If you’ve spent any amount of time in our beloved national parks, you’ve probably seen some pretty bizarre stuff. A friend of mine who guides in the Grand Canyon once saw a woman actually pick up and throw a squirrel over a cliff at one of the South Rim viewpoints after it scampered up to her and stole some of her snacks. We all probably have our stories. Park rangers have thousands. Andrea Lankford, a former ranger in Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains and Denali, finally took up the job of collecting some of those stories, writing them down and sharing them with us. “Ranger Confidential” has a great pace, each story finishing in 12 pages or less, making Lankford that person sitting around the campfire entertaining you with one tale after another. She warns in the book’s introduction that “ranger reality is rated R,” and then gets right to the action, with a ranger arresting a public masturbator standing over a topless sunbather on one of Cape Cod’s beaches, a gunfight, a driver dragging a loggerhead sea turtle to death behind his pickup and a rescue in Yosemite that ends in the confiscation of several pairs of nunchakus from a backcountry martial arts class. That’s all before page 50. You get the picture. Lankford survived her 12 years as a ranger; some don’t. She tells those stories, too. www.globepequot.com
It pretty much makes my month when an outdoors movie comes across my desk, and after watching it, I get to give it my “not ski/climbing porn” stamp. In the first few minutes of “A Life Ascending,” you see Ruedi Beglinger, owner of Revelstoke, British Columbia, hut-skiing company Selkirk Mountain Experience, anchor a rope to a snowblower on one side of the hut so he can rappel down the other side and shovel feet of snow off the roof. That’s when I realized that this would be a movie more about a life than about relentless pursuit of the gnar. Beglinger, a ski mountaineering guide, was leading a group of 20 skiers in 2003 when an avalanche ripped loose and
killed seven of the skiers. “A Life Ascending” documents Beglinger’s life as a guide, from snow science, to running a business, to raising his two daughters in a helicopter- access-only hut in the backcountry of the Selkirks. And, of course, the ever-present chance that he might die at work, or have a client die on a trip — and how he dealt with the avalanche deaths in 2003, which, coupled with another avalanche less that 20 miles away that killed seven more people 12 days later, drew negative media atten- tion. Director/producer Stephen Grynberg’s first feature-length documentary is a good one, just in time for ski season. www.alife- ascending.com
The List Guy: Thoughts About Cool Things and The Fine Line
Editor’s note: After priming the creative pump of both yours truly (Smoke Signals,“Listing Who We Are, MG #166) and the MG Tribe (via the two dozen or more Letters we have run on the subject), Dave Baldridge, whose idea it was for people to list the cool things they have done, has come back to us with his reflections on the whole process.
This is a lot deeper water than I ever imagined. The list was kind of spontaneous, and now I’m thinking about what it’s worth, if in fact it’s worth anything at all. At least the psychic rummaging around has been heating, in kind of a weird way, as editor Fayhee aptly puts it.
It’s allowed (forced) me to think for the first time about whether there are patterns in my list. Re-arranging it in chronological order, I see a lot of self-testing, especially in the older things. There’s also a lotta need for validation, but that’s never been any secret, according to my friends. My abundant search for approval probably isn’t all that different from other “cool-thing” pilgrims. Neither does it call for psychoanalysis; it’s just a list.
One unintended byproduct is that it pushed out my adrenaline threshold. Progressively over the years, it’s taken more and more to get high. Better drugs, bigger risks. I’ve come to think of this tendency as “fool’s gold.” It never led me to resolution or peace or lasting satisfaction — it’s an endless highway, littered with lotsa wrecks.
I got good at healing. And falling. As Dick Dorworth described in his 1970s MG classic “Night Driving,” there is an art to healing. Ski racers, he says, are sometimes very good at it.
On the mountain bike trip to Nepal (Item 8), I had a couple of horrendous falls, potential helicopter evac stuff. Came up unscathed both times, although helmet and sunglasses were broken. Previous experience with falling helped. Have had practice healing from broken clavicle, ribs, toe, wrist, hip, nose (21 fractures), three knee/ankle surgeries, several hundred stitches, kidney removal and a couple of times from a broken heart. That last item was the hardest.
When I left the mountains after a couple of decades, my next job took me deep into Native America. It was with a national Indian aging organization, advocating for American
Indian elders. I careened into it with the usual abandon, but this time something was different. Looking back, I feel a real sense of peace and worth about it. The only difference, adventure-wise, is that it was for the benefit of someone else, not for me. That was the key. It turned everything around, opened internal doors that were very rusty. Interesting that this only shows up once on the list (item 26).
Even now, though, it feels good to have all this stuff embedded in my psyche like road rash gravel. It’s hard to get too upset by some account executive freaking out when you’ve been chased by a head-hunting rodeo bull (item 1) or looked an avalanche fatality in the eye (item 11).
As it turns out, if I could ever write a book (never done that), these things on my list would probably be the chapters. I didn’t expect this. My girlfriend says it should be called “Going Big: The Fine Line Between Adventure and Stupidity . . . or How I Got My Knee Brace.”
Anyway, here’s what I, the list guy, hope I’ve learned in the process of getting the brace.
• What’s cool for you may not be cool for someone else. Many won’t understand or care about the coolest things.
