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The White Death: Tragedy and Heroism in an Avalanche Zone Paperback – February 13, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (February 13, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385720777
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385720779
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,300,445 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

By turns gripping, informative, and even frightening, The White Death probes the interplay of human endeavor in the mountains, the fragile beauty of snow, and nature's mysterious power. Jenkins succeeds admirably in melding human drama with the indifference of natural forces, allowing the "avalanche-beast" to build in character through survivors' reports, news clippings, and scientific findings. The book's emotional centerpiece is the tragic story of an avalanche that roared down Mount Cleveland in Glacier National Park, where five young climbers set out to scale the treacherous North Face. Just days into their climb, snow and strong winds set in. "What they saw could not have been inviting: snow clouds covered the mountain's summit...with loose powder avalanches regularly scrubbing it clean." Bud Anderson, older brother to one of the climbers, flew his single-engine plane over the mountain to observe the team's progress. "He hoped, perhaps, to rock his wings at them as a sign of encouragement, or congratulations." Instead, "his breath caught. The tracks ended at the unmistakable edge of a massive fresh avalanche..." Jenkins's stirring account pieces the clues and rescue efforts together to read like a true and terrible mystery being solved.

The horror of being buried alive by snow is vivid and sober among these pages, and is sure to chill climbers as well as those reading from the comforts of central heating. The author's vision is acute and helps better assess the bounds of our human capacity and domain. --Byron Ricks --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

There's often a fine line between heroism and foolhardiness, as in the deaths in 1969 of five young Montana climbers (ages 18 to 22) who, against the advice of professional rangers, made a winter attempt on treacherous Mt. Cleveland in Montana's Glacier National Park and succumbed to an avalanche. In an engrossing tour de force, Jenkins, a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer, re-creates this tragedy and also seamlessly interweaves a wealth of avalanche lore, science and history. Jenkins, writing in crisp, clean prose, fashions a deeply personal tale out of their adventure. One of the five, Jerry Kanzler, an accomplished climber, was still recovering emotionally from his father's 1967 suicide; a certain bravado and desire to prove his manhood seems to have motivated him as well as his companions. Jerry's brother Jim, a ski instructor, risked his life trying to find and save the missing five, but it would take rescuers six months to locate the bodies. In 1976, to honor his brother, Jim Kanzler and two friends became the first climbers ever to scale Mt. Cleveland's steeply vertical north face. Jenkins, who teaches writing at the University of Delaware, probes the metaphysical roots of mountaineering, spins tales of avalanches from Peru to New Zealand and covers the latest advances in avalanche science. He also explores avalanches in history, from Hannibal's devastating loss of men and horses in the French Alps to the WWII heroism of U.S. Alpine ski troops, who helped Allied forces capture German strongholds in the Italian Apennines. Photos. Agent, Neil Olson, Donadio & Olson. Author tour. (Feb.) FYI: Jenkins is editor of the forthcoming The Peter Matthiessen Reader (Vintage).
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

