4 out of 4 stars
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Hiking Tall: Survival on Mount Whitney by Marvin Cope is a non-fiction autobiographical account of when the author went missing on Mount Whitney in 2017. Despite eight previous successful hikes up the mountain, the 2017 excursion went awry when Cope was separated from the rest of his hiking party. This book serves both as an account of what happened leading up to, during, and following Cope’s frightening experience and a guide to how to prepare for hiking Mount Whitney and how to survive if you wind up in a dangerous situation. The book includes details about the members of Cope’s hiking group—he was the leader—and how they got ready for this strenuous but exciting undertaking. Readers have a first-person account of what happened during and after the hike, and how the search-and-rescue process works. The book also includes what gear one should have if hiking Mount Whitney, what conditions to prepare for, what to do if you get into trouble, and how to geographically orient oneself while hiking this trail.
I think this is an interesting read for everyone, whether hiking Mount Whitney or not, but is especially beneficial for those who hike regularly. Although the information is specific to hiking Mount Whitney and will best serve those wishing to undertake this endeavor, the story can be applied to any outdoor activity or hike where it’s necessary to take extra precautions, plan well, and remain calm in unforeseen events. One thing I really liked about the book is that you don’t need to be an experienced hiker to understand the terms used. Cope always takes the time to define equipment and other hiking jargon that may be new to someone like me who regularly hikes but has never gone on a really serious high-altitude hike. For example, he defines terms like “graveyard hiking” and explains how to use things like crampons and microspikes.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars because I think it is a well-constructed, professionally edited, relevant guide to hiking Mount Whitney and surviving in extreme circumstances. I briefly considered giving it 3 stars since I found some parts to be a bit repetitive, but decided 4 stars was appropriate given it’s written in the style of a guide and can therefore be read in any order, which is likely the reason for the slightly repetitive nature.
I enjoyed that there are several different accounts from other hikers in the 2017 group, so you get to hear the story from various perspectives. I also liked that Cope includes a lot of helpful images and maps throughout the book. This helped me to see exactly what he was talking about at any given point and to better understand what he was going through during his night spent alone on the mountain. The book is highly-detailed which can either appeal to or disinterest readers depending on one’s preference. I personally found the details to be helpful since the book serves as a guide, and the main theme is that one little choice or changed external condition can make all the difference when hiking this iconic mountain.
Despite knowing that the author survived to write this account of his story, I still felt a lot of suspense while reading. There are such tense moments like when someone in the group is sliding down a snow hill or when the author has left his space blanket behind and doesn’t know if he’ll spend another night stranded in freezing temperatures. Hiking Tall: Survival on Mount Whitney definitely succeeds in doing what it intended, as I came away considering how I under-prepare in certain hiking situations and reflecting on Cope’s advice that patience is key to avoiding fatal mistakes when hiking.
Hiking Tall: Survival on Mount Whitney
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