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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

A True Story of Survival

By David Fletcher  
Carroll & Graf Publishers, 212 pp, 2002

This (supposedly) true book deals with one of the classic story lines in literature: man versus nature. When man has all the technology and gadgets at his disposal, he can usually do okay. When it's just him, with no weapons, up against a pissed off grizzly bear, well, man is toast.

Since Fletcher wrote about his own experience with a bear, I'm giving nothing away by saying he survived. But did the bear? Ah, that you'll have to discover yourself.

David Fletcher is a British mountain climber. Bored with the same-old same-old mountains of Europe, he heads to Alaska to hike a mountain, Mount Hess, that he hopes no one else has conquered. He's going solo, with only seven days' worth of food, and some climbing equipment, everything he can fit into a bag. He has no radio, no laptop computer, no way of communicating with the outside world. If anything goes wrong, he's got to fix it himself.

While I think that's crazy, I can understand the appeal. He wishes to experience nature at its purest, alone, with few trappings and conveniences. It's a test of survival, and he has no doubt he'll pass it with flying colors.

But then, within a day or two of his journey, in a moment of panic, he kills a cute little grizzly bear cub. He didn't mean to, of course. He didn't know exactly what was running straight at him, and that old human survival instinct kicked in, and he threw his ice axe and split the skull of Smokey the Bear.

Feeling horrible for what he's done, and quite scared because he knows Mama Bear has to be somewhere close, Fletcher puts some miles (or meters) between him and the scene of the crime. But that only buys him some time as he faces his first encounter with a fully-grown, mad as you-know-what grizzly bear.

Fletcher escapes a harrowing battle and thinks he's lost the bear. He has, until the end of the book, on his way back down the mountain. Between the two encounters, he climbs up a glacier on his way to Mount Hess while overcoming fragile ice, storms, and unstable snow.

The two bear encounters are riveting, but unless you have an interest in mountain climbing (which I do), you won't get much from the rest of the book. Fletcher is not a great writer but decent enough, so the book is readable.

One interesting side note. I usually talk to my wife about the books I read, and when she heard about this one, her response was automatic: she was rooting for the bear.

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