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
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.