"A True Classic for the Ages"

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"A True Classic for the Ages"

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This article/review by Todd Wilkinson appeared in the 1/28/04 issue of the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Turiano Pens a True Classic for the Ages

By Todd Wilkinson

Younts Peak, named after Yellowstone Park's first gamekeeper, is one of those summits that rises over the middle of nowhere between here and Cody. To reach it, you have to try hard, and set aside a couple of long days out of your modern life.

Last summer when a couple of friends made their second consecutive ascent and encountered no one else along the way, they were mightily impressed with themselves....that is, until they re-read the visitor's log stuffed into a rock cairn at the top.

There, dated in April of one year, was a citation from Thomas Turiano, who ventured into this remotest of places in the Lower 48 states on skis, then braved avalanches, hungry grizzlies, and the perils that accompany spring mountaineering.

For this Jackson Holean, it was just another reason to conduct topographical research in paradise, ground-truthing a narrative for his pet writing project.

Few books become instant classics; among "guide books," fewer still will ever qualify. Turiano's "Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone" (Indomitus Books) achieved that rarefied distinction the moment it came off the presses in 2003.

As someone who prides himself on knowing a fair bit about this ecosystem of ours, I've learned more about the Greater Yellowstone reading this tome than I have from any volume of natural history. Tom is profuse in doling out research credit. Among his sources are giants within the local climbing community such as Orrin and Lorraine Bonney and the late Leigh Ortenburger.

But the real marvel belongs to Turiano. He has congealed what could have been simply another narrow-audience regional climbing guide into a volume that achieves much more.

Alpinists or not, it's difficult to find any inhabitant of the Greater Yellowstone - including visitor - who does not relate to the land through the highest studded vantage points.

Rather than offer superficial treatments of peaks, Turiano has packed in extensive commentaries and visuals about the people who shaped the view above treeline. But what he has done brilliantly is subtlely moved the perspective beyond the trophies into a meaningful reflection on human ambition, and the spirit of western adventure, and interrelationships between explorer and nature.

The peaks, after all, form a dramatic setting for pumping up inflationary young egos while proffering humility to those individuals, seasoned with age, who no longer see themselves as the center of the universe. Indeed, this is heavy metaphysical stuff for a project that will sit, misplaced, on bookstore shelves as a mountaineering guide, which is all part of Tom's literary masquerade.

Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone is chock full of observations that give us more intimate insight to the vertical horizon. Here's an observation he gave me amid an email exchange that concerns Jackson Hole climbers: "I think peak climbers are more hidden and widespread in summer than they are in winter," he wrote. "In winter, at least in Jackson Hole, the focus turns away from technical climbing and zooms in on peak skiing, and then such activities become competitive, social, and fashionable. Granted, the impetus to climb the summits in winter is more for the reward of the glisse descent or the technical climbing on the ascent, and less for the reward of the summit view. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to compare how many different peaks are climbed in winter by the mainstream crew, versus the number of different peaks climbed in the summer by the hidden stalwarts. My immediate reaction, from what I see around Jackson, is that more peaks are climbed in winter, but that just can't be so."

Turiano's climb of Younts Peak was no anomaly. He offers a confession: "22 of the 107 peaks [he researched for the book] I did not climb, and numerous approaches that I describe, I did not make myself." But what of the 80-odd others? "The... reason that I wanted to climb as many peaks as possible was to see if there were any summit records in jars on the summits, because for many peaks, I could find absolutely nothing written about them. I climbed several peaks for which the most intriguing aspect was to arrive on the summit and see if there was any sign of prior passage."

Ask my intrepid friends who really arrived on Younts Peak first. Turiano went there on a mission, and he's brought home a meditation that sets a new standard for interpretive guides. Thanks, Tom, for giving us a classic.

Writer Todd Wilkinson, a former resident of JH's West Bank, lives in Bozeman and pens this column for the News and Guide every week. His work appears in many different national newspapers and magazines.
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