Book Reviews

Flakes, Jugs And Splitters: A Rock Climbers Guide To Geology

Sarah Garlick Falcon Guides 2009 210 pages

The lingo that climbers use to describe climbing often distinguishes them, not unlike the vocabulary of a surfer or a snowboarder. Yet, the very words associated with the rock features and the climbing moves often hinge on the unique geology of the rock climbing route.

Author Sarah Garlick writes, “There is sandstone and then there is sandstone. A month of pulling down on edges and rails on the steep sport routes at the New River Gorge doesn’t necessarily translate to finger-stacking skills at Indian Creek. Likewise, a season of crack climbing in the desert is worlds away from the overhanging face routes of West Virginia. What is the geological reason for the differences among sandstone climbing areas?”

The answer is too complex for this book review, but the in-depth response to that question and many more can truly extend a climber’s understanding of the medium they engage. Sarah Garlick, a research geologist and accomplished climber, unravels a variety of geological mysteries, and exposes the forces and timeframes that created many of the world’s most popular climbing areas. From the Bugaboos to Yosemite, and all over the globe, Garlick successfully distills the explanations for a climbing area’s existence into practical climbing terms with the how and the why certain climbing areas are so popular.

Along with the aspects of age and geologic formation, Garlick also uncovers bigger geology mysteries such as Devils Tower in Wyoming and the Yellow Band on Mount Everest. Based on available research and her own travels, the book primarily focuses on the United States. But she does reference many parts of Canada including Banff, Bugaboos, Baffin Island and Squamish, and the basic geologic principles in the first chapter apply to every climbing area.
All in all, the combination of stunning photos and first-rate illustrations of geologic concepts create an engaging book that most climbers can appreciate, and every dedicated climber should read.

Jon Jonckers

Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life In Alaska
Miranda Weiss, Collins Books, April 2009, 288 pages

Some writers, and their critics, say that stories should be about community, about that interaction between people and place that yields a micro-culture central to the story. In Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska Miranda Weiss reveals to us the community of her adopted home in coastal south central Alaska. Realizing that the environment in which she chose to live is in the words of John Muir, “hopelessly beyond description,” Weiss does not try to paint a picture of Alaska, rather she pictures the life in coastal Alaska. Early in her stay Weiss notes that a key to finding roots in this new place is learning the vocabulary. Terms like neap tide, gill net, skiff, tiderip, shoal and vigia punctuate the language of Weiss’s adopted home. In vivid, descriptive prose, Tide, Feather, Snow chronicles Weiss’s coming to terms with the nuances of the language and activities of the semi-subsistence living practiced in her adopted community.

As an elementary school student in Maryland Weiss created a fictional view of life in Alaska for a writing project. A subtle undertone of the book is her struggle to reconcile the real Alaska she encounters with her fictional construct. Weiss describes parsing small town community dynamics and reassembling her own psyche to fit the model.

Though the book is largely descriptive, outlining the day – to – day activities of life in Alaska, Weiss ultimately becomes introspective. She wonders about what her life would have been had she not made the move. She wonders what the changes in the physical environment: the warmer winters, the loss of glaciers, the reduction of fisheries, will mean to Alaska. Interestingly, though Weiss often describes these changes, she never discusses cause for the changes she has observed in her short ten – year sojourn in the state. She does conclude: “To live in this place is, in part, to destroy it; that is the paradox – and the responsibility – we live with every day.”

Weiss’s memoir is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in Alaska, subsistence living or small town life.

Stan Miller


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