“The pack that walks like a man”
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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”).
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).