Saturday, 25 December 2010

George Everest and the Manor Hotel

Christmas travel plans included staying at the Manor Hotel, Crickhowell in south Wales. Plenty of character in a fantastic location, it's also supposed to be the birthplace of George Everest in 1790 - although the building was then known as the Manor of Gwernvale.


While the world's highest mountain was named after Everest in 1856, the military engineer and geodesist was always rather embarrassed by the honour. The story goes that in 1852, Radhanath Sikhdar who worked for the Grand Trigonometrical Survey of India, discovered what he thought was the highest peak in the world. Several years later this was confirmed and despite it already being called Chomolungma by the Tibetans and Sagarmatha by the Nepalese (words not deemed "intelligible to civilised man"), the British decided to name it after Colonel George Everest, head of the survey.

News of the great discovery eventually reached the British papers - the following Manchester Guardian article appearing on October 7 1856 (lifted from the Times, as was the custom in those days).

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Wim Hof: The Iceman

It's that time of year again when stories appear about people stripping off and jumping into freezing water. Almost every paper has to have at least one picture of a lido or grim looking beach, complete with swimmers wearing silly Santa hats and skin the colour of beetroot. OK, I've done a few these festive dips in my time (and written about them). I was intrigued though by a story in the South China Morning Post (£) about Wim Hof who's going for an icy dip in Hong Kong of all places. The 51-year-old Dutch adventurer is hoping to break his own world record of immersing himself under ice for one hour and 44 minutes.

This is but the latest of Hof's extreme adventures. He has climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in under two days wearing shorts, and run a full marathon within the Arctic Circle in Finland in temperatures close to minus 20 degrees Celsius - as well as an underwater ice swim. A man of extremes, he's also planning to run 50 kilometres in a desert without drinking water.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Silken flag at the South Pole

So it's 99 years this week since man finally made it to the South Pole. At 3pm on December 14 1911, Roald Amundsen and his team deduced that they had reached their destination and, as the Norwegian explorer later wrote, "gathered round the colours, a beautiful silken flag. All hands took hold of it, and, planting it on the spot, gave the vast plateau on which the Pole is situated the name of the King Haakon VII Plateau."

Of course news of the success didn't emerge until the beginning of March the following year. Countless articles and books have been written about the journey but I rather like Amudsen's initial matter of fact account. The following piece appeared in the Observer on March 10 1912.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Leningradskaya Station

The excellent UrbanGhosts site features Leningradskaya Station, a disused Soviet research facility in the Antarctic. Opened in 1971 and closed 20 years, the ramshackle collection of rusting buildings might lack the charm of the Edwardian huts of the Scott era, but they still have a certain presence.

Intrigued by pictures the outpost, I had a quick look in the archive and came up with the following piece from January 28 1989. There is talk that the station could be reopened but if it is someone will have to work out how to get rid of it's waste. It is fair to say that the visitors from Greenpeace were not too happy with the rubbish-dumping practices of the Russians.

As can be seen from these pictures, the station is perched atop a great looking cliff.
(click to enlarge)

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Celebrity timepieces

Luxury watch brands spend millions getting celebrities and sporting heroes to wear their products so they no doubt get excited when the timepieces make it into the general news. Last week saw plenty of coverage of the proposed sale of Sir Edmund Hillary's Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch. This was presented to the mountaineer after he scaled Everest in 1953 but is now stoking a bitter feud between his children and second wife, June. She wants to sell the watch, along with other items, but Hillary's two children claim it belongs to them. The explorer, who subsequently became the advertising face of Rolex, wore the watch during a 1957 expedition where he led a tractor team across Antarctica to the South Pole.

Another famous timepiece to come on the market is Lieutenant Don Walsh's specially-made Rolex that went with him all the way to the deepest part of the world's oceans in January 1960. Along with Jacques Piccard, Walsh descended seven miles to Mariana Trench in the Pacific in the Trieste, a specially built bathyscaphe. The explorer, 79, is auctioning the watch and it could fetch as much as £20,000 in New York.

To return to watch manufacturers sponsoring celebrities, Rolex all but invented the concept in 1927 when they persuaded a young woman called Mercedes Gleitze to wear one of their watches during one of her attempts to become the first woman to swim the English Channel. British Pathe footage of Gleitze can be seen here.

