Mountaineering Essays

ISBN: 0874805449
ISBN 13: 9780874805444
By: John Muir Richard F. Fleck Richard Fleck

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About this book

One of the world’s foremost writers of the mountaineering essay—his writings are finely wrought expressions of the transcendental joy he found in the mountains—John Muir also founded the Sierra Club in 1892 as a way of supporting his belief that Americans must preserve national parks throughout the country in order that future generations might be spiritually inspired. Characterized by an iron endurance and an insatiable curiosity, Muir vowed to spend his days studying God’s unwritten Bible—nature—or what he termed the "University of the Wilderness." Muir early on learned to keep a journal in the manner of Emerson, but he is also considered one of America’s pioneer glaciologists, an interest he gained while wandering in Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada mountains. Whether frozen in a subzero blizzard on Mount Shasta, seemingly doomed on the unforgiving slopes of Mount Ritter, or exhilarated by the ice-shapes viewed from the summit of Mount Rainier, Muir reveled in the mountain experience.This volume contains eleven mountain essays that include both adventurous narrative, joyful exultation, and descriptions of natural features such as alpine soil beds, ancient glaciers and living glaciers, and mountain sculpture. In each, Muir maintains a careful and subtle balance between the physical aspects of ascending and the more symbolic observations of the sublimity of his surroundings. Mountains are for him a source of discovery that provide an affirmation of the human spirit. 

Reader's Thoughts

The Young Urban Unprofessional

I definitely want to read the rest of John Muir's short stories throughout this book. Muir was an absolute legend in the earliest days of Yosemite valley around the turn of the 20th century. He is ultimately responsible for saving many national park areas in the U.S. as well as starting the Seirra Club, a totally epic conservation organization that still exists today. The story "A Near View of The High Sierras" starts with him meeting a couple of painters in Yosemite Valley who wished to be taken to a beautiful landscape deserving of a painting. He had just been in an amazing area around Tuolumne Meadows so he took them there. After he got them set up he took off for an attempt to summit nearby Mt. Ritter. It was a day's walk to the base so he took a blanket and a loaf of bread and set out. Muir is incredibly descriptive in his writing. At times it was hard for me to follow because he took two pages to describe a meadow. I often read a few pages twice just because i felt myself zoning out while riding the train to work. Coming from a time without GoPro cameras to capture 60 frames per second for an upload to YouTube, he had to be incredibly descriptive to even get the gist of what he was seeing, thus the need for complex and lengthy descriptions by our standards today. He commented a few times throughout the story that he should teach himself how to paint so that he could show the world this amazing place that he lived in for most of the year. His attempt at summiting Mt Ritter was thwarted by poor weather and even poorer climbing conditions. He had to down-climb several sections because the rock was covered in a thin layer of ice and without crampons or ice axes it became impossible, so he bivied out two days with just a blanket and a loaf of bread and made back for painters' camp. I wish I were half as badass as mountaineers in that time. With all of our high-tech gear I feel like we've become increasingly soft, attaining a pathetic state relying more on our gear than our skill and ability to learn from nature, something I'm sure that our mountaineering ancestors would laugh at.Check out my other short story reviews from my blog of 30 day life experiments at you can also follow me on Twitter @YoungandUrban

Leigh Verrill-Rhys

This book is so incredibly beautifully written, it's hard to believe Muir was freezing in the wilds of the Sierra Nevadas when he wrote these essays. The descriptions of the mountains and glaciers are so masterful, inspiring. Breathless. You can imagine what he must have felt being in this vast wilderness alone, as a scientist as well as spiritually.

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