High and Wild: A Mountaineer’s World, by Galen Rowell. San Francisco,
California: Sierra Club Books, 1979. Price $29.95.
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it”
Galen Rowell wrote these words at the start of his diary in 1975 on the way to K2, and they apply to much of his life and writing. This is his finest book to date—a beautiful, sensitive mixture of adventure, daring, and philosophy seasoned with a touch of sadness. For Rowell is the mountaineer manqué—his pride of conquest has become mellowed by growing concern for the environment he sees being destroyed by those who love it. Self-described as a juvenile delinquent growing up in Berkeley, he is now a mature 38, with many outstanding climbing achievements and a growing list of writing and photographic triumphs. He went early onto the beautiful granite of Yosemite and defined that turf in a collection of tales by the Camp Four cooperative (The Vertical World of Yosemite, 1974). His awareness of the fragility of the mountain world (even of granite) led him toward increasing environmental awareness and activity. He has not taken extreme positions nor has he given up his own journeys to the unknown wild places. He has visited some of the most beautiful and least trampled parts of Alaska, made some breath-taking new ascents, including a reckless speed climb of Mount McKinley, everywhere noting how the act of visiting and describing a mountain inevitably leads to its change. He went on an unfortunate expedition to the world’s second highest mountain and wrote an unusual, revealing, encyclopedic book which some found biased and overly candid. Since then he has been once or twice a year to the Himalayan ranges and Alaska, and has done some of the incredible “big walls” along the Baltoro Glacier which are Yosemite on a grander scale and seemed virtually unclimbable.
Many of these adventures and his emotions are described in this beautiful book of short essays and magnificent photographs. They are a mixture of derring-do, meditative musings and environmental alarms. As few are willing or able to do, Rowell tells us how he feels and why, without macho conceit or self-consciousness. These are thoughtful papers, self-questioning, sensitive and humble and they cover the world of climbers. It is by far his finest work and rivals any other in print; it will stand equal to Tom Hornbein’s splendid Everest: the West Ridge. It’s a book to be read again and again and to feast on in times of despair.
Charles S. Houston