There, plenty more coverage for Rolex (and no, I'm not sponsored by them). Stories about all the above can be found in Those Who Dared.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Albert Smith and the Ascent of Mont Blanc

The December issue of Climb features an interview with Sir Chris Boninington. There are a number of good questions to which Britain's most successful mountaineer provides, as always, some honest answers. In response to the inevitable observation that he was the first ever professional climber, Bonington replies:

"No, not all. Not many people will remember John Smith, who in the 1860s hired a theartre in London and put on a show about climbing Mont Blanc that ran for a whole month. Queen Victoria even came!"

I'm sure he means Albert Smith who in the autumn of 1851 made a guided ascent of Mont Blanc. On March 15 1852 at the Egyptian Hall, in London's Piccadilly, the former doctor produced 'The Ascent of Mont Blanc', a magic lantern show delivered in front of painted mountain scenes. Smith recounted the climb, interspersing it with humorous sketches of his fellow-travellers and topical songs. He even had St Bernard dogs carrying chocolate to the audience and employed showgirls dressed as Alpine handmaidens. Naturally the enthralled punters could purchase merchandise such as books, sheets of illustrations and even mountain-themed fans. The show was incredibly successful and was to run for a number of years. It also made Smith very wealthy. As the Manchester Guardian pointed out (below) Smith was making £6,000 a year, roughly quarter of million pounds in today's money.

Despite the razzmatazz, the Mont Blanc show gave impetus to the growing interest in mountain travel and exploration, that was to develop into the so-called Golden Age of Alpine climbing.

(Manchester Guardian, November 26 1856. Click to enlarge)

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A couple of thoughts on Jim Perrin's West

Jim Perrin's West: A Journey Through The Landscapes of Loss is part memoir and part travelogue as the climbing and landscape writer charts a journey of love and loss in the face of the deaths of his partner and son. Described as a psycho-geographical travel book on the nature of grief, Perrin explores everything from remote coastlines, forests, to the wild spaces of his beloved Wales as he attempts to understand the suicide of son, Will, and death of Jacquetta to cancer a few months later.

Throughout the book Perrin's language is rich, elegant and, as Robert Macfarlane put it, "lyrical in the proper sense of that word". West has been widely reviewed see here, here and here for a good selection.

A couple of thoughts. Despite the intense and often intimate language that thrills and challenges on almost every page it was a straightforward line that made me sit up. After exploring the coast north of Berwick-upon-Tweed, he comments "Climbers, I've long maintained, are of all groups of people among the least aware of their surroundings". It wasn't quite a Damascene moment but it did made me realise that in the urge to race up a mountain or get to the crag, I've sometimes been oblivious to the subtleties of the landscape.

Secondly, there is something incredibly satisfying about Perrin's endnotes. Whether it is a literary reference, information on a particular pub or recounting disarming a knife-wielding drunk on a train, they add another layer to the reading experience. Similarly, The Villain, his biography of Don Whillans, had copious notes which I enjoyed almost as much as the main narrative - although not all reviewers seemed to agree.

Friday, 12 November 2010

To the Himalayas on £250

With so many media outfits binning their libraries, it's always heartening to come across a company that still sees the value of holding onto their archives, and, most importantly, knowledgeable people who know their way around them.

I recently visited one such collection, the Daily Mail's picture archive which is a treasure trove of prints and negatives from roughly 1907 up until 1997. Housed in a basement near London Bridge, it may be several miles away from the main office but staff can find pictures, scan, and send them back to the picture desk within minutes. Alan Pinnock, the librarian who has worked there since the late 1960s, asked if there was anything interested in. Off the top of my head I, er, suggested mountaineering and so he pulled out a few files from the 1924 and 1933 expeditions to Everest. The latter included some fascinating aerial shots of the mountain.

Quite by chance though, Alan was updating a file on Eileen Healey, a British mountaineer who recently died, aged 89. Healey was part of the 1959 all-female expedition to Cho Oyu, the world's sixth highest peak. This was organised by French climber, Claude Kogan, and a team that included members of the British Ladies Alpine Club, the Pinnacle Club, and three Nepali women. Unfortunately the expedition ended in tragedy with the loss of four climbers, including Kogan – probably due to storm and avalanche at or above Camp 4. Another British climber Countess (Dorothea) Gravina then took over as leader.

Although only an amateur photographer Healey had been invited to use her family cine-camera to record the expedition. After the tragedy the resulting film lay in an attic until, three years ago, it was put into digital format and shown at the 2009 Kendal Mountain Film Festival.

