The Beauty (and danger) of the Outdoors!
I often go to my family’s cabins in the Rocky Mountains during the summer–unplugging from the Internet and enjoying nature inspires my writing. Respecting nature, however, is something to always keep in mind, for people walk into the wild, ready to take on Mother Nature at the risk of their own lives. Read on for three of my favorite non-fiction books about the beautiful danger of the great outdoors.
Into Thin Air
Into Thin Air is a personal account by journalist Jon Krakauer of the May 1996 Mt. Everest disaster. Krakauer, a mountaineer, joined an ill-fated trip to Mt. Everest that led to several deaths, making it one of the worst disasters on the mountain. Until the 2014 avalanche that killed 16 people at a base, the 1996 disaster held a record for the most loss of life on the mountain. Krakauer’s personal involvement in the disaster fuels the story, written just one year after he survived. He admits that “the plain truth is that I knew better but went to Everest anyway. And in doing so I was a party to the death of good people, which is something that is apt to remain on my conscience for a very long time” (XII, introduction).
As climbers acclimate in base camps before an ascent, so does the reader. Krakauer structures his book so non-mountaineers understand the basics. The technical climbing details, the weather, the increased tourism on Everest–all of the big and small details leading to the deaths. This is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read, and certainly makes sure that I will never climb Everest.
Into The Wild
Although this is the second book by Krakauer on this list, Into the Wild is another great piece of non-fiction about misadventures in the outdoors. Krakauer follows the misadventures of Christopher McCandless, a young man who decided to leave his urban life behind and live in the wild who also went by the name of Alexander Supertramp.
Krakauer looks into McCandless’ life in an attempt to understand the circumstances leading to his eventual death by starvation in the Alaskan wilderness. No matter if you agree or disagree with McCandless’ choice to give up everything, this is a fascinating book about one young man’s journey to discover himself in the great outdoors, and how he died for it.
Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon
I admit it: this book is the Internet’s equivalent of clickbait before I even knew what clickbait was.I picked up a copy of Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon while visiting the Grand Canyon one cold December. Usually I don’t find anything I want in a tourist gift shop, but between the title and the cover I just had to read it!
A mix of the Darwin Awards and historical research, this book oversees and analyzes patterns of deaths in the Grand Canyon up until its publication date in 2001. The silly cover is beguiling a rich book full of historical research, photos, and statistics and reports from the national park.
- Falls (the rims and in the canyon)
- Flash Floods and other weather
- Deaths in the Colorado River
- Airplane accidents
- Freak Accidents
- Suicide and Murder
The goal of this book, according to the writers, is to prevent people from making bad choices while out in the wilderness. This book satisfied my morbid curiosity and is a great analysis of deaths in the Grand Canyon.
These books, as do others on this subject matter, remind us that Mother Nature probably doesn’t love us as much as we love her. Both ordinary people and professionals can succumb to the elements. While I wouldn’t climb Everest, or take a solo trip to the Alaskan wilderness, that doesn’t mean these stories aren’t fascinating in their own right. For these stories, even some of the deaths in the Grand Canyon, are about determined people. Ordinary people who wanted to climb Mt. Everest. A young man who seeks meaning in his life by traveling. And even tourists in the Grand Canyon who died trying to take the perfect photo. As the writers of Death in the Grand Canyon state at the end of their book, “lethal trips [like] up Everest titillate us so much…just so our lives suddenly will have some meaning, some definition, some adventure” (363.)
But people still climb Everest every year, and go solo hiking, and peer over the edge of the Grand Canyon. These stories are not meant to stop us from doing these things, but to remind us to be careful while enjoying the great outdoors.