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We Aspired: The Last Innocent Americans

By Pete Sinclair

Utah State University Press, Logan, Utah. 1993. 239 pages.

We Aspired: The Last Innocent Americans, 1st EditionWe Aspired: The Last Innocent Americans, 2nd Edition

“Sinclair's memoir begins with his ascent of the south face of Denali in 1959, then recounts summers of rescue work in the Tetons during the sixties. But it would be an oversimplification to say that this is what the book is about. Sinclair is writing about his life during this time. As such, the book probably has more in common with a coming-of-age story like Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man than with Annapurna (which incidentally Sinclair cites as a "text of moral instruction"). Although every autobiographical narrative about climbing can be said to be about the writer during a period of time, Sinclair's version is distinguished by the honesty and humility evident in his introspection, the generosity of his portraits and the discipline of his prose. (…)
We Aspired appears twenty years after the last events it describes have taken place: events people, landscape, movement, and emotion percolating in memory for years, until Sinclair could find their essences in language. In this book the great days are recounted with a rare precision and grace commensurate to the task.”
David Stevenson, “American Alpine Journal” 195, p. 344-346

“In the 1960s, most of the experienced climbers in Salt Lake City, where I grew up and learned to climb, viewed the Tetons as the "real mountains." As the local hardmen dreamed of the Alps and the Himalaya, they did most of their mountaineering in the Wind Rivers or the Tetons. The latter were the most popular — they were the most alpine and had the oldest climbing tradition, having been "the center of American mountaineering" since the 1920s. After learning their craft on local crags, the best climbers had become climbing rangers at Jenny Lake. Thus, we Salt Lake neophytes got liberal doses of Teton legends and traditions along with our basic climbing instruction. Pete Sinclair, as head climbing ranger in the Tetons for most of the 1960s, and later a founder of the Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, figured large in these tales. In We Aspired: The Last Innocent Americans, he recounts many of the old Teton stories, as well as a number of new ones. Also included are tales of doing the first ascent of Denali's West Rib in 1959, and a long road trip to climb the Mexican volcanoes and "get to know the people." (…)
Before the 1960s, climbers from the various regions of the U. S. tended to be somewhat isolated, with little experience outside their home areas. Virtually the only printed information on American climbing was the American Alpine Journal, which had an even more limited circulation than it does now. Sinclair stresses the role of the Tetons in providing a common bond among American climbers in the 1950s and '60s. Here, around the campfire at Jenny Lake or at one of the "Teton Tea" parties, climbers from the Shawangunks to Yosemite shared their stories and experiences. According to Sinclair, "It was the oral tradition that made the Tetons home to climbers." We Aspired does a superb job of recording some of this oral tradition, and preserving it for modern climbers.”
David R. Smith, “Climbing” 1994, No. 143, p. 147

We Aspired: The Last Innocent Americans is certainly worth the price of admission as climbing history alone. Not unexpectedly, many of the names in these pages have become legendary. Sinclair mentions most of them only inpassing, but of particular interest is the compelling portrait of his friend, the enigmatic Gary Hemming. Sinclair not only effectively chronicles what were obviously exciting times, he also succeeds in capturing the essence of an era when ...we were trying to live according to the heroic virtues: courage, friendship, self-possession, piety toward the gods of nature, and loyalty to each other and to a code of behaviour, while competing to achieve the highest standards of performance we could aspire to.”
Ray Snead, “Rock & Ice” 1994, January/February, No 59, p. 116

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