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Good Reads: ‘Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life’

Barbara Perlman-Whyman
Special to the Sierra Sun
Courtesy photo/Sierra Sun
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“No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied ” it speaks in silence to the very core of your being. There are some that love not to listen but the disciples are drawn to the high alter with magnetic certainty, knowing that a great Presence hovers over the ranges.”



So spoke Ansel Adams with great respect and understanding. One of those disciples could be Arlene Blum.

This past fall, some of us were fortunate to attend a discussion in the Prim Library at Sierra Nevada College to benefit Global READ and meet Arlene Blum.



Many were aware that as a mountain climber; she had led the first team of women on successful ascents of Denali (Mt. McKinley) and Annapurna. Some even knew she was the first woman to attempt to successfully climb Mt. Everest.

A few knew that she was a scientist who had worked and taught at University of California, Berkeley, Stanford and Wellesley and did research that led to a ban on chemical flame-retardants in children’s sleepwear.

But most in the room, and elsewhere, were unaware of the range of complexities, talents, and perseverance that led to such extraordinary achievements, both personal and professional.

Now, thanks to yet another talent of Blum, we have a wonderfully written and well-documented accounting of her life in “Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life.”

In it, we are exposed to her childhood with issues to overcome, her conflicts and gender barriers in vocational and avocational pursuits in the 1970s, and her evolution into becoming not only a leader but also a highly respected “pathbreaking mountaineer.”

Susan Fox Rogers, author of “Solo: On Her Own Adventure” says of this book, “Good climbers are rare; good climbing stories are even more rare. So this book is a gem: a pioneering climber tells her story with grace and courage and in it she emerges heroic and utterly human. Gripping and heartbreaking, this is a story that will galvanize every reader.”

Her descriptions, pictures and maps transport the reader from here to some of the most remote yet spectacular places on earth.

It is there that one must overcome adversity, cope with the potential, and in some cases actuality, of death, and establish equilibrium in one’s life.

Arlene is an inspiration to all those who know her and after reading her book, you will begin to understand why.

Presently Arlene and her daughter Annalise are leading a trekking group in the Annapurna region of Nepal and returning this week.

Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the women’s expedition making the first American ascent of Annapurna, said to be the most dangerous of the world’s high peaks.

To celebrate, she hopes to lead another Annapurna trek in 2008.

She also suggests that we consider consumption throughout the year and suggests that, since we in Western countries make up 20 percent of the world population, but we consume 80 percent of the earth’s resources (the average American consumes 30 times more than an Indian), we ought to consider donating to a favorite charity in a friend’s name rather giving objects that use up our planet’s natural resources.

Some ideas suggested for gifts that are easier on the environment could be to:

Give a gift of your time ” Rather than buying a gift for someone you love, make a beautiful coupon and give them a gift of your time, either in the form of baby sitting, helping to paint a room at their house, shoveling snow, garden work in the spring, making them a meal, food shopping, or teaching them a skill. You can show caring and not burden friends with things they might not need (their 10th sweater, purse, or hand-held electronic device).

Give an inteligable gift ” Give dancing lessons, tickets to the theater, invite friends to a movie or play that you all go together, or give a certificate for a massage. Your gift doesn’t have to end up in a landfill.

Make something ” Treat yourself to a course to learn to throw pots, knit scarves, or make other personal items that you can give to people as gifts.

Or buy much less ” Do you really need more things? Consider not exchanging so many presents. People may be surprised, but you can explain that the planet needs people to stop buying things that use up our decreasing forests, water, and other natural resources.

And on that note, since I do recommend reading her book, borrow it from the library, borrow it from a friend, or if you do buy it, share it with others!

On Saturday, Jan. 12 from 2 to 5 p.m. join us at Reel Talk. We’ll screen the PG-13 rated film “Smoke Signals”, based on the book “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight into Heaven” by Sherman Alexie. This is a story of two Coeur d’Alene Indian boys’ journey from Idaho to Arizona. Along the way they learn a number of life lessons from each other and those around them. The film will be followed by a movie discussion. Best for Adults.

Also, mark your caledar for next week! On Saturday, Jan. 19 from 4 to 5 p.m. “A Taste of Nepal” comes to the Library. Join us for a fascinating hour with the Nepalese Student Association of the University of Nevada, Reno. Enjoy a live presentation on Nepal’s people and geography, followed by some fun family crafts and games, and even a chance to sample some favorite foods from Nepal. All ages are welcome.

January 11 Diana Gabaldon (1952)

January 12 Jack London (1876)

Walter Mosley (1952)

Haruki Murakami (1949)

January 14 John Dos Passos (1896)

Hugh Lofting (1886)

Yukio Mishima (1925)

January 15 Moliere (1622)

January 16 Ruth Reichl (1948)

Susan Sontag (1933)

January 17 Anne Bronte (1820)

Adults (fiction): “The Theory of Clouds” by Stephanie Audeguy (translated from the French by Timothy Bent

Young Adult (ages 13-17): “Breathe My Name” by R. A. Nelson

Juvenile (4th-6thgrade): “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney

Children (2nd-3rd grade): “Clean Sea: Story of Rachel Carson” by Carol Hilgartner

Schlank and Barbara Metzger


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