Three years later and Gravina led another all-female expedition, this time to the Jagdula region of Western Nepal. A Daily Mail photographer accompanied them and it was perhaps inevitable that the following shot of cosmetics and a handbag amidst all the climbing paraphanalia would be taken. Judging by its battered state, the print had been used several times.

(Copyright: Daily Mail)
Back in the office a quick search about the expedition brought up an interesting piece about Jo Scarr and Barbara Sparke, two climbers from the team, which goes against the accepted wisdom that low-budget Himalayan expeditions only really started in the mid-1970s.

(Observer, March 18 1962 - Click to enlarge)
Many thanks to the Daily Mail picture library.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

On this day: A Century of Mountaineering, November 3 1957

Perhaps it was just a slow news day or maybe the news editor really did think that the publication of Century of Mountaineering was just what Observer readers wanted to read about on the front page of their paper. Whatever the reason, Arnold Lunn's book provided an excuse to print the above picture on November 3 1957. Usually regarded as the father of modern British skiing, Lunn was also an accomplished mountaineer and the book is a very enjoyable read. A sample of his Oxford Mountaineering Essays can be viewed here.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Sir Francis Chichester

The Sunday Times reports* that two of its readers have saved Sir Francis Chichester's Gipsy Moth IV with a donation of £250,000. Chichester set the record for the fastest single-handed circumnavigation of the globe in 1967 but the current owners of the boat were ready to sell it overseas. The article states that the Sunday Times sponsored the record-breaking voyage and secured an aerial front-page picture of Gipsy Moth rounding Cape Horn. This is partly true but in fact the Guardian signed a contract jointly with the Sunday Times to take Chichester's copy by radio-telephone.

This method had been extremely successful in 1962 when Chichester had done a deal with the Guardian to relay daily accounts of life on his boat (Gipsy Moth III) while trying to beat his own time for single-handedly crossing the Atlantic.

JRL Anderson, who amongst many jobs was the paper's yachting editor, worked with the Marconi company to develop an experimental ship-to-shore radio system. Chichester's daily commentary - best described as an early form of blogging - covered the smallest details including the progress of a wounded pigeon that took refuge on the boat. Anderson later wrote:


Five years later and the collaboration was revived with the Guardian printing long reports of Chichester's voyage to Sydney. However, the contract only covered the outward journey and due to a financial crisis at the paper, there wasn't enough money to pay for the return leg. With its deeper pockets the Sunday Times was able to buy up exclusive rights to the voyage - a fortuitous move as this leg proved to be a lot more exciting than the outward one.

The Gipsy Moth IV buyers, who are keen sailors and live in East Anglia, were moved to step in after reading in The Sunday Times that the yacht was likely to go to an overseas buyer after being put up for sale because of crippling maintenance costs. They have negotiated a package that allows the yacht to stay with the United Kingdom Sailing Academy (UKSA), the charity that trains children and disabled people to sail. There is a pledge to cover the maintenance costs for at least five years and will also ensure that the yacht is put on public display several times a year.

*Article locked behind paywall. Access details here

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Faking it

Fakes and cheats, a recent posting on Mikael Strandberg's blog looks at why some explorers and mountaineers feel the pressure to lie about their exploits. As he points out, there is nothing new about this and inevitably the name of Frederick Cook crops up. In the early 20th century Cook claimed to have been the first to the North Pole and the first to climb on Mount Mckinley (Denali) although it is generally accepted that he didn't succeed at either. As an aside, Strandberg offers a link to someone who suggests that in fact the American might just have been the first up McKinley.

Some of the most famous cases of cheating can be found in Great Exploration Hoaxes by David Roberts. However, while reading the blog I was reminded of Like Water and Like Wind, another piece of work by Roberts. This is a novella about a climber who, after watching his partner fall to his death while descending a mountain face, returns to civilisation and tells the world they were the first up a spectacularly hard route. No one knows that they didn't actually make it to the top and the climber is hailed as a hero in the mountaineering community. Wealth and fame follow. Living a lie though has a corrosive effect on the protagonist and when some begin to question his claims he turns to drink and withdraws from climbing. There's much, much more to this fascinating tale as Roberts explores what motivates an individual to deceive both colleagues and themselves.

