Book Reviews

Climbing Dictionary: Mountaineering Slang, Terms, Neologisms And Lingo — An Illustrated Reference To More Than 650 Words
Matt Samet
Mountaineers Books, 2011, 250 pages

THE CLIMBING DICTIONARY by Matt Samet brings together all the terms, phrases and lingo that climbers unconsciously speak, and explains them for everyone to understand. The book easily skips past the dry, serious tone of most definitive books and follows an ingenious path that shares all the comic slang and actual jargon that climbers use.

Surfers, skaters, snowboarders and kayakers all have terms and slang that define their sport as well as their culture. Climbing, a much older sport, follows a similar thread, and English language climbing terms are actually more prevalent around the world.

Samet might be overqualified to write the Climbing Dictionary. Beyond his remarkable career as a freelance editor and writer for dozens of outdoor magazines, he served as editor-in-chief at Climbing magazine. He has bouldered V11 and climbed some of Rifle, Colorado’s earliest test pieces including Fluff Boy (5.13c) and Dumpster BBQ (5.13c/d). He also solo managed an early repeat of Peter Croft’s mega-route Evolution Traverse (VI 5.9), in Sierra Nevada, California.

Truth be told, Samet’s impressive climbing résumé itself contains terms that are not easy to understand, which offers a hint at why he wrote the Climbing Dictionary. The book truly runs the gamut, from technical terms (belay, harness, rappel) to slang (dab, Gaston, old dad, pumpy), to regional (such as the Southwest’s baby-butt slopers), antiquated (Goldline, headpoint), and foreign terms that have achieved universal usage (a cheval, colonnette) and much more.

Each word’s definition includes its part of speech, origin (if known), meaning and a humorous but factually-sound example sentence to demonstrate usage.

Whenever appropriate, illustrations by Mike Tea provide a pinpoint explanation. His illustrations have appeared in numerous publications, but he’s arguably best known as Black Diamond’s technical illustrator. In a sport as complex and equipment-oriented as climbing, knowing the terms and the language are crucial, and Mike’s visual contribution dovetails perfectly with Matt’s definitions.

Seasoned climbers and beginners should definitely read this book because it provides insight into the history and culture of climbing, as well as mountaineering. Best of all, the pages are unique, interesting and often laugh-your-harness-off funny.

Jon Jonckers


The Global Forest
Diana Beresford-Kroeger
Viking, 2010, 175 pages

I READ THIS BOOK SLOWLY, putting it down several times. I repeatedly found myself having feelings unlike anything I can remember from a text. Sort of like having a sense of well being after returning from a long, solo hike. Two reasons: first, the author is a poet and a storyteller—Irish, no less. Second, she is telling you scientific information that, for me, was utterly new.

A wide range of good scientists today profess that they balance their evidence-based inquires with a religious or mystical awe. There are even a few more writers who possess perhaps a bit less scientific depth but who can somehow use philosophical language to produce a sense of wonder of the non-human world. Beresford-Kroeger has raised the bar.

Some things I learned: Talking about how hemoglobin in humans and chlorophyll in plants exchange oxygen, she writes, “It seems like part of a divine plan, these twin sister molecules working hand-in-hand in their quantum homes to forge life for the entire planet.” How bioplanning will, in time, form a new safety net. The way trees capture and transform sunlight into food and gases could, if we can ever fully understand it and produce technology to mimic it, become a remarkable new source of energy. How every species finds its own medicine in the world, from plants and trees to ants to hippos. How the ancient pharmacopoeia of the pines emit a medicinal aerosol that literally has a stimulating effect on the process of breathing itself. How, as amazing as it may sound, the biochemistry producing human dreaming, melatonin, has a counterpart in trees called auxin. Both are aromatic hydrocarbons produced in response to the changes in sunlight of the seasons. In both humans and trees, sleep and respiration is balanced so dreams may arise.

We know a great deal about what is happening in our world and suffer terribly as a consequence. “Consumerism bores holes of unbearable solitude,” writes Beresford-Kroeger. “Seek the dignity of life, all life.”

Terry Lawhead


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