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Reviews > Books > General > Norman Clyde Mountaineer of California > Owner Review by David Wilkes

Owner Review by David Wilkes

Norman Clyde
Mountaineer of California’s Sierra Nevada

September 3 2008

 Reviewer Information


David Wilkes






Yakima Washington USA




5' 11" (1.80 m)


197 lb (89.40 kg)


I started backpacking in 1995 when I moved to Washington State. Since then, I have backpacked in all seasons and conditions. I have usually only managed time for 1-3 trips a year averaging 2-5 days, and as many day hikes as I can. I am currently getting into condition to summit some of the higher peaks in Washington, Oregon, and California. I prefer trips on rugged trails with plenty of elevation gain. While I continuously strive to lighten my load, comfort and safety are most important to me. My current pack is around 30 lbs (14 kg), not including consumables.

Product Information


Heyday Books, Berkeley, California (in collaboration with the Yosemite Association) 2008


Robert C. Pavlik



Publisher’s Website:


ISBN: 978-1-59714-110-9
Measured Weight: 259 g (9.2 oz)

Product Description:

Soft cover book measuring about 6x9x0.5 in (15x23x1 cm) The book is a biography of the legendary mountaineer Norman Clyde. About 114 pages, with 7 pages of Forward/Introduction, two pages of maps, 8 pages of photos (12 photos), and another 30 pages of Timeline, End Notes, Bibliography, Index Acknowledgments, and a short “About the Author”.

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“The pack that walks like a man”
One simply has to admire someone who wanders the High Sierras, with a 70+ lb (32 kg) canvas pack (including an anvil to fix his boots) for months at a time, reading the classics in their original Greek and Latin, and achieving over 130 first accents. Not to mention his legendary ability to locate lost and/or injured (sometimes dead) climbers and hikers.
I have long been fascinated with what little bit I had heard of Norman Clyde. This book provided me with a glimpse into his fascinating life.

From the first page of this way too short biography I was hooked and could hardly put the book down. I found the book a quick and easy read, and I reached end far too soon. I found the writing to be easy to follow and a pleasure to read. More than a few passages had me sitting with my jaw hanging, or laughing aloud. And before I even finished reading it I vowed to reread the book to highlight some of the more fascinating and profound passages.

If there is anything I can find at fault in the book is that by the end I realized that while I learned quite a bit about who the legend Norman Clyde is, I never seemed to get a real sense that I understood who the MAN was. The book seemed to provide all too brief glimpses into his personality and underlying motivations, but it felt like I was seeing him through a keyhole. As a result, it left me feeling a bit disappointed and eager to learn more about who the man Norman Clyde really was. However, to be fair, it is entirely possible that the depth of information about his personality and motivations I desire may just not be available.

The book opens with a brief description of Norman’s family, his birth in Philadelphia (1885), and early life. It goes on to describe his education and pursuit of knowledge as well as his extracurricular activities, including football exploring caves and hiking. The author outlines some parallels between Clyde and the man he is often compared to John Muir. The first chapter concludes with Norman’s marriage to Winifred May Bolster, and her subsequent death from TB only 4 years after they were married.

The second chapter covers Clyde’s early exploits (1910-1924). Besides a long list of firsts and records, I found his record breaking assent of Mt Shasta (14,161 ft / 4316 m) in just over 3 hours, and then two days later doing it again in just under 2 hours most interesting due to my own failed effort to summit the mountain (I spent 3 days trying).

Chapter 3 includes the story about him that I have heard the most. That incident ended his carrier as a school principal. It involves him firing a gun at, or over, some students (depends on whose story you believe) on Halloween night 1928, while Clyde was attempting to protect the school from vandalism. Prior to this event he did most of his explorations of the mountains during the summer break, weekends and holidays. Prior to reading this book I had been told that after this event he simply went into the mountains and spent most of his time there, but this was misleading information. During this time he did spend much of his life in the wilderness, he was also earning his keep as a guide and by publishing his writings. He was also an active member of the Sierra Club writing articles, participating in as well as guiding climbs, and giving lectures. Despite his reputation with many he was held in high regard by those who he guided and fellow climbers.

The book goes on to describe Clyde’s many accomplishments as well as some seemingly inconsistencies in his personality such as his reputation for a volatile temper yet him being an effective and sometimes compassionate guide, as well as his voracious appetite and inconstant hygiene (he was known in some circles as “Filthy McNasty”).

The story concludes by chronicling how the aging adventurer spent the final years of his life including the unfortunate event of someone breaking into his Baker Ranch house, presumably to steal his collection of guns, and in the process of stealing his belongings and ransacking his positions, they scattered many of his writings and photographs. After being diagnosed with cancer and then later recuperating from a hernia operation, this is the scene he returned home to. He died of cancer two years later at the age of 87.

Following the story, the book includes a time line of Norman’s life and key accomplishments, extensive endnotes and a bibliography.

I highly recommend this book, and suggest it as a wonderful read, especially while in camp (even better if that camp is high in the eastern Sierra Mountains).


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Reviews > Books > General > Norman Clyde Mountaineer of California > Owner Review by David Wilkes

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