A copy of the story can be found in the excellent One Step in the Clouds, an anthology of mountaineering novels and short stories.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Putting online communities on the map

Maps are in the news. The publication of Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey has generated coverage for a subject that rarely gets a look-in on the pages of the print and online media. The book is the first popular history of the Ordnance Survey (OS) map, from its inception in 1791 to the first series of the one-inch map of Great Britain, eight decades later. I've just picked up a copy and hope to write about it at a later date.

If the OS map was the first complete and accurate map of Great Britain, Munroe's Map of Online Communities could well be the first to show the levels of internet social activity around the world. Randall Munroe has created an imagined world in which the land mass of each mythical country named after a website equates to the popularity of that site, showing effectively how social activity is spread throughout the internet.


The map is based on statistical information such as website hits and the number of members each community had during the Summer or 2010. Facebook and Twitter dominate but so does QQ, a Chinese instant messaging service which has more than 100 million users but is almost unheard of in the west. Meanwhile, the once popular MySpace is barely visible. Compare this with the 2007 version when the social networking site occupied a huge chunk of Munroe's map.

I like the way the Twitter landmass includes the impressive looking bit.ly mountain range. There are a number of gags contained - see this larger map.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Survival stories

Last week's rescue of 'los 33' after being trapped in a Chilean mine for over two months provides an excuse for papers to review previous stories of survival. In the Observer, Ed Douglas selects The 10 best Mountain Survival stories. It's a good mix of the well known, such as Touching the Void, Into Thin Air etc, plus a few lesser known tales such as British climber Tony Streather's 1957 expedition to Haramosh.

Not all of the books listed are classics and of course everyone has their own favourites - just take a look at the comments. I might have included Ernest Shackleton's climb over the mountains of South Georgia (as told in Alfred Lansing's Endurance). There was also Doug Scott's epic crawl down the Ogre in 1977 after breaking both legs, and Stephen Venables's high altitude rescue from Panch Chuli V in the Himalaya which he wrote about in A Slender Thread. Making lists, it's an endless task...

Friday, 15 October 2010

Franklin fictions review

The disappearance of Sir John Franklin and his crew of 128 man crew somewhere off the eastern coast of Canada in 1845 has spawned at least 24 novels, not to mention poetry, films and drama. Russell Potter, on his Visions of the North blog, reviews some of the literature as well as asking what it is about Franklin that appeals to such a wide array of authors.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

On this day: Douglas Mawson dies, October 14 1958

Douglas Mawson, the Antarctic explorer died 52 years ago at age of 76 in Adelaide. Although born in Yorkshire, he grew up in Sydney. In 1907, the Australian joined Ernest Shackleton's 'Farthest South' Nimrod expedition as a scientist and was part of the team that climbed Mount Erebus as well as reaching the Magnetic South Pole.

It was an expedition that set out in November 1912 to map part of the Antarctic coastline though, for which Mawson will probably be best remembered. After Lieutenant Ninnis, one of the three-man team, disappeared into a massive crevasse, along with six dogs and most of the supplies, the remaining two turned back. All they had to eat was stewed sledge dog but Dr Xavier Mertz then fell ill and died, probably due to poisonous levels of vitamin A from consuming dog liver. Mawson, while also in a dreadful state, eventually managed to make it back to base - only to see the ship that should have carried him to safety already out to sea. He finally managed to leave Antarctica and Those Who Dared includes an interview with the explorer when he visited London in May 1914.

In 1911-14 and 1929-31 Mawson led explorations which enabled Australia to claim much of the continent, something discussed in the following Manchester Guardian leading article from October 15 1958.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

James Caird

For the past couple of years my early Sunday morning ritual has been something like this: wake up, drag daughters off to swimming lessons and then grab 30 minutes or so in the gym while they're perfecting their strokes. The swimming pool is part of Dulwich College, south London, so there is one final part of the ritual - a glance at James Caird, one of the three lifeboats from the Endurance, Sir Ernest Shackleton's ship.

Yes, the final berth for the boat that Shackleton and five companions sailed 800 nautical miles across the South Atlantic to seek rescue for his ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-16, is small gallery in a boys school. Dulwich College is the explorer's alma mater and after Norwegian whalers had rescued the boat from South Georgia, it made it back to Britain in 1919, was displayed for a while before being delivered to the college in 1922. It was moved during the middle part of the 20th Century but was finally returned to Dulwich in 1986. This led to the formation of the James Caird Society.

