Now that the holiday season is fast approaching, I’m going to be reviewing a few books that I think will make for great gifts. A few months ago, I was contacted by a rep for Patagonia who asked if I’d be interested in reviewing a new book they were releasing, Yosemite In the Fifties: The Iron Age. Compiled and edited by Dean Fidelman, John Long, and Tom Alder, this book features an incredible catalog of fully restored photographs from Yosemite in the Iron Age. There are also countless stories of harrowing ascents in these pages, and profiles on the fascinating climbers who gave birth to the exciting world we now call adventure sports.
As a native Californian, I have a fond and affectionate relationship with Yosemite National Park. I have family that lives in the area, and an uncle who’s a ranger. I can remember my first time scaling the cables on the elegant, yet frightful granite slabs of Half Dome. Just this summer, I hiked from Yosemite National Park to Mt. Whitney on the John Muir Trail. Yosemite is a part of me, and it becomes a part of anyone who is fortunate enough to see it with their own eyes.
Yosemite in the Fifties starts out with a nice introduction before jumping into chapter one. My favorite part of chapter one, is the feature on John Salathe, the father of big wall climbing. John was a Swiss born iron worker, who was known to hear voices, and he claimed that an angel spoke to him. He fell ill in 1945, and was less than happy with the remedies offered by doctors. He decided to find his own medicine, by switching to a vegetarian diet, before making his was to Tuolumne Meadows for some fresh mountain air. The rest of the stories in chapter one are worth the price of this book alone, but luckily for us, it’s just the beginning. Chapter two covers a lot of great stories about climbs on El Capitan and features on Allen Steck and Warren Harding. As a hiker and not a climber, I can’t help but marvel at the courage and craziness required to take on some of these climbs. That would be my mindset with modern gear from the current day, I can’t even imagine going back in time to tackle the granite walls of Yosemite in the fifties. Page after page, I found myself clinching my firsts with the mere thought of vertigo and the pale taste of fear one must feel when things go wrong on the wall.
One of my favorite stories from chapter three, was on “The Race For Half Dome: America’s First Grade 6”. As a hiker who’s taken the easy way up, I have an immense amount of respect for all those who climb it’s iconic Northwest Face. Made world famous by Ansel Adams and other photographers, Half Dome stands tall on the beautiful landscapes you’ll find with every view in Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite in the Fifties ends with a final chaper that covers the magnificent El Capitan with a feature called The Big Climb. The South Face of El Capitan offers up 3000ft of nearly vertical rock, and to many, seemed an impossible climb. The pictures and stories from this final chapter are truly incredible.
If you have any friends or family members that love hiking, climbing, national parks, or photography, this would make for a great holiday gift. The photos and stories are incredible, and something I find myself going back to time and time again. You can find Yosemite in the Fifties on Amazon and Patagonia.com.