I am not a mountain climber, nor a skier, but I love the outdoors and the mountains, thus my interest in this book.
Scott
This book does a great job of blending snow science and the history of human avalanche experience with a compelling personal story of five unfortunate young climbers.
Jeff Russell
When all movement stops the snow freezes like concrete, suffocating anyone under the mess...enough to keep us from enjoying any mountain vacation in the winter.
Severin Olson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By carol mcgrath on March 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As the sister of Ray Martin who was killed in the avalanche of which The White Death is so richly written, I can tell you that every word kept me hanging on the edge of my seat. Knowing firsthand the circumstances surrounding the tragedy, I was still mezmerized by the way McKay Jenkins brought it all together. It was very informative about the mysterious physics of snow layering as well as capturing the very personal and fruitful lives of the five young men who died. Their's was a hunger to seek places of majesty. I have found that sometimes the only people who can begin to understand the risks and rewards of a mountain climber is another mountain climber or someone who is fortunate enough to love them. The great sacrifice and perseverence of all who are courageous enough to search for someone under these tragic circumstances says a great deal about the integrity of these people. Bravo to Mr. Jenkins who did such a splendid job of giving some peaceful closure to such a painful time in our lives.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Raisin Mountaineer on April 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a lover of Glacier who's enjoyed wandering among its peaksfor two decades, I have heard the story of the five boys on Clevelandtold over and over, as a tale of caution and heroism. This book aligns well with the lore I've heard, and I enjoyed seeing Bob Frauson receive some of the credit he's due for his long service to mountain rescue. I also appreciate the attention given to the hardships of search and rescue/recovery. This search deeply affected its participants, and they still speak of it with great sadness. However, the book could have benefitted from a careful edit by a person more familiar with Glacier, climbing and avalanches. References to "Lake Babb" and the "Billy River" (probably "Belly") as well as the solemn pronouncement that a cubic foot of "Sierra Cement" can weigh 200 pounds (when a gallon of water weighs but 8)-- not to mention the confusion of piton vs. carabiner-- leave me wondering how much of the technical info might be flawed and/or misleading.
So, my mixed assessment is: this is a powerful story, engagingly written, that reminds the reader yet again that it is we who care for the mountains, not they who care for us-- but there are many better resources for avalanche awareness and winter mountaineering. END
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By carol mcgrath on February 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
McKay Jenkins did a wonderful job of capturing the the bittersweet of the one who climbs. As a sister of Raymond Martin, I can tell you I was deeply moved by the words and his expertise at keeping my eyes on the pages. I could not put the book down. I regret only that my mother, Ruby, didn't get to see the final piece of work. She related to us the kindness and empathy that Mr. Jenkins expressed during the interviews. I stood at that mountain floor many times since the tragedy and am still in awe of the great beauty which Jenkins painted so poetically in his book. The spirit and courage of the climber is known only to the spirit of another climber and sometimes to those who were fortunate enough to love him/her. Mr. Jenkins has obviously felt the pain and the exhilaration of reaching the heights and the defeats while exploring the masterpieces in nature. Many thanks for his talent and for his informative understanding of the powers of nature. I am eternally grateful for the many people who opened their arms to my family and for those people who spent time on the mountain in search for the boys. Mr. Jenkins depicted their integrity and courage very well.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
My brother was one of the five climbers who died in the avalanche the book describes. The book's description of him renders him almost unrecognizable, and the resulting caricature is very disturbing to our family. In his zeal to create a character to fit his theme of mountain men raising mountain men, Mr. Jenkins failed to confirm any facts concerning my brother, and made various baseless assumptions to round out his error-ridden description. The book leaves the reader with the impression that in the rush to profit from the recent popularity of other books in this genre, the author neglected to research his topic adequately. He would have better spent his time mastering basic information about mountain climbing and geography rather than trying to cover the numerous scattered topics (e.g., bears in Glacier Park, the Tenth Mountain Division in World War II) tossed into this poorly edited book. In fairness to the author, family members contacted him before commenting on his book. Repeated inquiries have produced no explanation as to why he failed to confirm any facts concerning my brother. The author responded that researching this story proved far more difficult than he could have expected, and that he did the best he could. His best was not good enough.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Audrey Levitan on April 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I First heard of the book "The White Death" by way of an anonymous phone call from a man who wondered if I was the mother of Mark Levitan, one of the five climbers who died in the avalanche that is the subject of the book. When I told him yes, he said that in addition to the book, there were also articles in Montana newspapers, Outside Magazine, and a planned "Readers Digest" story. McKay Jenkins had never been in contact with me about the book being written, so I had to wonder where he got his information, and why he never acknowledged that Mark had a mother and four siblings, two of whom were at the search site. Common decency should dictate that we be informed of what was being written. There are obvious errors and untruths in the text relating to Mark, which I attribute to a poor research job with an unreliable interviewee. How much other fiction may there be in the book? Is there a code of ethics that holds writers of non-fiction responsible for thorough research to reveal the truth, and assure that fiction does not become a part of the writing? If not, there should be, especially for teachers of non-fiction writing, as Jenkins is. I have written specific and pointed questions to the author, but to date have received no answers. Thank you, anonymous caller, whoever you are, from Mark Levitan's Mother and four siblings.
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