The display, consisting of the boat, plus a couple of sledges, a stuffed Emperor penquin and an old sail is well worth a visit, if only to marvel at how this tiny vessel survived such an audacious voyage.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Tryggve Gran interview with Roland Huntford

When Roland Huntford's Scott and Amundsen was first published in 1979, it caused an uproar. For 50 years after his death, Captain Scott's reputation had been that of a great British explorer who died a heroic death in his tent. The book challenged this view, accusing Scott of being, amongst other things, "recklessly incompetent." Huntford though has always maintained that his aim was to rehabilitate Roald Amundsen's reputation, rather than simply attack the Briton.

What led Huntford to write the book in the first place was an interview he did with Tryggve Gran (above), the only Norwegian on Scott's team, for the Observer Colour Magazine in 1974. Huntford was the paper's Scandinavian correspondent, as well as writing about winter sports, for around 15 years. After filing the original piece "the editor phoned me to say he thought there was probably a book in it. I agreed with him and was astonished to find that when the piece was published he had added a footnote saying I was working on a new biography of Scott and Amundsen. So that sort of settled things." (Guardian, December 2008)

The Man Who Remembers Scott's Last Journey is a fascinating read. Gran explains how it was a recommendation from Fridjtof Nansen, the great polar explorer, that led him to being part of a British expedition. In 1910 Scott went to Norway to consult Nansen and while visiting a ski and sled factory, the champion skier remarked "But remember, Scott, it's no use having skis unless you know how to use them properly. You ought to take a Norwegian to show you." Gran also offers some interesting views on the differing personalities of the two protagonists.

As the Observer Colour Magazine has not been digitised, colour versions can only be viewed if you're fortunate to come across a bound volume. See below for the copy that appeared on March 31 1974. Click to enlarge.





Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Race for the South Pole

This year marks the centenary of the beginning of the race for the South Pole. On June 1 1910, the Terra Nova, Captain Robert Falcon Scott's ship, sailed out of Cardiff for the Antarctic, while a few weeks later Roald Amundsen's team left the Norwegian port of Flekkero aboard the Fram, also bound for the south.

The British expedition was supposed to be a scientific mission with getting to the pole as just one of its objectives. Things changed though when, on arriving in Melbourne on October 12, Scott received a curt telegram stating: "Beg to inform you Fram proceeding Antarctic – Amundsen." The ensuing polar marathon has been written about many times and expect yet more books to appear over the following months.

The latest to join groaning Antarctic Exploration bookshelves is Roland Huntford's The Race for the South Pole which tells the story through the expedition diaries of Scott and Amundsen. The entries are laid out so that the two men “finally confront each other across the printed page.” This is a first as the Norwegian's diaries have never appeared in English before (translated by Huntford), while all the cuts made by Scott's family and literary executors to Scott's published words have been restored. Also appearing for the first time is the diary of Olav Bjaaland, the cross-country champion who played a significant part in Amundsen's successful team.

As a polar historian and ski-expert, Huntford adds valuable commentary to the entries. The introduction sets out clearly the build up to the race, comparing the preparation that each team made during the winter months before setting out for the pole. There may be a little too much detail for some but reading about cooking stoves, skis, or the peculiarities of fur in a polar environment, brings the story alive.

The Race to the Pole is very much a companion volume to Huntford's 1979 book, Scott and Amundsen, an account which still divides polar historians. Was Scott, compared to Amundsen's ultra professional skiing team, an unprepared amateur whose achievement was to “perpetuate the romantic myth of the explorer as martyr" Or was Huntford's revisionist history just a prejudiced rant against a great, and brave, British explorer who simply got unlucky with the weather? This is discussed, along with the the rehabilitation of Scott's reputation by way of books such as Ranulph Fiennes's Captain Scott, in a recent Guardian article.

And so the story continues. The latest news is that descendants of Scott are planning to embark on a journey of commemoration and are offering the chance for one lucky person to go along with them. See here for details (but don't bother applying if you're over 30).

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Gordon Bennett

Balloonists in the the Gordon Bennett cup, the world's oldest, simplest and slowest air race, launched from near Bristol, late on Saturday night. Started in 1906, the rules are simple: take off from a fixed point and fly as far as you can on one fill of hydrogen - the winner being the balloon that travels the furthest.

