Tales of a Western Mountaineer, by C. E. Rusk. With a portrait of C. E. Rusk by Darryl Lloyd. Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1978. Offset reprint of the original edition of 1924, including title page and 41 photographs, 309 pages, plus 14 pages of introduction, 2 maps and 18 additional photographs. Paperbound. Price $6.95.
Long out of print and virtually impossible to find, Rusk’s Tales of a Western Mountaineer is one of the classics of American mountaineering. Now, thanks to Darryl Lloyd and The Mountaineers it is available in a well-produced yet inexpensive edition, together with supporting materials that enhance its present-day impact. Raised, like Rusk, in the magnificent country just southeast of Mount Adams, Lloyd, who now directs the Mount Adams Wilderness Institute, has long devoted himself to collecting biographical data and to retracing Rusk’s pioneering ascents. The result is an illuminating memoir which supplies the sort of personal material about the author that is missing in the Tales, as well as annotations of Rusk’s nomenclature and routes on a fine series of photographs by Austin Post.
Born in Illinois in 1871, but raised from the age of three in Klickitat County, Washington, Rusk belongs to the Pacific Northwest. In his variegated career as school teacher, newspaper editor, lawyer, gold miner, justice of the peace, conservationist, and author, Rusk’s whole life was deeply entwined in the unfolding history of the region. Throughout it all ran the thread of his great love affair with Mount Adams. His first ascent of the mountain was made in 1898, and the following year he persuaded his mother and sister to accompany him on a circuit of the mountain, no small feat. In 1901 he accompanied Harry Fielding Reid on his journey around Mount Adams as part of the eminent geologist’s project of mapping the glaciers of the Cascade Range. It was on this trip that Reid named Rusk Glacier for him. In 1902 Rusk was invited to become one of the founding members of the American Alpine Club. His famous expedition to Mount McKinley in 1910, about which he wrote numerous articles, was not included in the Tales. There are, however, accounts of ascents of Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Glacier Peak, Mount Hood, Mount Stuart, and Mount Shasta. Perhaps the most impressive of all Rusk’s tales is his epic conquest in 1921 of Mount Adams’ great east side. It was an audacious route for the time and, indeed, has seldom been repeated.
For those who have themselves climbed in these mountains Rusk’s book will have special associations. For a wider audience, however, the greatest appeal may lie in Rusk’s splendid prose. Here is an authentic American counterpart to the writing of English mountaineers such as Whymper and A. W. Moore. Its rhetorical fullness recalls the grand Victorian tradition of the public lecture, which lingered in the Pacific Northwest well into the twentieth century. Yet, while rich in descriptive passages, Rusk’s prose is nontheless disciplined by the author’s personal stoicism, and by the strenuousness of the adventures it narrates. Time after time it evokes in vivid fashion elemental sensations of mountaineering—the apprehension before a major assault, the glacial flow of time during an icy bivouac, the sequence of thoughts during a fall. Indeed, Rusk’s writing is a “Ridge of Wonders” of its own. We can be grateful to The Mountaineers for this reprint, and we wish them well in their continuing reprints of other hard-to-find classics.
T. C. Price Zimmermann