Photographer and filmmaker Pyle (The India Ride, 2014, etc.) returns with a fast-paced travel memoir about four months that changed his life.
A Canadian living in Shanghai, Pyle writes that his hikes on four sacred western Chinese mountains—Minya Konka, Amne Machin, Mount Kailash, and Kawa Karpo—didn’t lead to his spiritual epiphany or turn him into a “born-again, tree-hugging environmentalist.” Instead, he says, he became a better person due to the physical and mental challenges he overcame while hiking and camping in extreme weather conditions. In July 2013, he set off—with guides, donkeys, a cook, plenty of supplies, and a cameraman for documentary filming—to begin four separate journeys and walk more than 500 kilometers in majestic landscapes. Pyle’s spirited account often describes the local people, such as some older pilgrims who devoutly performed repeated prostrations around Amne Machin. Serious hikers will find helpful cultural information in Pyle’s friendly, first-person narrative; e.g., visitors should circumambulate the mountains because climbing straight to the top is considered sacrilegious. But some readers may be shocked by the high cost (one part of Pyle’s trip to Mount Kailash was about $6,300). Informative notes—descriptions of “trekkers’ feet” and “altitude sickness”—are highlighted in boxes throughout the text. Each mountain hike begins with a small map and ends with the author’s personal travel details (the best months to walk each trail, for example). The bulk of the memoir, however, recounts Pyle’s many difficulties due to changing environments—bitter cold that instantly froze water he was pouring into his oatmeal. The language is often vivid: “Dotted along the sides of the valley above us were several of the white tents that are home to semi-nomadic Tibetan yak herders who take their yaks up to the plateaus in the summer to feed on the lush grass.” Forty-eight gorgeous but disappointingly small color photographs (approximately 4.5 inches by 3 inches) are included.
Weekend warriors who crave physical challenges can use Pyle’s colorful account to kick-start their own adventures.