Gentle Expeditions : A Guide to Ethical Mountain Adventure. Bob McConnell. AAC Press: Golden Colorado, 1996. 117 pages. $10.00.
These temple-destroyers, devotees of raging consumerism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for watertanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.”
—John Muir, The Yosemite
What makes wilderness so peculiarly special comes largely from the sense of the sacred that it provokes. As we grow up, wilderness recedes from our everyday lives to unreachable places, places we feel we must return to if we wish to encounter it again and regain that which we have lost. Muir’s quote implies that the wilderness, and mountains in particular, are sacred places that require looking after. They are. They are fragile and too easily destroyed and lost forever to the jungle of modem man if man is not a thoughtful watchdog and guardian. When we strive to preserve wilderness areas we protect the sanctity of nature. In nature we find the ingredients that nurture the growth of the human spirit. Destroy the mountains and you destroy hope.
Gentle Expeditions is an attempt to educate the expeditioners who go into these sacred places on how to conduct their house-cleaning. As a complete and comprehensive book filled with up- to-date information on how to be more environmentally sensitive to the mountains, it is inadequate. The book seems to be more of an attempt to bring the deteriorating situation of the world’s mountains to the reader’s attention than an authoritative guide on how to go about solving the problems encountered.
It is clear from the very introduction of the book that the author has traveled and participated extensively on expeditions to Nepal (primarily the Mt. Everest area) and India. Throughout the text this familiarity is obvious in how he empathizes with the people who live in the regions he has visited and in how comfortably he writes about how they are impacted by climbers and trekkers. Many of the points he brings up—litter on the trail, improper disposal of human waste, the huge ecological impact of large expeditions—are obvious and well-known to many. Still, having these and many other problems discussed with possible solutions in one small, conve- nient-sized book is a fine idea. This he has done. It is disappointing that the author did not go further into providing more and better solutions to existing and potential problems while also discussing more completely the many other issues encountered in the mountains. These missed opportunities limit the usefulness of the book.
For instance, McConnell completely ignores the rock climber who participates in big wall climbing and has to pack out human waste and debris. As this activity becomes more prevalent, the impacts increase. What are the effects of climbers in areas where endangered birds are nesting and what might be better solutions than the present, easily mandated governmental ones of just outlawing climbing in those areas for six months out of every year? How can birds and climbers co-exist year round in the same area?
There are other problems with this book; for one, errors abound. McConnell points out that the climbers (Eldorado Canyon Climbers’ Coalition) in Eldorado Canyon State Park are doing some work, but not only does he misspell Eldorado (“El Dorado”), he mentions the wrong association they are working with (the American Mountaineering Foundation) and doesn’t even state what it is they are doing! Worse, he mentions the 1995 K2 accident, when seven (not six) climbers of three combined expeditions (not six members of the 1995 American K2 Expedition as stated) died attempting the mountain alpine style (they weren’t; the entire mountain from CIII was fixed with rope), and that perhaps the incident could have been averted if a back-up team were present (one was, but events were such that it would not have mattered). These mistakes and others like them are typical of the book; random generalizations, unfocused writing and unresearched observations riddle the pages. Better and more recent references than those the author mentions are also available at most outdoor bookstores. Gentle Expeditions reads more like a second draft than a carefully written and researched book.
Having completely shredded the manuscript, let me say that it is still a useful guide to take as a reminder of what to do and what not do in the woods. The author’s love, passion and respect for what he does and its effect on the land and people he visits comes through and provides easy and enjoyable reading. Appendices in the back are useful guidelines and the purchase price of 10 dollars is easy on the pocketbook.