Eclipse of the Son

John Shipton embarks on a poignant trip to Patagonia.

Mar 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

IN A LIFETIME spent exploring the world's most remote ranges, the legendary British mountaineer Eric Shipton wrote six classic exploration books, discovered the first route up Everest, and co-invented the now de rigueur fast-and-light approach to alpinism.

About the only person not impressed was Shipton's youngest son.

"To everybody else, he was this great hero," says John Shipton, a 50-year-old horticulturist from Y Felin, Wales. "To me, he was just this silly old bugger. He wasn't around much and that was all right with me."

Shipton the younger spent much of his youth rebelling against his father's "reactionary values." Thrown out of two schools, John eventually graduated and bummed around the world with the stated ambition of "becoming a beggar." Only now, something is calling him to the mountains. In March, he expects to be circling and, weather permitting, climbing Chile's 5,741-foot Mount Burney —a peak not touched since his father summited in 1973.

Burney's height may be modest, but Shipton's trip will involve two weeks of arduous tramping through thick temperate rainforest, peat bogs, and icefields. "This trip is totally what my father was all about," says Shipton.

So how did John finally come to follow, quite literally, in his dad's footsteps? For one thing, he read Everest and Beyond, Peter Steele's biography of the elder Shipton. "I realized there was another side to the family story than the one my mother always told me," says John. The trip also springs out of his own increasingly ambitious botanical outings—plant-hunting trips that have taken him to the highlands of Morocco, Turkey, and Chile.

As of late December, the affable but scattered Shipton was still mulling over a number of crucial details of his trip. "It's rather like the way Eric would have done it," says Steele. "I think he's starting to realize his father wasn't so bad after all."


From Luna to Lumber

THERE'S A THIN LINE between sacred environmental totem and patio furniture. In the case of Luna, the northern California redwood from which Julia "Butterfly" Hill revitalized the anti-logging movement, that line is about half an inch thick and just under three feet deep—the work of a vandal's chainsaw. In a senseless act of violence undertaken sometime last Thanksgiving weekend, the still-unknown assailant sunk a 36-inch blade more than halfway through the base of the 1,000-year-old tree. Spying an unbeatable PR opportunity, Pacific Lumber and the California Department of Forestry—the 27-year-old Hill's former nemeses—joined foresters, arborists, and engineers from around the nation in an effort to bolt Luna back together. Though the braced tree is less vulnerable to toppling now, only time will tell if the inner cambium, Luna's nutrient-transport system, can recover. "Luna's value is much more than just the wood," says Stuart Moskowitz, a member of the board at Sanctuary Forest, the group overseeing Luna's welfare. "Even if she falls, she's a symbol of peace and the need to protect our resources, and that's priceless." On the other hand, were Luna not Luna, she'd be just another old-growth redwood—one that, as it turns out, would yield about 150,000 board feet of specialty lumber, potentially worth more than a million bucks. Should the unthinkable happen and Luna end up on the shelves of the nation's home-improvement stores, here's where she might go from there. —Misty Blakesley

If a Tree Falls in the Forest
What might lie in store for the nation's most famous redwood
80 Tongue-and-groove siding-clad homes: Single-story, 3000-square-foot house
168 Gazebos: 895-board-foot gazebo
833 Hot tubs: Five-foot diameter hot tub
1,974 Picnic tables: 76-board-foot table
2,083 Park benches: 72-board-foot bench

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