It only seemed fitting that a week prior to moving into the mountains of the North Island, I was asked to review Coast Mountain Men. As the wheels of progress move slowly in the bucolic reaches of our fair Island, it’s most appropriate that I should actually get around to it by the time the spring climbing season arrives. So here’s Borecky’s take on the book:
Usually most books are lousy offerings at best. With a title like “Coast Mountain Men”, I had few expectations. It weighs in at a mere few ounces, a minor breadth and width of 7X5 inches and a flimsy paperback no less. Hardly the robust tome that might survive more than a few weeks in the back of my van. After a few surf trips, many ski trips, and more than too many dangerous run-ins with toilet paper shortages, Coast Mountain Men, the book survived to be reviewed, and so we begin in earnest.
With a friendly and respectful nod to Phil Stone, I almost wish that Island Alpine, as thorough and well-researched as it is, had never been published. It’s a short-cut and the mountaineering equivalent of Coles Notes. There’s a certain honourable tradition in mountaineering that one earns your climbing beta by either visiting the area personally in exploration, or by having a personal conversation with those who have been wandering those hills before you. This serves to generate certain camaraderie in the mountains, to build a familiar community, and impart far greater wisdom of the hills than a simple, raw route map. That being said, most of us I wager, are guilty of buying guidebooks; of owning a well-thumbed copy of Fairley’s book (with its incredible time estimates), or even 50 Classic (crowded) Climbs. If you write it, they will come.
Coast Mountain Men is a partial answer to old fashioned beta. As I opened it, the wise and gentle philosophies of ‘build no cairns’ (so that others may discover for themselves), pour forth from the pages. For me, a relative newcomer to the coastal mountains of only a decade, it was a pleasant surprise and heart-warming to read the tales people I have myself met upon lofty peaks and along darkened trails. Fellow travellers, squeezing the last dregs of adventure from a day that had long given up its last light.
Gil Parker evades the bro-brah climbing gusto that pervades the youthful climbing magazine literature. There’s no “extreme”, there’s no driving up and flashing a wall and returning to the car. Instead, he offers a return to something decidedly real and certainly nostalgic. Coast Mountain Men is a short-cut, but more so to the hearth of the weather-hardened veteran, in order to hear tales of wonder and dedication to the landscape that surrounds us. For the coastal climber, this is a short but beautiful chronicle of that land above the clouds.
Those familiar with the peaks will enjoy the Heathen’s Chris Barner in his most sultry of poses high on the wall of Colonel Foster. It’s an introduction to this welcoming, unassuming, but accomplished and merry band of climbers of the North Island whom eschew a rigid organizational structure. Or perhaps the reader will get an inkling of what kind of animal Lindsey Elms is, as he unassumingly tackles weekend undertakings that might be lifetime odysseys for others. Parker’s words offer us a closer glimpse into the mythology of the creatures that inhabit these mountains around us.
Rudi Brugger, the older Swiss gentleman whom is often spotted in the distance of Arrowsmith, clambering unencumbered by ropes, offers a taste of his alpine life, though he is quick to point out the tradition of safety and progression that he courteously extends to the more novice of climbers, exploring the hills for the first time. One might be hiding under a rock to miss the lanky reach of Sandy Briggs’ enthusiasm and tales of coastal, European and high-arctic journeys. His chemistry, etched upon the many routes he has pioneered. (Ho ho ho.)
It is by no means an exhaustive collection of characters, as there are many more elusive hill trolls and maidens of the mist whose inclusion would flesh out the story in more detail. Coast Mountain Men is a portal into the web of colourful climbers that spread their warmth throughout these mountains by way of their hospitality and informal stewardship. Perhaps it is a climbing guide after all, but one that outlines the journey taken to become the type of mountaineer with whom our friends and companions in adventure, would be comfortable and proud to thrash through the salal and devil’s club, into the beauty of that world up there.