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Yankee Rock and Ice

Yankee Rock and Ice. Laura and Guy Waterman. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg,

PA, 1992. 354 pages, 125 black-and-white illustrations. $24.95 (paper).

You needn’t be a Yankee to relish this companion to the Waterman’s rich, Forest and Crag. You don’t even need to be a climber: the authors teach you as you read along. The stories start with Herschel Parker training on Mount Washington for his attempt on Mount McKinley and describe how every route on Washington has been put in since then.

We’re told how two Yale undergraduates, Whittlesey and Scoville, climbed Washington’s Pinnacle Gully, which had defeated the best in the east. Guy and Laura asked one of the two how he learned to climb: “Can’t say I really got started.” What other climbs did they do: “That was the only one.” In one of their many puckish adventures the Watermans repeated that classic climb 60 years later, wearing similar clothes and carrying Whittlesey’s old pack. Dividing their account roughly into decades, and describing the major eastern climbing areas in loving detail, Guy and Laura weave a rich tapestry with vivid scenes in which they portray the leading players. Some flashed briefly through the climbing world, others seem immortal.

We’re told how nylon rope opened a whole new scene when Bob Bates rappelled out of a Washington office building. Nylon stretched rather than broke, encouraging more daring moves. Ice climbing reached new heights when Yvon Chouinard introduced the short ice tool, and together with front-pointing made accessible an exciting new playground: vertical ice.

The Waterman’s reflect gently on commercialism, vandals, competition, and the lust for notoriety. One hopes their modest essays will be widely read and pondered. Their thoughtful visit to Geoffrey Winthrop Young’s theme “The leader does not fall” applies not only to rock and ice acrobatics, but also, in a broader sense, to assaults on great distant summits.

Specially refreshing are seven short “Interludes” in which the authors muse about the siege tactics which preceded success on the most difficult new routes. About style they believe: “The cat is a better model than the goat.” From a period when style dictated that artificial aids were unacceptable, then through the frenzy of bolting and nailing and top-roping, they take us to free climbing, to the principles of environmental awareness and conscience—and finally, back to bolting!

We watch as each new area is discovered, described, and over-run by aspirants. We marvel as a new star climbs the impossible “on sight.” Pushing the envelope is a major theme of the last few chapters, deserving serious attention from tomorrow’s climbers.

The details of new routes are breath-taking, many taken from interviews with the pioneers. The extent of the authors’ ten years of research is staggering: they talked with hundreds of people, read countless old letters, essays and unpublished diaries, and repeated many of the climbs.

Guy and Laura seem unlikely adventurers: small, shy, unassuming, wonderful listeners, and rich with humor. They built their home on homesteaded land, half a mile from the road, without electricity or what most people consider material necessities, and pecked out this marvelous book on an old manual typewriter.

The 154 photographs are an extraordinary collection of people and places, and that alone makes the book invaluable. Little escaped the authors. Indeed if the book has a flaw, there is sometimes too much detail. One might also fault them for the charity with which they treat some of the flawed personalities. If they can think of nothing nice, they say nothing at all.

Rush out and buy—and relish this remarkable book. It’s a fun read and an inexhaustible reservoir of history, and certain to be a classic.

Charles S. Houston, M.D.