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Know the West

Have no doubts, go higher

  To have lived in the highlands has rendered the lowlands incomplete. My intellect rebels at such thoughts, but in my heart I feel it to be true. I am inflated by the mountain. Tendrils of perfection reach out from my past, usurping the present.

Randy LaChapelle
When In Doubt, Go Higher

I opened When In Doubt, Go Higher, a collection of essays from the Frisco, Colo.-based monthly magazine, The Mountain Gazette, rather reluctantly. I assumed the essays would be by testosterone-laden, muscle-headed mountain climbers, who write about things like what it’s like to gnaw your own toes off while trapped underneath a snowbank with only a headlamp and a mitten, after having attempted a solo ascent of some mountain I’ve never heard of.

Alas, I was wrong. The vast majority of stories reprinted in this anthology are written by people who weave great tales with self-deprecating good humor and a journalist’s eye for detail. And actually — though the Gazette’s editor, M. John Fayhee, might disagree — this is an anthology of love stories: love found on a ferry from Seattle, a love of high places and cold mountains, a love of the West and its freakshow litany of characters.

When In Doubt, Go Higher includes musings by many of the usual suspects in the Western canon, such as Ed Abbey, Galen Rowell, Doug Peacock, Katie Lee and John Nichols. But a handful of lesser-known writers are tossed in, and my favorite chapters include Lacey Storey’s ode to her high-altitude romps in Summit County and Jack Aley’s “Confessions of a Sauna Junkie.”

Even though Fayhee jokes in the introduction that his plan for the book was to “bind up all 80-some-odd issues of the Gazette, slap a huge pricetag upon the volume and proceed to rake in vast quantities of praise and money,” he actually has edited a thoughtful — and adventurous — anthology of stories about the West.

When In Doubt, Go Higher
edited by M. John Fayhee
355 pages, softcover. $20. Sports Press, 2002