"Nothing tests us so elementally as risk and danger. We may not face it in person, but from childhood on we definitely want to read about it."
So writes adventure historian Anthony Brandt in the introduction to the National Geographic's Adventure Classics book series. The series starts this summer with four titles that will make your next outing look like a walk in the park.
First to hit the bookshelves will be "The Worst Journey in the World," Apsley Cherry-Garrard's tale of his expedition to Antarctica with Robert Scott in 1911.
Cherry-Garrard spins an incredible story of survival in the face of 24-hour darkness and 70-degree-below-zero temperatures as he and two companions endured a five-week, 100-mile journey to collect Emperor penguin eggs. Their clothing froze so hard it took two men to bend it. They dragged their 700-pound sled across snow so frozen it felt like sand. They slept in bags frozen with their own sweat. Not exactly an August night in the Beartooth Mountains.
Cherry-Garrard writes, "I do not believe that any man, however sick he is, has a much worse time than we had in those bags, shaking with cold until our backs would almost break.
"The day's march was bliss compared to the night's rest, and both were awful."
For river runners, John Wesley Powell's account of his 1869 expedition to explore the Colorado territories provides some insight into one of the first white men to navigate the river's boat-mangling rapids.
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"The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons" delves into some of the last portions of the United States to be mapped. Powell and his team faced death many times. They had no experience running rapids and lost most of their supplies.
His entry on July 23 gives some idea of what he and his men faced: "On starting, we come at once to difficult rapids and falls, that in may places are more abrupt than in any of the canyons through which we have passed, and we decide to name this Cataract Canyon. From morning until noon the course of the river is to the west: the scenery is grand, with rapids and falls below, and walls above, beset with crags and pinnacles."
Such feats of incredible endurance were not limited to male writers. "Travels in West Africa" tells the story of Englishwoman Mary Kingsley's 1893 trip to western and equatorial Africa to collect botanical specimens for a book left unfinished by her father at his death.
Accompanied by four African guides, Kingsley traveled into dangerous jungles, fought off crocodiles and a leopard, fell into an animal trap and waded through chin-deep swamps.
She writes about one of her camps saying, " My face and particularly my lips are a misery to me, having been blistered all over by yesterday's sun, and last night I inadvertently whipped the skin all off one cheek with the blanket, and it keeps on bleeding, and, horror of horrors, there is no tea until that water comes."
The last book to be published for summer release hits closer to Montana, geographically speaking. "The Oregon Trail" is a vivid account of legendary historian Francis Parkman's adventures and encounters with the Plains Indians on the great American Frontier of the 1840s. His detailed description of his travels, set against the vast majesty of the Great Plains, has emerged as a classic narrative of one man's exploration of the American wilderness.
In a visit to an Sioux village, Parkman asks one of the tribal elders what he thinks causes thunder. Red-Water says through an interpreter, "It was a great black bird; and once he had seen it, in a dream, swooping down from the Black Hills, with its loud-roaring wings; and when it flapped them over a lake, they struck lightning from the water."
The books, $14 apiece, were drawn from a list of the 100 greatest adventure books of all time, chosen by a 10-member panel of judges. They gave the No. 1 spot to Cherry-Garrard's Antarctica tale. The books are available through National Geographic Adventure Press.
All of the titles for the series features text true to the author's original and National Geographic maps of the expedition.
Other titles in the works are "The Journals of Lewis and Clark," by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and "Scrambles Amongst the Alps," by Edward Whymper.