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Social Climbing . . . Physically and Mentally

June 09, 1996|JOHN MUNCIE

A NIGHT ON THE GROUND, A DAY IN THE OPEN by Doug Robinson (Mountain N' Air Books, $19, paperback).

Californian Doug Robinson began climbing in the '60s and discovered an outdoorsy lifestyle that gave him the kind of mind-altering rush many of his 20-year-old contemporaries were getting from street drugs.

In subsequent years, Robinson became a climbing guide and helped pioneer some extreme routes and techniques. Though he has occasionally strayed to other mountain ranges in New Zealand, Europe and Asia, he has an almost poetic devotion to the Sierra Nevada. "Now I am at home in the Sierra, dwelling in the light," he writes. "I climb up the flanks of Pywiack, the granite dome across Tenaya, still on the edge of the world. Exhale and focus, balancing my self onto crystals. Such concentration brightens even that light."

Mountain climbing begets art. Like baseball and bullfighting, it has nurtured a whole body of literature. Robinson is one of climbing's leading practitioners. He's been writing professionally nearly as long as he's been climbing, and he seems to have woven them together into a single life's fabric.

"Night on the Ground" is a collection of Robinson essays (including his first, from 1968). Most are reprinted from magazines; some are new. A number of pieces were written for climbing magazines, so there is some jargon here ("We French-stepped up a pitch of neve and started out onto the sweeping ice of the gully, zig-zagging across it to belay on rock . . . "). But Robinson's passion, humor and sometimes lyric descriptive powers make these stories compelling to non-climbers.

About an ice climb in the Sierra, he writes: "Nothing that happened here could quite be described in familiar terms. The steepness was right, but it was strangely slippery. Silence was almost recognizable, but too deep. The cold air seemed deader, or was it only thin? Ice chips dropped with explosive tinkling sounds and disappeared to leave the granite walls of this sound chamber staring at each other across their bed of ice."

The climbing life is as foreign to me as elephant taming. It was a treat to be shown through its inner and outer landscapes by an expert guide.

75 HIKES IN CALIFORNIA'S LASSEN PARK & MOUNT SHASTA REGIONS by John R. Soares (The Mountaineers, $14.95, paperback, maps, photos).

A new guide from Mountaineers, which has a huge catalog of hiking and outdoor adventure titles. Each hike rates a photo, a map, about a page of directions and description, and a convenient hike-at-a-glance list. This latter feature includes: length, hiking time, total elevation gain, best season for hiking, water availability and which U.S. Geological Survey map to use. Each hike gets a difficulty rating of easy, moderate or strenuous. Of course, one hiker's moderate is another's strenuous. You won't know how you stack up until you hike one of these trails.

I can't vouch for this guide's hike quality or accuracy (unlike others in the series, its maps do not include elevation contour lines), but I've had excellent results with other Mountaineers' books, including Sandra Hinchman's "Hiking the Southwest's Canyon Country" and, just recently, Craig Martin's "75 Hikes in New Mexico."

ADVENTURE AND PROFIT IN THE WORLD'S BAZAARS by Christina Blessing (Lost Cities, $19.95, paperback).

I'm a terrible bargainer. The whole concept of haggling over merchandise seems, well, foreign. The fact that souk (marketplace) rhymes with crook is enough for me. Even though it's a poorly organized mishmash of advice and its list of "Remarkable Markets" is unremarkable (New York; Santa Fe, N.M.; Tucson, Ariz.; Bangkok, Thailand; Delhi, India; Marrakech, Morocco; and Bali, Indonesia), "Bazaars" may yet give me hope. Over years of traveling and collecting ethnic gewgaws, Blessing has acquired some clever ideas about saving money and self-respect in the non-price-tag world.

One of my favorites is to carry a "shopping kit." This includes a calculator, a magnifying glass, a flashlight and a tape measure. The shopper doesn't have to actually use these tools to calculate prices or examine merchandise--mostly they're props. But when pulled out at the proper moment, they can elevate a shopper's status in the eyes of a disdainful rug merchant or antiques dealer.

Valuable for tourists and import-exporters alike.

THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL READER edited by David Emblidge (Oxford University Press, $27.50).

The Appalachian Trail stretches 2,150 miles, from Georgia to Maine, and was quite a stretch of the imagination for land-use planner Benton MacKaye, who first envisioned this national footpath in 1921. Today, millions use parts of the trail every year, and thousands have walked its length--usually a six-month trek.

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