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With Friends in High Places

Release date: 22nd March, 2004
Publisher: Mainstream Publishing

List Price: £15.99
Our Price: £11.19
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With Friends in High Places
By Malcolm Slesser price: £11.19 (rrp £15.99)

Of the many attributes a favourite uncle has, one of the most attractive is his ability to weave a good yarn. In With Friends in High Places, Malcolm Slesser speaks from the page in the style of an affable relative the reader may only meet occasionally, for the rest of the time he is away conquering the world's mountains. Furthermore, in a climbing career which has spanned 64 years and encompassed mountaineering challenges on every continent, he has assembled more stories of exploration than most.

If you enjoyed Joe Simpson's compelling book, Touching the Void, about the attempt of two climbers to conquer the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes, you will appreciate Slesser's comprehensive breadth of mountain experiences.

The author nails his colours to the mast early when he asserts, "Mountaineering may be the sole remaining pastime that is not regulated by overzealous authorities. Long may we enjoy this freedom: the nanny state must be kept in place." This refreshing statement sets the tone because, like any agreeable uncle, Slesser seeks to introduce the reader to the joy of something wonderful he has experienced, writing with an occasional missionary zeal.

For many of us, falling in love with our chosen sport is a marvellous, light-and-sound-filled experience; the location and occasion may vary - from looking at a mountain in awe or attending our first game of football - but the impact is the same and the memory remains clear. Slesser's account of his first encounter with Greenland's "precipitous snow-flecked mountains", viewed from aboard the MV Disko in 1950, is where his heart is promised to the world's peaks. It was an expedition which ended with our intrepid but embarrassed author being offered the daughter of his Inuit guide, an opportunity he refused as gracefully as possible, although he does admit to being seduced by the Arctic peaks: "I couldn't wait to get back. I was addicted for life."

The book is peppered with stories of unbelievably difficult climbs, of unexpected hospitality in some unusual locations and, in the chapter entitled 'The Tigers of Yesterday' with respectful references to a distressingly large number of climbers (not all of whom the author liked) who met death on the peaks.

Yet, as any urbane uncle would, Slesser continually stresses the potential risk of mountaineering, but does not concentrate upon the morbid, preferring the light-hearted; after all, what's the point of taking part in a relatively unregulated pursuit if you can't have some fun? Here, Slesser is at his joyful best, outlining his four rules for being comfortable on a mountain, for example, "A sleeping bag is a man's best friend, followed by his dog. A wife is said to come third" before adding, "whoever said that is on dangerous ground."

Later, he describes oatmeal porridge as 'Nectar of the Gods' providing the reader with the perfect recipe: "for the hardy√Ėthere is the old Highlander's mainstay used when the Duke of Cumberland was marauding Scotland: brose." For Athtoll brose, he suggests "the addition of honey and whisky", said to have sustained Bonnie Prince Charlie's as he fled the English. The reader does not need to have climbed anything more strenuous than a set of stairs to enjoy this book, testament to Slesser's obvious love of the world's precipitous peaks.

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