Mountain rant revisited

There is something beautiful in a mountain existing, reaching for the sky and standing as solid as anything can stand. There is an appeal to those heights, and some are fascinated enough to try to reach them. There is the triumph of a skilled, hard working mountaineer reaching the top of one of the world’s great peaks — this should, considering the number of serious high-altitude climbers in the world, be a rare occurrence. There is also the real risk that a climber that has overestimated himself or his partners or that has failed to recognize the unattainability of the route or peak will die on its slopes.

Everest belongs somewhere, perhaps but not necessarily, even, on a list of significant climbs by a significant climber, not on the resume of high-paying amateur. Everest and other prestigious mountains should be climbed by those respectful of the mountain and, as much as is possible with such a mountain, worthy of it, not by someone who thinks of it as the ultimate challenge to enliven their boring life as a salesman, banker, CEO, teacher or factory worker.

If you don’t believe me — if you are thinking maybe you’d try it someday if you could find the money and get yourself into good enough physical shape to satisfy a guide — read about what the experience does to people who save $30,000 and put it in the hands of a guide they believe will drag them to the top, one way or another. Read about the effect of summit fever on those involved in the 1996 disaster as detailed in Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. Know what caliber of person is attracted to the lawless, wealthy expanse of camps on both sides of the mountain.

Then, grab a backpack, the right equipment and some training, and choose your own adventure on one of the millions of miles of trail, hundreds of thousands of campsites and thousands of nameless and distinctly non-famous peaks, valleys, walls and pillars found the world over. Because I am tired of hearing about how you rocked out the big one — or died trying to be the 38th person in one week to top it.

Book backlog

As I mentioned in a Tweet the other day, I have a pile of books to comment on here. The higher the stack gets, the harder it is to sit down and do this. However, the to-read shelf in the living room is down to twenty-three serious entries, plus the four in-progress reads. That include a few really, really light reads such as the remaining Dexter books, which I just need to knock out during a proper trip, one where I’m lacking in time to concentrate on anything more complicated. Anyway, here we go, with the help of Blogger’s new Amazon plug-in.

The Mevrouw Who Saved Manhattan, Bill Greer. This is a fictionalized portion of the already engaging story presented in The Island at the Center of the World, a book I first listened to on tape several years ago, enjoyed very much and mentioned here. I’m fascinated by the portion of our country’s history contributed by the Dutch of New Amsterdam prior to the relatively un-justified takeover of Manhattan by New England and the English military in 1674. Everyone should know more about that period in our history.

Annapurna: A Woman’s Place, Arlene Blum. Generally acknowledged, from what I can tell, to have been a significant contributor both to the field of climbing writing and to the acceptance of women as climbing teams members and leaders, this was a refreshing read. Some of the more personal tone and less we’re-going-to-kick-this-mountain’s-ass bravado as exhibited here are now found in recent mountain writing, but I’m guessing it was partially this book’s movement in that direction that gave us that. The team climbed Annapurna, itself an incredible feat, and did so while fighting for their own place in the field. Read most of this one on the Megabus back from Cincinnati back in February.

Dirty Diplomacy: The Rough-and-Tumble Adventures…, Craig Murray. Excellent. The guy is an ass, but if you can read Tucker Max and find it funny you can read this and find it educational, disturbing and also funny. Uzbekistan is a mess made more so by the West’s single-minded focus on pursuing its “War on Terror,” and our support of their regime during Murray’s time there as British Ambassador censored horrible stories of torture and oppression. Murray, despite his faults, did what he could to expose it all. Very highly recommended book.

Forever on the Mountain: The Truth Behind One of Mountaineering’s Most Controversial and Mysterious Disasters, James M. Tabor. This book focuses entirely on one unfortunate and likely preventable episode on Denali in 1967. The disaster left seven dead, and the surviving leaders of the group returned to blame, infighting and guilt from which they never recovered. Much like the deaths that occurred during the South Canyon Fire, about which I read and blogged recently, the causes and blame for what occurred were not settled conclusively, leaving too much in doubt to allow the story to die. Good book if you want to revisit for hundreds of pages the fatal events. Tabor did a great job researching the book from all available angles, though his guesses as to the final events in the expiring lives of the dead are only as good as anyone else’s.

