. Edited, with an introduction, by George Marshall. Foreword by A. Starker Leopold. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1956. xxvi, 171 pages; ills.; maps. Price $3.75.

Here is truly a book of mountaineering, but not in its limited sense of technical rock or snow-climbing, for the late Bob Marshall, although a notable mountaineer in his own field, probably would not have known how to use a piton, yet he spent months on successive trips exploring and living in one of the most rugged of mountain systems, the Brooks Range, in northern Alaska. "Arctic Wilderness," marvelously written, is a thrilling narrative of Marshall’s adventures on his several expeditions into those mountains in the nineteen-thirties; but even more, it is the philosophy and message of a man who feels that the justification for modern-day wilderness pioneering, whether it be climbing mountains or exploring remote areas, lies mainly in what it contributes to the personal happiness of the explorer rather than what it may materially add to the good of the human race. His is a thesis that I think will appeal to many mountaineers.

The reader cannot help but be moved by Marshall’s feeling for his beloved mountains, a feeling typified by the following passage, "Every mountain was covered with snow, every peak showed a clean white edge set against pure blue. Almost everything in life seems to be at least somewhat blurred and misty around the edges and so little is ever absolute that we felt a genuine exultation in seeing the flawless white of those summits and the flawless blue of the sky, and the razor-edge sharpness with which the two came together."

During his arctic travels Marshall explored vast heretofore unknown areas afoot, by boat, and by dog sled, seeing for the first time and naming whole river- and mountain-systems. He made numerous mountain ascents on these trips, but a great challenge to him remained in Mount Doonerak, discovered by him and thought at that time to be the highest summit in arctic America. Marshall failed in his attempts to climb Doonerak, but in the harmony of an Alaskan wilderness he found an inspiration never provided by what he called "the great thumping, modern world."

William W. Dunmire