Friday, January 21, 2011

Book Review: The Sandstone Spine

I have attended the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour a dozen times.  And every time there is a spectacular story about a person or a group of people that go on an epic adventure.  Commonly those on the trip are participating in an adventure outside my expertise.  For example, they decide to kayak from Australia to New Zealand, or they bike across China, or they walk across Australia...

These phenomenal films taught me that not every adventure has to revolve around climbing and/or skiing.  Indeed, adventure merely needs to be something that inspires you, no matter the medium.

It was with this in mind that I picked up The Sandstone Spine by David Roberts with photography by Greg Child.  Roberts is well-known for his mountain writing.  He has authored or co-authored seventeen books on climbing, adventure, and the history of the American Southwest. His articles have appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including National Geographic, National Geographic Adventure, the New York Times and The Atlantic Monthly.

Greg Child is a well-known mountaineer and author.  The Australian-born climber has tested his metal in every venue including on 5.13 routes, A5 big walls and on Himalayan peaks like Everest and K2.  He is a North Face athlete, an Outside Magazine contributor, and was responsible for the award-winning climbing tome, Postcards from the Ledge.  Additionally, Child has repeatedly been an athlete at Red Rock Rendezvous, an event that the American Alpine Institute is heavily involved with.

Roberts and Child joined forces with Vaughn Hadenfeldt, a local wilderness guide, to make the first complete traverse of the 100-mile long Comb Ridge in one continuous push.  The Comb is literally a Sandstone Spine that slices out deep into the Arizona desert, starting just east of Kayenta.

The sandstone ridge is comprised of thousands of rock spires, turrets and jagged teeth and is home to hundreds of Anasazi and Navajo ruins.  Ancient cliff-dwellings and petroglyphs dominate the route from the start to the finish.  As does difficult and dry terrain.

While each of the three men were world-class adventurers at the start of their trip, none of them were spring chickens.  At ages 61, 53, and 47, the trio's adventure had a different taste than many of those that are commonly written about in the magazines and journals.  Each of them were at that point in their lives that society likes to refer to as "middle-age."  And in many ways, their adventure along the Comb took place at three levels.  On the top level, it's the story of three friends on a great adventure.  On the second level, it's the story of the Anasazi, natives who disappeared hundreds of years ago.  And at the third level, it's the story of middle-aged angst among the men.

Roberts is an excellent adventure writer.  He does a wonderful job of weaving the different parts of the narrative together.  At one moment we are on the Comb with the three men, worrying about water; and in the next we are with Mormon missionaries, trying to find a way through the steep and unforgiving desert landscape.  Books like this are the reason that I read adventure narratives.  They are striking and engrossing stories.

At the American Alpine Institute we run trips in a handful of desert environments. We do trips at the foot of the Eastern Sierra, just outside Death Valley.  We run trips in Joshua Tree National Park.  And we run trips in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.  Sometimes in the heat of climbing a route, we forget that we weren't the first people to discover the area, that people have been traveling beneath our lines and routes for years.  Ultimately, Roberts' book gives us both a taste of what we love to do -- go on adventures -- as well as a taste of the history of these beautiful places.  There is no better combination...

--Jason D. Martin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"mettle" not metal