• When you go out, take your whole heart with you, not just adrenaline. If it’s not in your heart, it isn’t cool.
• If it matters to you, it matters. Cool comes from inside, not the spectators at the finish line.
• What’s the difference? Maybe only that someone imagined something larger .
• You’re gonna get hurt. Not every time but enough. That’s why more people don’t do cool things. Cool and risk usually go hand in hand.
• Gotta try to live large. That’s what it’s all about. Well, that and being kind.
• Don’t compare self to anyone else after it happened. Winning or losing has no home among cool things; it orbits on the periphery.
• Visualize. Many a man hath seen himself in dreams. Try to channel the best before you launch.
• Roll with the punches. They can be important parts of the cool things. Sometimes they can BE the cool things.
• Nike got it right. If you don’t do it, you’ll never know. I’ve lost far more through hesitation than impulsiveness.
• Cool is a luxury of hindsight. When it’s hitting the fan, cool is meaningless.
• Breaking the rules isn’t always important. There’s enough drama to go around without taking down the system. Usually.
• If it was done with love, it’s been cool. Every time.
• The coolest, toughest adventure of all is the internal one.
Thanks again for the platform.
Whither art thou, MG poetry?
Hey man! What happened to the poetry section? You all don’t believe in supporting and publishing the poetic insights of the mountain folk any more? I have been out of the West for a year and was shocked to not find a poetry section in the current issue that I eagerly scooped up as soon as I returned.
First the size and then the bombardment of advertising and now the poetry section!?! I understand you all have to make money and give you praise for being able to survive the black plague of publishing, but the poetry, the mountain prose, the heart and soul of the only outlet of expression we mountain people have!
Please tell me there will be more, every other issue or that I missed some serious philosophical reason for its banishment.
Sorely and sincerely yours,
One more Lost Mountain Poet,
Editor’s note: Not only did I have the great fortune to have received this Letter, but I had the even greater fortune to meet young Ms. Jen C. recently at a watering hole in Leadville, where she, her mother and her two sisters organized the first annual GreenerLead Festival, which was a rousing success.
That said: Verily! Yes, yes, yes, our esteemed Poetry Section has been gone for several issues now, mainly because our poetry editor moved on to greener and far-less-lyrical pastures. It is our intent to relaunch our Poetry Section as soon as we find a replacement editor.
A Third Phase Wilderness
Dear John: So much of Idaho’s potential wilderness areas, like Utah’s, are neglected, as Brook Williams suggested in “The Middle of Nowhere” (MG #170), not because of lack of beauty but because of their remoteness,
and therefore, invisibility. Two huge and beautiful places on the
Payette National Forest near McCall, the Secesh and Needles roadless areas, are even recommended by the U.S. Forest Service for Wilderness protection. But they haven’t gotten the attention of the designated Wilderness areas, despite being equally spectacular. Anyone who has gone to McCall has seen these areas, but they hardly know it. People drive beside these roadless areas and between them or enjoy them at a distance; advocates rant and rave about Wilderness either pro or con, but few actually go into them to see their guts. Few know these enormous wild places for their inherent values.
But Brook’s main point is more germane: these areas have their highest human value for being nowhere. Their profound solitude is a great bargain for evolving humanity as we look at the places we came from. Wildlife moves through these invisible places from Hells Canyon Wilderness on the west to the enormous River of No Return Wilderness: wolves,wolverine,bears,elk,pileated woodpeckers, great grey owls, eagles and many of the other beasts that live there. These proposed Wilderness areas are the connective tissue by which species will survive in the future as our climate changes. There are no trails through large portions of this land and other trails that lie forgotten or lost. It is raw land in the presence of untamed nature. There is nothing sweet or tame about this third phase of wilderness; it is a punishing landscape that sometimes manages gentility and grandeur.
These are places that people go to find out who they are in the silence of a vast loneliness. I hope that we will know enough to protect each of these little-known places to maintain their loneliness, their grandeur and more simply, their obvious wildness.
We Were Liberal Arts Majors!
Dear John: I realize that I subscribe to Mountain Gazette and not Math Gazette but I am still puzzling over the “simple” math included in the piece, “Death: Germ vs Bear” by Laura Pritchett (MG #170). In this article, Ms. Pritchett concluded that we are much more likely to die from bacteria than bears because bacteria are so much more abundant, and presented a calculation that estimated that there are about 100,000,000,000,000 (10^14) bacteria per human. The mathematical logic employed in calculating this number appears suspect.
It is stated that there are 10^29 bacteria in the world (the most commonly cited number is actually 50-fold higher than this) and that one percent of this number is 10^24. It is not clear why one percent of this number is used but one percent of 10^29 is 10^27, which is 1,000 times larger than 10^24.
If the more commonly used estimate of bacteria in the world is used (5x 10^30) and divided by the number of people in the world (7,000,000,000 or 7 x10^9), you come up with roughly 7 x 10^20 bacteria per person. This is 7,000,000 times more bacteria per person than the number stated in the article. So if you were worried about bacteria before, you can now be seven million times more concerned.
Wayne Van Voorhies
Las Cruces, NM
Mountain Gazette welcomes letters. Please email your incendiary verbiage to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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