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All Elevations Unknown: An Adventure in the Heart of Borneo

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9780767907750: All Elevations Unknown: An Adventure in the Heart of Borneo
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“Sam Lightner, Jr., combines two tales of adventure, one historic and the other modern-day in his page-turner . . . With its rich sense of place and history, All Elevations Unknown offers a surprisingly fresh twist to an adventure-climbing tale.” –Climbing Magazine

In the spring of 1999, armed with little more than a description from a book and a map labeled “all elevations unknown,” Sam Lightner and his German rock-climbing buddy, Volker, found themselves deep in the jungles of Borneo on a mission to climb a mountain that was only rumored to exist. What little they knew about the mountain they had learned from the memoirs of Major Tom Harrisson, a British World War II soldier who in 1945 had been assigned the near-impossible mission of parachuting blindly into the thick Borneo rainforest–where the natives had a grisly habit of cutting off heads–to try to reclaim the island for the Allies.

A captivating, utterly original combination of travel adventure memoir and historical re-creation, All Elevations Unknown charts Lightner’s exhilarating and at times harrowing quest to ascend the mountain Batu Lawi in the face of leeches, vipers, and sweat bees, and to keep his team together in one of the earth’s most treacherous uncharted pockets. Along the way, he reconstructs a fascinating historical narrative that chronicles Tom Harrisson’s adventures there during the war and illuminates an astonishing piece of forgotten World War II history. Rife with suspense and vivid detail, the two intertwining tales open up the island of Borneo, its people, and its history in a powerful, unforgettable way, taking adventure writing to new heights.

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In March 1945, a smart but rowdy British officer named Tom Harrisson parachuted into the Borneo Highlands and set about organizing an army of headhunters to battle the Japanese invaders. He knew the difficult country a little, having been there on a scientific expedition before the war, but now, "shepherded to the island by the world's most lucrative sponsor, the Dogs of War," he had to learn its secrets, and quickly.

In 1958, Harrisson wrote a memoir, World Within, chronicling his time on the island. Looking for new places to explore, Wyoming rock-scrambler Sam Lightner and his German climbing partner happened on Harrisson's book, studied it closely, and, with four other "dirt-bag" climbers, went off to Borneo to find the peak of their dreams in the cloud forests, in country that maps "tinted gray and labeled 'All Elevations Unknown'." Battling unusual elements--including having to "cough up the larvae of echinococcosus" and dodge giant snakes, to say nothing of the area's still-active headhunting bands--they found it, scaled the spire called Batu Lawi, and lived to tell the tale.

Their exploits form the heart of Lightner's good-natured narrative, which draws on Harrisson's own account of jungle warfare to become a work of history as much as outdoors travel. Climbers, students of World War II, and armchair adventurers alike will enjoy his report. --Gregory McNamee

From the Back Cover:

“Harrisson’s story shimmers with a hero’s aura...Lightner’s unadorned voice manages to keep both these incredible adventures very immediate and utterly affecting.”Kirkus Reviews

“A memorable travel-adventure memoir...Lightner’s natural flair for writing and the inspiration he draws from Harrisson’s life...make this a wonderful introduction to an island and a culture known to few people.”Publishers Weekly

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