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Tucson Weekly Fear In High Places

Australian mountain-climber and writer Greg Child is a man without fear...

By Gregory McNamee

OCTOBER 19, 1998:  Postcards from the Ledge, by Greg Child (The Mountaineers). Cloth, $22.95.

AUSTRALIAN MOUNTAIN-CLIMBER and writer Greg Child is a man without fear, if you believe what you read in this collection of often harrowing reports from the world's high places.

Neither does he have much regard for the normal niceties. He writes at length, and with obvious pleasure, about getting sick in snowbanks and on mongrel Tibetan dogs, about various bodily functions at various altitudes. All for good reason, he suggests: "Mountains turn mountaineers into Neanderthals. Table manners do not exist on expeditions. Talk is a patois of crude grunts, deranged utterances, and schoolboyish sexual innuendo." Readers with delicate sensibilities will want to shy away from this book, for Child is a faithful reporter of these climbing realities.

In more somber and sober moments, however (mountaineers, he writes, are championship drinkers, too), he writes affectingly of the thrill of climbing the world's great peaks. Along the way he looks at several of his colleagues in the business of scaling mountains, and his profiles of today's leading alpinists are uniformly well wrought. Some of those climbers, he writes, are ethically and socially challenged; others are so overwhelmingly fixated on their chosen sport that they cannot function without pitons in hand. And many others, Child writes, are now dead, the victims of some misjudgment or another.

He supplies his readers with helpful hints on how to avoid such miscalculations themselves. Usefully, for instance, he observes that "sitting on cold ledges gives you hemorrhoids. It is not widely known, but many climbers have failed to reach summits due to this undignified condition." (To avoid falling victim to this condition, he adds, you should bring along a foam sleeping pad.)

Veteran readers of Climbing magazine, from which most of these pieces are taken, will be glad to have Child's occasional journalism in book form.

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