Book Reviews

The Last Of His Kind: The Life And Adventures Of Bradford Washburn, Americas Boldest Mountaineer.
David Roberts, William Morrow
May 2009, 334 pages

THE LAST OF HIS KIND provides a comprehensive picture of the lifelong adventure that is Bradford Washburn’s life. Well-written and overflowing with tidbits of insight into Washburn’s character gleaned from extensive research and Roberts’ many decades of association with Washburn, Last of His Kind is a must read for any student of North American alpinism.

Among the advantages afforded young Washburn were his early climbing adventures in the Alps. There, during the summers of his high school years, he learned rock and ice climbing techniques not yet practiced in North America. These early climbs on difficult alpine peaks and time spent at the family retreat in New Hampshire provided grist for the mill that led to a stint as an author for the Putnam Boys Books by Boys series.

Incorporating the exploits of others of the “Harvard Five” Roberts draws much of the noteworthy achievement in American Mountaineering during the 1930’s and 40’s into Washburn’s life story. Along with Brad’s trips to Alaska with Bob Bates, Terris Moore, Ad Carter and others, Roberts highlights Charles Houston’s two U.S. expeditions to K2 (1938 and 1954) and his climbs of Canada’s highest peak, Mt. Logan. These sidebars add depth to the story placing Washburn’s life in the context of his time.

Most well-known for his climbs and exploration in Alaska and Canada (he accomplished nine first ascents), Roberts reveals that Washburn was a man of much broader interest. Most significant of these was Washburn’s lifelong work transforming the New England Museum of Natural History into the world-class Boston Museum of Science.

His climbing and scientific pursuits notwithstanding, Washburn’s writing, photography, cold weather gear research for the army, illustrated lectures and mapmaking lead Roberts to conclude that “… the sheer range and virtuosity of his achievements, would stamp him not only as one of a kind, but as one of a kind they don’t make anymore.” Read The Last of His Kind and you’ll agree.

Stan Miller


Deep Powder And Steep Rock: The Life Of Mountain Guide Hans Gmoser
Chic Scott, Assiniboine Publishing, Limited
May 2009, 346 pages

IF YOU HAVE EVER enjoyed the thrill of skiing untouched powder after slipping out of a helicopter, you owe that experience to Hans Gmoser. Deep Powder, Steep Rock gives you the chance to follow Gmoser’s life from his childhood in Austria though his successful career in the heli-skiing business, Canadian Mountain Holidays. Canadian mountaineer and skier Chic Scott tells Gmoser’s story in clear readable prose and with an understanding possible only by one as experienced in and as dedicated to mountain adventure as his subject.

When I met Scott 15 years ago at the Banff Mountain Book Festival, I was drawn to his natural storytelling ability. In Deep Powder and Steep Rock, Scott puts his story telling skills to good use. Using extensive research skills, honed while writing his first non-guidebook, Pushing the Limits, Scott digs deeply into Gmoser’s diaries, climbing journals and a myriad of other sources. He weaves all this into a series of adventure stories that paints a brilliant picture of the man who spent his life taking others into the wild. Heli-skiing was the culmination of that effort.

Poking through the narrative are musings by Gmoser reconciling the somewhat elitist heli-skiing and heli-hiking activities, endeavours he could never have afforded as a young immigrant, with his life-long ethic of respect for and appreciation of the wilds of the Rockies.

Including an index in a book of this nature seems a bit much, until you are trying to find “that part about climbing Mt. Logan” or some other memorable part of the book. Then it becomes invaluable.

A final plus for the hard cover version of the book is the DVD with three of Gmoser’s films. Originally produced for Gmoser’s annual lecture tours, these films exemplify Gmoser’s ski mountaineering, ski touring and heli-skiing adventures.

Deep Powder and Steep Rock and the accompanying DVD reveals the drive that made the life of the “inventor” of heli-skiing and founder of Canadian Mountain Holidays an odyssey of adventure. Chic Scott’s book is a worthy read.

Stan Miller


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