Snows of Yesteryear


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Outside magazine, April 2000

Snows of Yesteryear
Mckay Jenkins’s article about the avalanche tragedy that struck Mount Cleveland 30 years ago (“And None Came Back,” February) was spare, elegant, and riveting—so much so that I told my son, who’s in college, to read it and remember the lessons it holds. Thanks to
your magazine and the author for preserving the memory of those young men, informing new generations why we go into the mountains, and telling us what to be alert to when we are lucky enough to be there.

Burt Smith
Waynesville, North Carolina

Thanks for your recent articles on the great danger of avalanches (“Avalanche: The Dark Side of Snow,”February). Back in the 1970s, I had an experience very similar to that of avalanche expert Monty Atwater, as described by McKay Jenkins. I’d just jumped into fresh
powder on a mere 500-foot slope on the fringe of Mount Baker’s Sticky Wicket run when the entire face began sliding. I saw that I was headed for trees, so I dove toward a clearing as the snow swept me away. Following the wisdom of the time, I swam the crawl in alternating light and darkness; luckily, when the avalanche stopped 15 seconds later, I was just
beneath the surface.

Scott Burkhart
Livermore, California
Double Helix, Double Bind
A great article, Doug Peacock (“The Voices of Bones,” February), and a fascinating look into our heritage. But I must ask, what is the objection to DNA testing of 11,000-year-old bones? The knowledge that could be gleaned from testing is enormous; if we applied such faulty
ethics to all scientific testing, we would be in the Dark Ages of medicine. Archaeologists are not grave-robbers looking for gold, but scientists working for the ultimate good of humankind.

T. D. Sesler
Erie, Pennsylvania
The Loneliest Number
Thanks to Mark Jenkins for his recent tale of pushing his limits while climbing by himself in Bolivia (“Confessions of a Solo Climber,” The Hard Way, February). There is something to be said for those crazy enough to climb and sufficiently wise to know when they are getting
themselves into trouble.

Meredith Lantz
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Solo climbing has always had a reputation, created largely by the media, of being both difficult and cool, but the reality is quite terrifying. Over the last ten years I have seen soloists fall and die on the Eiger, on Mount Blanc, and in the Dolomites.Unfortunately, statistics about them don’t often make the pages of climbing magazines. There will
always be a few climbers who insist on going solo, but the real dangers should not be dismissed.

David McMillan
Cumbria, United Kingdom
Shoulders of a Giant
“Leaving a Trace,” your tribute to Paul Petzoldt (Dispatches, January), aptly summed up a man who dedicated his life to the responsible use of the outdoors, a man who had a deep commitment to the youth of this country, and one who wanted to teach everyone how to take care of the
land while moving through it. Petzoldt, along with the Wilderness Education Association, translated every facet of wilderness knowledge—climbing, cooking, camping—into a language that could be taught in the outdoor classroom.

Wendell Shiffler
Fairbanks, Alaska
Risk Assessment
I believe that Rhonda Delong is misguided when she says “If you can’t live without the risk, then you simply shouldn’t have children” (Letters, February). To say that Alex Lowe should have had to choose between climbing and family is unfair. Two of life’s greatest pleasures are
having children and enjoying the outdoors. A coworker of mine suggests that by DeLong’s criteria no police officer or firefighter, nor anyone in the military, should have children.

Bill Caldwell
Sierra Vista, Arizona

The death of Alex Lowe is heartbreaking, but I think there is solace in the fact that Lowe did leave a legacy of three sons. If only cautious, nonadventurous types had families, I’m afraid the human race would become spineless and dull. There aren’t enough folks with that kind of joie de vivre and charisma, not to mention courage and athleticism. If we
agree that it’s good to have people like Alex Lowe in the world, then it’s good that they have children.

Cammie McGehee
Chandler, Arizona
Sweet Reason
After reading Mark Jenkins’s article on bicycle commuting (“An Un-American Activity,” The Hard Way, January) I was agitated, disturbed, and moved to make 50 copies and mail it to 50 people in my community along with a candy bar (an incentive) to be eaten after the article is
read. Now that the letters have been mailed, I have received lots of feedback, mostly positive; but most important, some took it to heart immediately and began riding around town. A few have even shown up at my house to say thanks. While I am not an activist, I figure if enough of us make small changes, it could add up to a great change.

John French
Santa Cruz, California
Not So Fast!

It’s great to see big-wall and speed climbing in Outside (“Speed Demons,” Dispatches, February). I’m quite certain, however, that I’m not worthy of being called one of “the fastest climbers in the world.” Many other climbers are doing it just as
fast as I am, if not faster. More credit should be tipped in the direction of Hans Florine, Dean Potter, Eric George, Timmy O’Neill, and Cedar Wright; all hold or have recently held speed records on various El Capitan routes.

Chris McNamara
Berkeley, California

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