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Books | Video | Web


Sacred Summits | Into Irian Jaya | On Whitewater

Sacred Summits

To the Summit: 50 Mountains That Lure, Inspire, and Challenge
by Joseph Poindexter, with an introduction by Stacy Allison
Black Dog & Leventhal, $39.98

Thoreau wrote in The Maine Woods that mountain climbers were "insolent men" who pried into the gods' secrets by exploring the "unfinished parts of the globe," while John Muir, a mountain climber himself, urged people to "come to the mountains and bathe in the fountains' love." Joseph Poindexter tells the secrets and celebrates the love in paying homage to 50 of the world's most beautiful and challenging mountains with more than 360 photographs, mountain data, and brief biographies of heroes like Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first men to conquer Mt. Everest. Also included are essays by famous climbers and excerpts from such climbing epics as Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air.

The collection not only excels at describing the mountains themselves, but at showing the human element of mountain climbing, portraying the expeditions more as group than individual efforts. As Tenzing says: "You cannot be a good mountain climber, however great your ability, unless you are cheerful and have the spirit of comradeship. Friends are as important as achievement. . . . [S]elfishness only makes a man small."

Stacy Allison, the first American woman to reach the summit of Everest, eloquently explains the motivation behind climbing in the introduction. "For most people who climb, the danger is not what draws them to the mountain; rather, it is the possibility of controlling risk. Climbers are drawn by the potential to test our skills, knowledge, and judgments-the opportunity to push ourselves beyond our limits."

The mountain scenes and climbers' sagas are enhanced by tales like the lore about the sacred Kangchenjunga in Nepal, whose name translates roughly to "Five Treasures of the Great Snows." It "can be climbed only on conditions that no one trod upon the summit itself. And as far as is known, none of the two dozen or so summit parties on Kangchenjunga's main peak has violated this agreement." Although some might fault the book for lacking biographical notes on famous Sierra Club mountaineers like Muir and David Brower, it leaves no doubt as to why mountaineering became a powerful rite of passage for such influential leaders. —Ryder Miller

Videos: Clearcut Views

Forests Forever
Variations on a Wave, $30; (250) 847-1563

Raincoast Conservation Society, $20; (250) 453-2461

By relentlessly razing its vast temperate rainforest, British Columbia has come to be known as "the Brazil of the North." In 1990, 13 of the province's logging companies resolved to clean up this tarnished image. Did they end their clearcutting of B.C.'s old-growth forests? Hardly. They hired a public-relations firm and begat what they archly dubbed "share" groups, Canada's answer to the corporate-sponsored "wise-use" movement south of the border.

These two videos look past the smoke and mirrors to explore the roots of the troubles in B.C.'s vanishing wilderness. In Forests Forever-the title echoes that of a feel-good campaign by the Forest Alliance, the timber industry's main propaganda arm-we meet conservationists, loggers, scientists, Natives, and others with a stake in the forests' future. There's even an interview with the Alliance's Patrick Moore, the Greenpeace director turned industry mouthpiece, who appears as a somewhat hostile witness.

Forests Forever asks why, after a half-century of sustainable forestry, the province began cannibalizing its old growth, and why so many industry workers are nonetheless losing their jobs. The answers to both questions come down to government and industry policies. We learn here how "Honest Bob" Summers, the minister of forests, went to prison for taking bribes-but not before signing away the logging rights to most of B.C.'s publicly owned timberland.

And we discover that 27,000 loggers were thrown out of work from 1981 to 1991 not by tree-huggers, but by the industry's embrace of labor-reducing technology. From such unpleasant realities grew the disinformation campaign by Burson-Marsteller, the PR giant called upon by Exxon and Union Carbide in the aftermath of disasters in Prince William Sound and Bhopal, India.

"The one good thing I could say about the hiring of Burson-Marsteller by the timber industry," observes one critic of the Forest Alliance, "is that at least they seem to be admitting there's a disaster here."

The extent of that disaster lies at the core of the poignant Legacy, which juxtaposes vivid images of B.C. forest devastation with the words of those intent on denying it. Although nobody speaks in this ten-minute film-the sound track consists entirely of a cello and violin-title cards show us the calm assurances by timber and government officials of healthy, sustainable logging practices.

"Mistakes were made in the past," reads a 1991 quote by Canada's minister of forests. "But the criticisms are no longer deserved." Asserts Jack Munro, a Forest Alliance spokesman, "We are not devastating forests anymore." And Patrick Moore offers this bit of philosophy: "Don't think of them as clearcuts. Think of them as temporary meadows." Meanwhile, aerial and on-the-ground views of old growth from Vancouver Island north to the Great Bear Rainforest reveal the heartrending truth behind the industry's spin. It adds up to a quietly eloquent plea for an end to the plunder in the Brazil of the North.—B. J. Bergman

World on the Web: Web-Trotting

by Sierra Club Webmaster John Kealy

Virtual vacations will never replace the real thing. But you can use the Internet to help plan your "real time" excursions. Search by "travel" and you'll be kept busy for hours-with just a little more effort, you can find information about environmentally sensitive travel.

You'll find your fill of environmentally aware adventures by visiting Sierra Club Outings' Web site ( The site provides detailed descriptions of more than 300 domestic and international expeditions and an online reservation form.

When you're ready to take the plunge, several Web sites provide air-line fares and schedules (including "fare finders" that search for low-price tickets) and allow you to book plane tickets online. For a flight of fancy, go to Travelocity ( or Expedia (

(C) 2000 Sierra Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted without permission. Contact for more information.

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