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Norman Clyde: Legendary Mountaineer of California's Sierra Nevada [Paperback]

Robert C. Pavlik

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Book Description

Oct. 1 2008
This riveting account of one of the most notable personalities of the mountain climbing world reconstructs the life of legendary mountaineer Norman Clyde (1885-1972). He made his mark on history with more than one hundred and thirty first ascents throughout western North America, and many believe he knew the High Sierra better than anyone else, including John Muir. Part of his mystique comes from participating in high-profile mountain rescues and recoveries, in which he is credited with saving a number of lives. Those who had the good fortune to meet him-often with a ninety-pound pack on his back that included an anvil for boot repair, fishing rods, cooking pots, and books in Greek and Latin-never forgot the experience. Biographer Robert C. Pavlik uses Clyde's own words, along with recollections from his family, friends, fellow climbers, and acquaintances, to capture the experiences of a remarkable man and a bygone time between the pioneers and the rock climbers."

Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Yosemite Conservancy (Oct. 1 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597141100
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597141109
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 14.8 x 22 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 272 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,685,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a guy! Sept. 19 2008
By L. Suer - Published on Amazon.com
I finished this book several days ago. Once I started it, I couldn't put it down (so I didn't). This biography is a balanced picture of a man who was an enigma. I really appreciated that Pavlik didn't try to go beyond the available material to create a juicy analysis, even though a psychologist could have a field day analyzing Clyde. Clyde could spend months alone in the mountains, but also spent lots of time climbing with others, seemingly without ever letting down his guard enough to provide a cohesive picture of his personality. Pavlik's biography of this great, multi-faceted mountaineer is highly readable and informative. Pavlik describes Clydes's heroic side (pure love of the mountains), as well as his self-sabotaging side (e.g, getting fired as principal at Bishop H.S., insulting those weaker than he). For mountaineers, Pavlik presents descriptions of specific climbs.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pack That Walks Like A Man June 17 2009
By Scott M. Kruse - Published on Amazon.com
Pavlick has placed Norman Clyde in his rightful place with a richly referenced, thorough biography. Clyde made his mark with over 1,000 summits, at least 130 first ascents and a philosophy of "Mountains will always be there tomorrow. Aim to be able to say the same of yourself." The book has a wealth of Clyde photographs, many showing Clyde with his trusty campaign hat, long ice axe and tricouni nailed boots.

Norman Asa Clyde (8 Apr 1885 - 23 Dec 1972) was well educated (BA 1909, English, Honorary D. Sci (1939) Geneva College; and only lacked a thesis for an MA but he refused to participate in "dramas of the romance languages." He read in six different languages, including French, Italian and English. He was a teacher and principal for 18 years in places including North Dakota, Utah, Florence AZ, San Francisco and Independence CA.

Clyde married Winifred May Bolster (b. 1 May 1890, New York) on 15 June 1915 in Pasadena CA while Clyde was a student at UC Berkeley and Winifred was in nursing school in Oakland. Winifred suffered from tuberculosis for four years and died at age 29 on Valentine's Day, 14 February 1919. Clyde never spoke of his wife, even to close friends.

Clyde served as teacher (English, history, science, Latin) and Principal at Independence High School beginning in 1924, the same year local citizens seized control of the LA Aqueduct floodgates near the Alabama Hills in Owens Valley. A 1928 Halloween incident with students and a gun resulted in Clyde's resignation and freedom to embark upon a life lived in the open.

Some referred to him as "filthy McNasty" because he tended not to wash. Clyde lived at the mercy of the seasons, changing weather and his own rigorous schedule, equally at home on rock or skis. He preferred the higher peaks in the southern Sierra Nevada away from Yosemite Valley with "too many damned people." Clyde said, "mountains are more than a spectacle. For there seems always to issue from their summits a challenge to scale them." Clyde spent 1920 - 1946 climbing throughout the Sierra Nevada. He wrote over 1,467 articles on many subjects. Phil Hanna, longtime editor of AAA's Touring Topics, noted "this chap flits about the Sierra as nonchalantly as most of us walk about our own homes." Clyde worked on the High Sierra Trail across Sequoia National Park in 1932.

Clyde (age 48) assisted in the search for Walter A. "Pete" Star (JD, Stanford, 1926) in August 1933 (age 30). (Starr's Guide to the John Muir Trail and High Sierra Region, still in print) After others left, Clyde continued to search in the Minarets and found Pete. Pete was interred in near where he fell in a cleft in the rock on the narrow ledge near Michael's Notch in the Minarets, on 30 August by Jules Eichorn, Ranger Benjamin Mace, Lilburn Norris, Douglas Robinson, Jr., Walter A. Starr Sr. and Clyde (W. Alsup, 2005. Missing in the Minarets, The Search for Walter A. Starr, Jr.). Clyde received a stipend from the Starrs for the rest of his life.

Normally "aloof" and quiet, Clyde enjoyed a good friendship with Scottish artist Robert Clunie beginning in 1930 and continuing until the late 1960s. The two shared a love of the mountains. Clyde wrote about his summertime high country companion, lavishing him with praise - something that Clyde rarely did. Clunie stated, "I've analyzed Norman's beefs against humanity, and I've found that he's always basically right. He's a perfectionist, a dreamer. He's a great mountaineer."

