THE WHITE DEATH by McKay Jenkins


Tragedy and Heroism in an Avalanche Zone
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Jenkins (Journalism/Univ. of Delaware; ed., The Peter Matthiessen Reader, p. 1865) offers an intriguing look at the deaths

of five young climbers on Wyoming’s Mt. Cleveland in 1969.

Noted mountaineers from Hannibal, who lost thousands of his soldiers to an avalanche in the French Alps over two thousand

years ago, to Alex Lowe, the renowned climber who died last fall, are invoked in an attempt to provide a context for the tragic

deaths of James Anderson, Clare Pogreba, Mark Levitan, Ray Martin, and Jerry Kanzler, all of whom vanished, apparently caught

in a deadly avalanche, while climbing Mt. Cleveland in the depth of winter. A desperate search and rescue mission quickly

became recast as a recovery effort that had to be postponed as the risk to the searchers increased. It would not be until months

later, as summer thawed the snow, that the bodies would be recovered. Jenkins does an admirable job of portraying the five

climbers and their families and showing their place in the small mining communities they came from. He is equally gripping in

his account of the searchers and their courageous expedition. But his reporting is limited by his inability to recreate events, such

as the avalanche itself, that no witnesses are left alive to describe. Rather than maintain a chronological narrative with inevitable

gaps, Jenkins continually interrupts his tale with excurses on the scientific causes and effects of avalanches and generally

fascinating historical anecdotes—such as the mind-boggling tale of a train swept 150 feet down a snow-covered mountain into

a canyon back in 1910.

If Jenkins does not succeed in doing for mountaineering what Norman Maclean did for firefighting in Young Men and Fire,

he has still produced a heartbreaking story of youth and adventure. (B&w photos) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-50303-X
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2000


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