Book Reviews: March 2007

Rock Climbing Oregon
Adam Bolf and Benjamin Ruef
Falcon Guide, 2006, 352 pages.
BE GONE COLD and snow! I want to be back outside on real rock. I don’t typically read climbing guide books for fun, but Bolf and Ruef (and friends) authored one fun read. Rock Climbing Oregon has Sylvia and I already planning multi-day trips across Oregon. Since we typically go by motorcycle, I was thrilled with the clarity and completeness provided on how to find the 24 climbing areas (they talked about 74 in total-50 for a future edition), road surfaces (paved, gravel, dirt), what to expect upon arrival (camping, services, mosquitoes, snakes, limited views compounding sudden changes in weather), what to prepare for while climbing (cruxes and need for clip-sticks), and amenities (views). Bolf and Ruef provide the kinds of information that make for comfortable planning. Even when I questioned the approach to one portion of Bulo Point the care and clarity of the maps and descriptions left me feeling confident I would find the answers when I got there.

While not mentioned as the selection criteria used to decide which areas to include in the guide book (geographic coverage, rock quality and reasonable approaches), “something for everyone” must have guided their selection process. Made up of mostly sport routes, each of the 24 climbing areas includes traditional and mixed routes and a good array of levels of difficulty. Let’s hear it for moderate climbers. Pitch descriptions warn of hazards, prepare belayers for difficult stances, locate crux moves and identify the classics in each area.

The book’s Appendices are equaly fun and informative. While I enjoy climbing and seeing the country from new angles, I don’t consider myself a climber in the truest sense. Climbing jargon still fascinates me; the Glossary (Appendix A) helped extend my knowledge. Come on sunshine.

Bob Scarfo


Mount Everest Reconnaissance of 1935: The Forgotten Adventure (Best Book on Mountain History, 2006 Banff Mountain Book Festival)
Tony Astill
Tony Astill, Publisher, 2005, 332 pages
BETWEEN THE TWO WORLD wars, Britain sent eight climbing contingents to Mt. Everest. Trips in 1921 and 1935, touted as reconnaissance expeditions, intended to explore possible approaches to the mountain and to discover climbing routes. Though WWII delayed the publication of Bill Tilman’s account of the 1938 expedition until 1948, official expedition books were published for seven of the eight trips. Only the 1935 reconnaissance was undocumented.

In 2006, Tony Astill filled this gap in the prewar Everest literature. Mount Everest Reconnaissance 1935 recounts the adventures of Eric Shipton, Bill Tillman and crew in the Himalaya. Astill’s self-published volume feels and reads like the traditional expedition record produced to document mountaineering feats through the late 1970s. Were it not for some of the post-expedition history incorporated into the narrative one would leave this book feeling as if it was indeed a collaboration between Shipton and Tillman reporting the experiences and feelings of expedition members.

Astill provides a good recap of the history of earlier expeditions to Everest both in the chronological record of the journey and in the biographies of the reconnaissance team. Drawing heavily on diary quotations from Shipton, Tilman and a number of other team members, Astill creates the core of the book, a day-by-day chronology. The narrative is laced with discussions of food planning and diet, personal activities of the climbers and notes on their personal impressions and feelings.

In separate chapters the narrative follows small climbing parties on their assents of 23 peaks peripheral to Everest. Many believe Shipton’s penchant for exploration-so aptly demonstrated by this spate of climbing and exploration-to be peripheral to the main objective of the trip, and that led to his rejection as team leader on the 1953 expedition.

Everest 1935 lacks the fast paced adventure that appeals to the modern reader. Still this is an important document in the history of Himalayan exploration and climbing Mount Everest-a collection of the Himalayan regions climbing history must include this book.

Not available in mainstream U.S. bookstores, this book is available on-line from the Author/Publisher at

Stan Miller


Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture
Dale Allen Pfeiffer
New Society, 2006, 125 pages.
THE DEPLETION OF OIL is already affecting our pocketbooks-you see it at the gas pump and the heating bill-but have you considered how it affects the way we eat? Journalist and activist Dale Allen Pfeiffer has, and the picture he paints of the future of food is bleak. In Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture, Pfeiffer offers a blunt assessment of how our dependence on cheap fossil fuels has created an agriculture that is unsustainable, and he predicts a disastrous collapse of our food system and economy if we don’t work for change.

Tracing the problem to the Green Revolution of the 1960s, when technological advances allowed for increased food production even with decreasing farmable land, Pfeiffer shows that industrial agriculture has wreaked havoc both on our environment and our communities. “Modern agriculture has charted a course for disaster,” he writes. “Our soils and water resources, and our weakened food crops, will fail us just as energy depletion makes it increasingly difficult to make up for these deficiencies through artificial means.”

Unfortunately, Pfeiffer builds his argument with a bombardment of science, statistics, and charts, and although this would have been useful while writing my college thesis, it doesn’t have the same mass appeal as Michael Pollan’s more accessible guide to conscientious eating, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pfeiffer’s tone is more urgent and dramatic, and sheer scope of his facts and research (did you know that it takes more than ten calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of food?) might induce more alarm than inspiration.

This would be a shame, because despite the overwhelming and disheartening information, Pfeiffer is adamant that there are feasible alternatives to our destructive food system, and his overall message is one of hope. He advocates grassroots organizing, and insists we must support organic agriculture, farmers’ markets, urban gardens, and other efforts to localize and decentralize the food system. Outlining both the problems and the solutions, and appealing both to our fear and optimism, Pfeiffer’s book is a blueprint for change-and a timely, vital call to action.

Eli Penberthy

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