Climber Francis Slakey on Books for High Altitude

Georgetown Prof Considers Good Reading for an Arduous Journey

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Peeling off gear at base camp just after summiting Mt. Everest

Slakey peeling off gear at base camp just after summiting Mt. Everest hide caption

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We begin our annual summer reading series with Francis Slakey, a Georgetown University professor and an accomplished mountain climber. Before an expedition, Slakey packs several paperbacks for when bad weather slows down his climbing team. He discusses two of these books, An Instance of the Finger Post by Iain Pears, and In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbric.

The 700-page Pears book — a 17th century murder mystery — was a hit among his team while climbing Mount Everest. But when he climbed Mount McKinley, he says, he made the mistake of bringing Philbric's tale of a whaling expedition gone awry.

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When the ship sank, the crew made for the lifeboats. But they quickly ran out of provisions and made the decision to draw names and see who would stay and who would go. "They ate the damn cabin boy! It probably would've been a terrific read at sea level, but it was absolutely the wrong book for me to take on this climbing trip."

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