American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mountains and Man, A Study of Process and Environment

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  • Publication Year: 1982

Mountains and Man, A Study of Process and Environment. Larry W. Price. University of California, Berkeley, 1981. 506 pages, black-and-white photographs, maps, illustrations, tables. $29.95.

The main task of Mountains & Man is to explore the complex processes and features of the mountain environment. In this synthesis of processes and relationships, the text treats the erosive effects of nivation, soil creep, and frost-wedging, all forms of mass wasting. This wasting is more important as a denuding agent in mountain lands than running water. Price reminds us that frost-wedging is the primary force of rock break down: a major cause of rockfall is due to a 9% expansion of water freezing. The directional growth of ice crystals is another factor. We are reminded what climbers have long known—the instability of talus slopes. The average rate of surface movement of talus was measured in the Rocky Mountains as about eight inches per year above timberline.

The book provides an important discussion of climatic regimes and how wind affects landscapes and snow deposit. The role of wind in the distribution of snow is most important to mountaineers and skiers, who are concerned over the accumulation of snow and slabs on lee slopes. The book shows how mountains serve as pathways for plant migration and how endemics—species found only in a particular range—have developed. There is a detailed discussion of alpine tundra in its latitudinal positions, and the effects of the latter on vegetative species.

Man, animals, and plants have displayed a preference for altitudinal belts in which to arrange themselves. Price points out “Mountains exist as microcosms, like islands amid surrounding lowland seas…. They offer sanctuary for endangered species.” Altitude and latitude, of course, are important factors in the location of the world’s glaciers. The book describes the formation of ice from snowfall, and there is an adequate description of glaciers and their general locations. But the differences between temperate, polar, and sub-polar glaciers are omitted. It would have been beneficial to describe where each of these types are located, and some examples. In the discussion about glaciers the references are sometimes dated (1965), and the text should have amplified the general glacier retreat in western North America, and covered the isolated examples of glacier advance.

As would be expected with a recent and important text of this nature, there is an excellent discussion of the concept of plate tectonics and the new theory of mountain building. This concept provides a broad and unifying framework into which all aspects of earth science fit. The rugged mountains of the earth are among its youngest features. To any one excited about the mountain prospect, Mountains & Man is required reading and study.

Fred Beckey

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