This year, the winners, a Swiss team - SWI2 - made up of Kurt Frieden and Pascal Witpraechtiger, landed near Constanta, Romania, having travelled 1,513 miles (2,435km). However, a balloon piloted by Americans Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis, went missing in thunderstorms over the Adriatic. The search continues.

Twenty teams, from 11 countries, competed this year, the first time that the Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett has taken off from the UK. Where they eventually landed can be seen here. Described by the organisers as "the oldest and most prestigious aeronautical race in the world", it has always generated interesting news stories, such as the following report from the Observer, October 18 1908.

As to who was the original Gordon Bennett, see here and here.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Conquistadors of the Useless

While rummaging around in the Guardian/Observer digital archive the other day, I came across an obituary for the French mountaineer and guide, Lionel Terray. It's 45 years this week since he died while climbing in the Dauphine Alps. Terray made the second ascent of the Eiger north wall in 1947 with Louis Lachenal, and then returned to take part in a dramatic rescue on the same mountain in 1957. As well as being part of the 1950 French Himalayan expedition to Annapurna, he climbed Makalu, Nilgiri and many other summits.

The alpinist, regarded as one of the finest climbers of his time, also wrote Conquistadors of the Useless, his much acclaimed autobiography in 1963. Here he defined his love of mountains as
"This mass of grandeur and mystery...this world of ice and rock where there is nothing to be plucked but weariness and danger."

In a review of the book for the Guardian, Patrick Monkhouse (a climber, and a writer/editor on the paper for some 30 years who features in the Guardian Book of Mountains), while praising the content, thought the title "irony overstrained". Perhaps, but four decades on the and the phrase regularly crops up in mountainering essays and articles. In fact, I'd say that it's up there as one of the greatest titles for climbing/adventure books.

Monday, 20 September 2010

On the Proper Use of Stars

Another day, another Franklin story. The latest news is that TV adventurer Bear Grylls claims to have found human bones, the remnants of huge fires built from ship timber, and tools carved from whale bone, which may help to explain the fate Sir John Franlin, his 129 men and their two ships. Grylls and his crew made the discovery while on a mission to enter the record books as the first team to navigate the treacherous Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean in inflatable boats. More details here.

Meanwhile, On the Proper Use of Stars, a novel about Franklin's doomed expedition has just been published. An English translation of Quebec writer Dominique Fortier's Du bon usage des etoiles (2008), it focuses on Francis Crozier, Franklin's second-in-command who turns a sceptic eye on the ambitions of his leader.

Life moves on and Grylls has just tweeted "off to start filming new Degree deodorant commercials today".

Friday, 17 September 2010

127 Hours

127 Hours, a new film about Aron Ralston, the young adventurer who had to amputate his arm with a multi-tool, has been garnering positive reviews. Some of the scenes are said to be so realistic and explicit that three filmgoers fainted when it was it was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival (although of course this could well have been a publicity stunt.)

Directed by Danny Boyle, the film, based on Ralston's Between a Rock and a Hard Place, tells the story of how a fallen boulder crashes on his arm and traps him in an isolated canyon in Utah. Over the next five days he comes to the conclusion that the only way to escape is break the bone and cut through the tendons of his right arm. There's a short trailer here but also take a look at this film of Ralston describing the amputation.

Obviously the build-up to the severing of the arm forms the central part the book but Ralston has a few other tales to tell. For example, early on in his outdoor career a solo climbing trip to the Grand Teton National Park turned into a nightmare cat and mouse game with a hungry bear. Soon after establishing camp he realised that a young bear had been following him so, being an experienced backwoodsman, he strapped his food bag high up in a tree. The bear though just ripped it down. Ralston realised that he if he didn't get the supplies back he could well run into trouble thus he went looking for the thief, found it, and while waving a large stick, shouted "give me my food back, bear". Surprisingly, it dropped the bag. However, the animal later got its revenge by trashing the camp while Ralston was off climbing. It then followed him for 24 hours - Ralston would throw stones at the bear, it would go away, and then re-appear. He finally reached the safety the safety of his car,

I'd completely forgotten this story until a friend reminded me - whilst trying to scare a bear (left) away from our camp at Porcupine Flat, near Tuolumne Meadows. Panic reigned in the campsite for an hour or so, especially after the animal went up to someone's table and began to eat everything in sight. It gave just a small insight into the fear Ralston must have felt whilst coping with the bear on his own.