Beartooth Times review

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Beartooth Times review

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This wonderful review by George McCormick appeared on pages 38-40 of the August 2004 edition of Beartooth Times. Email Melissa and David Rohm <[email protected]> to subscribe.

Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone
Thomas Turiano takes you high above the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

In the preface to Thomas Turiano’s mountaineering tome Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone, Turiano himself says it was never supposed to turn into the magnificent, wide-ranging book that it is now. Intended as a technical monograph on the 110 peaks he’s either climbed or exhaustively researched, Turiano admits that “I just wanted to write a slim guide book about a handful of wonderful peak climbs...But, as I delved into the project, I realized that one of the main reasons I treasure mountaineering in Greater Yellowstone is for its extraordinary natural and human history.”

It is exactly the focus on the human connections to these peaks and landscapes—from early Native Americans through trappers and geologists to today’s mountaineer—that makes this book an excellent read. For the technical climber there are clear photographs with illustrated route and alternate routes; drawings from Ferdinand Hayden’s surveys of the
1880s; stories of ascent success and ascent failure; as well as hard data like elevations gain, overall grade, selected maps, and estimated ascent times.

However, what I found most fascinating about the book was how accessible and informative it is to the non-climber. With historical overviews at the beginning of each chapter, and with a ninety-page regional history of the greater Yellowstone area, Turiano was again able to bring the mountains back to the stories of the people who lived in them. Turiano also seems to delight in the rough-hewn stories and descriptions from those first whites who walked these peaks. In discussing the history of Pilot and Index peaks, just outside of Cooke City, Turiano writes, "In early July of that year (1870), prospectors A. Bart Henderson, James Gourley, Adam ‘Horn’ Miller, and Ed Hibbard dropped into the valley of today’s Cooke City from Lulu Pass and discovered gold in Fisher Creek. Gazing across the valley at Pilot and Index, Henderson applied the name “Dog Turd Peak” to the entire Pilot massif, Index Peak included."

It is Turiano’s lack of mountaineering machismo and deferential nature to those that may have scaled the peaks previously that makes the book different from most mountaineering books. For Turiano, those who lived amongst the peaks of the Greater Yellowstone are as important as those who conquered them. When speaking of early Indians who traveled through the Yellowstone ecosystem—the Blackfeet, Crow, Bannock, Arapaho, and Shoshone—it is a previously ignored tribe, the Tukudika, known more commonly as “The Sheepeaters,” that Turiano points out as the only known tribe to live about timberline. What I have previously read of The Sheepeaters is that they were weak and dying, preyed upon by the Crow, and that their extinction was imminent. Turiano’s book is the first I’ve read which sticks up for this much-maligned band.

"Sheepeaters probably were among the most noble of all Greater Yellowstone’s inhabitants...They had mastered the art of mountain survival, enjoyed relative isolation from enemies, and lived in harmony with the land. It is possible that Sheepeaters and similar ancient Native American groups were the first people to climb many of the peaks featured in this book."

Turiano’s final chapter, a compelling history of the lore and competition surrounding the first two ascents of the Grand Teton, is a great read whether you’ve ever considering doing it yourself or not. There is a great balance throughout the book, and Turiano has obviously taken great pains to be fair. Tommy Garrison, a hermit who lived on the Beartooth Plateau most of his life, and a character I’ve heard bar-stories about over the years, even makes an appearance in Turiano’s book.

"Before today’s common practice of snowmobile tows to Goose Lake, Tommy Garrison would regularly ski from Cooke City to Goose Lake, Aero Lakes, and beyond. Garrison abruptly transferred from the Harvard law school to mountain school in Cooke City in the late 1940s...this icon of the Cooke City lifestyle died shortly after the great Yellowstone fires of 1988 from a lung infection induced by smoke inhalation."

Though as wide-ranging and accessible as Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone is, I was also impressed with the way Turiano kept the book smart and uncompromising. Rarely does he dummy-down the level of language or pause to explain words from the mountaineering/geology lexicon, keeping the text heady and respectable. I was pleased to look up such signifiers as massif (large, anomalous outcroppings of rock; often landmarks), rock arête (spiney-rock ridges descending steeply from a main peak), and couloirs (vertical angled gullies, often less precipitous than the rock face).

The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, for the most part, has been described mostly in pamphlets, guidebooks, and videos at visitor centers. It is refreshing to see a book of Turiano’s scope, for if nothing else, it is a book as massive and dynamic as the peaks it successfully tackles.
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