Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Book Review: Distant Peaks

Author: Peter Len
Publisher: Millenial Mind Publishing
ISBN: 13: 978-1-58982-460-7; 10: 1-58982-460-1

Peter Len is a full-time American software engineer and sometime mountaineer who has scaled mountains in North America, Europe, Africa and South America. Distant Peaks, based upon journals he kept during those expeditions, is his account of those adventures.

Len’s first two climbs took place at Grand Teton, a magnificent mountain in the Rocky Mountain range in the United States. He was accompanied by his father, as well as other climbers and guides, on both of these occasions. Len was twenty years old during their first climb, which was, unfortunately, cut short because of bad weather. Len treasured the memory of that climb for many years, but was always disappointed that they had not successfully reached Teton’s summit. Thirteen years later, Len and his father decided to make another attempt to summit Grand Teton. This time, they both reached the peak successfully.

Three years after he reached the summit of Grand Teton, Len and a friend decided to try their hands at two famous European peaks: Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. A couple of years later, Len and his friend traveled to Africa to test themselves on the peaks of on to Mt. Kenya, their highest attempt to that point. Len’s most recent climbing adventure took him to three mountains in South America: Cayambe, Cotapaxi and Chimaborazo. He reached the summits of all of these mountains except for Chimborazo. Once again, weather conditions compelled the climbers to cut short their adventure.

Len emphasizes that he is an ordinary guy, not a super-jock or extreme sports enthusiast. His simple message is that mountain climbing is something for which average people can prepare and at which they can succeed. He also emphasizes that the challenges of preparing for and enduring the climbs had beneficial effects on his character. The lessons he learned about his own physical, mental, emotional and psychological limits, the natural world and the ways in which groups take care of their members are lessons that have carried over into his everyday suburban life.

Throughout the book, Len discusses such mundane issues as blisters, altitude sickness, climbing techniques, equipment maintenance and menu planning. He also emphasizes the wisdom of always working with professional guides and travel agencies to plan and complete expeditions. He includes interesting historical and cultural tidbits about the places he visited and several dozen photos taken during the expeditions. I found the chapters about Africa and South America much more engaging than the earlier ones about the USA and Europe. It’s possible that Len simply took better notes as time passed. My impression, however, is that the extra details may have been due to enhanced sensitivity to regions with which he was completely unfamiliar before his climbs. In contrast, he had spent much time in the USA (of course) and Europe apart from his climbing adventures. Possibly, this familiarity led him to pay less attention to their unique cultural features. This is not to say that his descriptions of the beauties and attractions of Wyoming and France are lackluster. But the records of his observations and impressions in those areas differ from, and are less intriguing than, his accounts of Africa and South America.

Overall, Distant Peaks is an enjoyable read that should appeal to enthusiasts of climbing and other outdoor adventures.

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