2010 Official Rules of the NHL, National Hockey League. Included here for completeness, and to say this: hockey is my second-favorite sport to watch and play, but there are some rules it is just impossible to figure out by watching and playing it. This was informative, but I’m working my way through a more annotated but similar book now and would probably recommend that instead.

Positively Main Street: Bob Dylan’s Minnesota, Toby Thompson. Chapter two of Positively Main Street is a rush and the best description of a Midwestern road trip I’ve ever read. The entire book is…wow…I cannot believe I had not read this already. It’s like a less-assholey-Tom-Wolfe took off his white suit, focused on my favorite singer and went as far as having a fling with Dylan’s high-school girlfriend. It’s almost too crazy to be true and certainly is the earliest example of such detailed Dylanology, but written in the New Journalism style and is, as such, far from academic. It’s a great read, and I highly recommend it.

Dearly Devoted Dexter, Jeff Lindsay. Second of four books in the series, so far. I like the premise, and the books at least match the TV series in holding my interest.

Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas For Millions, Ben Mezrich. This was an accident, but I’m glad I read it. I arrived at the Vegas airport an hour and a half before my flight back to Chicago, and everything went to hell. As soon as I started to check in, the computer showed an hour and a half delay that hadn’t appeared on the internet when I checked before leaving the Rio. Then, the United ticket counter area for people that had already checked in electronically but needed to check a bag was not working well; instead of using the Aztec bar code you can get on your phone, they made me print out boarding passes. Then they took me back to the front of the line to weigh my bag; the scale was in kilograms, which screwed them all up and I had to help them switch it to pounds. As a result of all this mess, I neglected to open the front pocket of my bag to retrieve my iPod and book for the now even lengthier afternoon, evening and night of traveling.

However, there are few things I enjoy more than hitting an airport bookstore. Yes, they primarily carry cheesy bestsellers and local-interest books — and Hudson appears to have been cutting back even on those things in favor of more junk they can sell for snacks and last-minute souvenirs — but I can always find something, sometimes even a new mountain-climbing story. But this time, being in Vegas and having just broken my table-gaming cherry (unsuccessfully, and on roulette), Bringing Down the House seemed more appropriate than the other choices.

It’s a great story, and it seems most people have either seen the movie version 21 or the documentary version on Discovery or History or whatever basic-cable channel was running it. It’s been a while since I saw the documentary and never saw the movie, but I can tell you the book is pretty good. It’s a really quick read and pretty exciting considering it’s the adventures of MIT students. Some of it occurs in the Rio, where I’ve stayed on both of my little visits, and some at the casino in Elgin, Illinois, a little west of here. I wish Mezrich had been able to get the other side of the MIT story from the casinos or their detective agency, but it seems like he probably got as deep into that world as is possible given their secrecy. Worth reading, but bring it on your flight to Vegas rather than the way back.


And, with that, the blog is caught up — at least until a few days from now. The Amazon Associates plug-in for Blogger is really awesome — saved me a lot of multi-tab searching, copying and pasting to make all of the links happen.

Vegan nacho bake

One 15.5-oz can of black beans
One 10-oz. package Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet Cheese Alternative – Nacho flavor
14-oz. container of salsa
Approximately half of a medium-sized bag of tortilla chips
One large or two medium tomatoes
Tofutti (or similar) vegan sour-cream alternative

Lightly oil the sides and bottom of a 9″x13″ cake pan. Pre-heat oven to 325-F.

Cover the bottom of the pan with a single layer of tortilla chips, breaking any curved chips as necessary to make a flat layer. Slice the “cheese” as thinly as possible. Cover the layer of chips fully with strips of cheese, using approximately one third of the cheese. 

Add another full layer of tortilla chips. On top of this, spread most of the salsa (as desired). Use the watery part of the salsa — do not strain it to use only the larger chunks. 

Drain and rinse the black beans. Add three tablespoons of water and heat til bubbly. Stir the beans and water roughly with a fork to form a sauce that is not as dry as refried beans. It is not necessary to fully blend all of the beans. Spread the beans on top of the salsa and add a second layer of cheese.

Cover this with a last layer of tortilla chips and a third layer of cheese. Slice the tomatoes thinly and spread these slices on top of the cheese.

Cover and bake for 15 minutes at 325-F. Increase heat to 500-F for an additional ten minutes, or just until cheese is melted. Remove, uncover and allow to cool before serving. Cut into squares and serve with “sour cream.”

Can also be made in a 9″x9″ pan by reducing quantities by a third.