Chris Jones (1976), "The Sierrans," Climbing in North America, describes Clyde as "the dean of Sierra Club climbers" in 1931. Glen Dawson, Robert Underhill, Jules Eichorn and Clyde made the first ascent of the east face of Mount Whitney (4421 m) on 16 August 1931. Pavlick includes a photograph of "the pack that walks like a man." The packs Clyde carried are legendary: pots, pans, a cast iron skillet, several pairs of boots, boot lasts, an axe, a few pistols, a couple of fishing rods, up to five cameras and a small library of classics in the original German, French, Spanish and Greek. He particularly favored the Greek, because he was a bit rusty in it and the books lasted longer.

David Gilligan's (2000) The Secret Sierra, The Alpine World Above the Trees, gives a glimpse of Clyde's world and states Clyde had "inexhaustible physical stamina, and was known to be a proud and sensitive man, unable to grasp modern thinking. . . . He was said to be the last of his kind, a dying breed, and as such, he left no heirs."

He spent 20 winters as a caretaker of Glacier Lodge courtesy of Bertha Horine and 20 winters at Baker Ranch above Big Pine. He also used Lon Chaney's cabin. There were always conflicts with owners when it came time to vacate each spring. Scrimshaw Press published a limited edition of "Norman Clyde of the Sierra Nevada: Rambles through the Range of Light" in November 1971. A cancerous (genetic) left eye was removed in 1969.

As time caught up with his body, he split his time between Baker Creek Ranch and the Inyo County Sanitorium. Clyde's last mountain outing was in Fourth Recess at 3000 meters on Mono Creek on the western slope in the summer of 1970 at age 85. He died on 23 December 1972 (87) from metastatic melanoma - primarily in the left eye. Because of legal restrictions at the time, Clyde was "officially" buried in Tonopah Cemetary in Nevada. Clyde's friends Smoke Blanchard, Bob Blanchard, Jules Eichorn and North Blenner took turns hurling handfuls of Clyde' ashes out onto the rocks and glaciers above North Clyde Peak (37.04° N, -118.28° W, 4223 m) and North Clyde Glacier.

Norman Clyde Peak was officially recognized by the US Board of Geographic Names in 1974. First ascent by Norman Clyde, 9 June 1930. To more fully appreciate the peak and the climb, see R.J. Secor's (2009) The High Sierra, Peaks, Passes and Trails, pages 230-234. Google Earth does not do the Peak or the climb justice.

Pavlick's treatment of Norman Clyde is only a beginning. There is a wealth of reading and climbing in the High Sierra you need to do in order to see things from Norman Clyde's perspective.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Personal insight in to a legendary yet mysterious man Oct. 20 2008
By W. Cooper - Published on Amazon.com
I had always wondered about the mysterious man of the Sierras, Norman Clyde. His climbs and abilities were legendary, he logged more first accents in the Sierras that the next 3 climbers combined, he was a prodigious photographer and writer--yet many others were more well-known such as Ansel Adams. I had never found personal insight in to the man until reading this revealing book. Norman was everything from a hero who rescued and found missing hikers long after others had given up, to a loaner that spent so much time alone that he forgot how to talk...but never forgot how to write. A Principal in Independence CA who stood up to protect his school, but was released because he didn't fit in. His climbing accomplishments will never be equaled, but he was banished from leading climbs for the Sierra Club. An amazing man whose story should live in parallel with the majestic inspiration that is found in that special place known as the "Range of Light", the Sierra Nevada mountains. This book is well worth the read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down. . . July 1 2009
By Bryan J. Apper - Published on Amazon.com
Like another reviewer, I couldn't put Pavlik's "Norman Clyde" down--it is a book that is fun to read. I have not enjoyed a biography so much since Schlesenger's "Robert Kennedy and His Times."

I grew up within walking distance of the mountains that Clyde knew so well, but rarely took advantage of the opportunity to hike; I believe that my life would have taken me down some very different paths if I had known about Norman Clyde 40 years ago. And I just might have been a better student of Latin and Greek, too. . . One of Clyde's poems is reproduced in the book. It begins as one might expect from a student of Homer--with a "rosy morn." But rather than detailing the life of a man of "twists and turns," the poem is a Wordsworth-like celebration of nature. Pavlik's book includes many choice passages from Clyde's own books and articles.

Clyde continued to trek and climb into his 80s. Perhaps there is hope for me yet. One thing is certain--it would be impossible to read Pavlik's "Norman Clyde" and not be inspired to climb your own mountains, whether they be real or figurative.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally! Dec 2 2008
By Stephen Donahue - Published on Amazon.com
Norman Clyde has been an enigma to most in the mountaineering community but no longer thanks to this comprehensive account of his life and acheivements.
Well written and well documented this is an exceptional book about an almost mythological American Outdoorsman. It would make a great read for anyone who has an interest in mountaineering or the Eastern Sierra.

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