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Know the West

Living in the outdoors

  Wilderness Guide, by Mark Harvey, Simon and Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020; paper, illustrated, $15.

This starting-from-scratch revision of The National Outdoor Leadership School's Wilderness Guide will tell you what to wear, how to navigate, and how to get across streams and scree fields in the backcountry. It will give you tips on whether to evacuate an injured person by helicopter, how to treat blisters, and how not to look for a lost member of your group: "... your instinct may be to go tearing off in the direction you last saw the person, shouting their name. If everyone in your group has the same instinct, the list of lost persons may soon include the entire group."

This is all useful, and well written. But the book's major strength is its many discussions of the psychology and etiquette of being in the forests, deserts or high country. Aspen, Colo., freelancer Mark Harvey shares many anecdotes to drive home his points. The material on leading and being led is especially well done: "Expeditions with moderate talent but good expedition behavior can achieve greater things than bilious expeditions with all the talent in the world."

Harvey especially avoids romanticizing "getting away from civilization," and he doesn't pretend that spiritual uplift is automatic. "Nearly every aspect of camping is communal," he says. "At its best, this shared living brings people together in a spirit of camaraderie seldom found in their normal lives. At its worst, the demands of outdoor living can bring people to blows."

How do you avoid having people come to blows? Deal upfront with the question of leadership. Harvey, a former intern at High Country News, quotes NOLS Leadership Project director Molly Doran: "In my experience, having a leader is less stressful than having everyone guess about what the other people are thinking. A group can go around in circles if everyone is saying, "I don't care" or "whatever" when it's time to make decisions."

Harvey is especially helpful about cooking and hygiene. His basic tip? Wash your hands.

*Ed Marston