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Moving to California from Chicago in 1973 opened my eyes and mind to a whole new geography—the grand Sierra Nevada Mountain range. Its accompanying pleasures—hiking, climbing, and skiing—and meeting the people involved with these outdoor disciplines provided a new direction in my life that I have embraced for the past fifty years.

Berkeley, my new home, was a perfect location for exploring this mountain culture. The Sierras were only a three-hour drive away, and the Sierra Club's national headquarters in San Francisco were just a short drive across the Bay Bridge, where slide shows and lectures by important mountain explorers were held monthly. A number of exceptional bookstores on Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue carried first-edition books on subjects ranging from historic Himalayan explorations to Tibetan Buddhism. Mountain Travel and Inner Asia had just opened their new trekking businesses. North Face and Sierra Designs opened their flagship stores and factories for the first time in West Berkeley. For someone interested in mountains and mountain lore, Berkeley was the center of the universe.

Berkeley and the Bay Area were also meccas for photography My hiking and trekking trips throughout the Sierras, Cascades in Washington, and Andes in Peru provided ample opportunities for me to pursue this passion. And it was easy back then to meet the luminaries in the field as well as those who were also stars in the mountain-climbing world. Meeting Ansel Adams in Yosemite and taking photography workshops with Galen Rowell, a brilliant photographer and author who lost his life too early in his career, guided my pursuit of photography. Galen's compelling books on his climbs in the Himalaya, the Karakoram, and Inner Asia inspired not only my photography, but also my expanding interests in mountains in that part of Asia.

Another Berkeley mountaineering legend is Arlene Blum. Her participation in the 1976 American Bicentennial expedition on Mount Everest established her mountaineering credentials. In 1978 she led a successful all-women's climb of Annapurna, the tenth-highest mountain in the world. Her book, Annapurna: A Woman's Place (1980), detailed this major feat, as well as its tragedy, when two of her team members died during this climb. Her book and subsequent lectures and photographs were inspirations for both my photography and mountain pursuits.

In 1980 I met Anne, my future wife, on a ski trip to Lake Tahoe. Our common interests in mountains—their people and cultures as well as walking their remote paths—motivated us to do two long treks in Nepal during the early 1980s. We fell in love with the Himalayas, as well as each other, and married in Berkeley in 1982. Desiring more engagement with the Himalayas, we conferred with another close Berkeley friend, Hugh Swift, one of the two individuals to whom our book, Travels Across the Roof of the World, is dedicated. Hugh personified what trekking is all about, walking to and through every corner of the Himalaya. He always shared his insights, knowledge, and special stories about this culturally rich mountain range. He is the one who inspired us to take a two-year "sabbatical" to walk to the base camps of the world's ten highest peaks, which we chronicle in our book. Along the way, he strongly advocated that we make a pilgrimage to the sacred Mount Kailas in western Tibet.

For Anne and me, the rest is history. We were among the first Americans to trek to the base camps of the world's ten highest peaks. We were among the first Westerners to circumambulate Mount Kailas, a thirty-mile pilgrimage, in a single day, in keeping with the Tibetan pilgrims we joined. We have returned to the Himalayas many times over the past forty-two years, lugging duffel bags filled with Kodachrome 25 film and, most recently, digital cameras to capture well over 50,000 images of this vast region. We have lived and worked in Central Asia and Afghanistan, homes of Central Tien Shan, the Pamir, and the Hindu Kush mountain ranges, all at the edges of the Great Himalayan Range.

Hugh Swift is no longer with us, after his tragic death in Berkeley in 1991, but his spirit lives on in our memoir and in my photographs. While we do less trekking now, our on-going relationship to this region is as strong as ever and includes our support for the higher education of Chandra Rai, the charming and studious son of the second individual our book is dedicated to, Ram Rai, our longtime guide, mentor, and friend.

Copyright © 2022 William Frej. All rights reserved.

My place is Augusta, a tiny town in Missouri where I spent my early childhood and where my family lived on a beautiful ten-acre farm that had been a winery before Prohibition. It was an idyllic childhood that clearly influenced my love of spending time outdoors.

The town was founded during the 1830s by German immigrants who must have found the green, rolling hills in that section of Missouri similar to the places they left for various reasons. Originally it was located on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, about forty miles from its confluence with the Mississippi River, near St. Louis. After a big flood in 1872, the Missouri changed course, leaving acres of fertile farmland behind. With the right soil and climate for growing grapes, Augusta became a major wine-making region in the early twentieth century. This came to an abrupt stop in 1917, thanks to the 18th Amendment, also known as Prohibition. The thriving wineries, restaurants, and saloons were forced to shut down. By the late 1940s, when my dad bought ten bluff-top acres with a house, barn, and wine cellar plus forty acres of farmland, the town numbered only about 200 people.

Our place was the one-time Mount Pleasant Winery. Located on the edge of the river's former bluff, the property looked out over a patchwork design of fields of corn and soybeans that ended at a line of trees along the Missouri River some ten miles away. The old grape vines were gone, and in their place were flower beds, a vegetable garden, an orchard with peach and cherry trees, and several old wooden "out buildings." There were two large wine cellars still filled with large, wooden wine casks that smelled faintly of wine. My dad called it a "Gentleman's Farm" because he leased the agricultural land below our house to a local man, and the only things close to farming that he did were to cut the grass and grow vegetables. Our animals included many cats, a Beagle named Pokey, and a donkey named Pedro.

I suspect there are many reasons why my memories of Augusta and our home are so vivid. My parents told us to pay attention to the little things that we saw around us there because the world was modernizing and these slices of life from an earlier time would not be around much longer: the still-operational blacksmith shop, the general store with bins of nails and farm equipment in the back, the Model T car that Mr. Fore drove, and the recognizable German accents of the town's second- and third-generation residents. Images are also seared into my mind, thanks to the black-and-white photographs my dad took of us in those days. I can picture my sister Janey and myself in baggy swimming suits proudly standing in the cattle water tank that we used as a swimming pool or my brother Jim and myself sitting on a stoop and cradling a new puppy. My brother Bob was the little kid always in a dirty t-shirt and big smile, and my youngest sister Laura was the little girl looking over at her older siblings for acceptance.

Another reason for my still-strong and colorful memories of Augusta date from a State Department training class that my husband, Bill, and I took before taking off for his first assignment with USAID in Jakarta, Indonesia. The course, which was called "SOS," provided tips on topics such as road safety and how to detect surveillance while living overseas. At the end of the second day a distinguished-looking older man told us he was going to teach us about hostage survival. This was an issue I never imagined I would need to worry about, but I paid attention. His advice was practical and made me wonder if he had a specific experience that informed his commentary. In short, he said that one of the worst aspects of being held hostage is boredom and that a useful way to pass time is to pick a place and go through every inch of it in your mind. I chose our home in Augusta, and to this day I picture its corners and hidden places when I am bored.

I have lived and traveled in many places since my childhood in Augusta. Bill and I spent nearly forty years living in Indonesia, Poland, Kazahkstan, and Afghanistan and traveling extensively throughout regions of the Himalaya. We spent many days hiking through remote areas and small villages, meeting people whose lives focus on their immediate environment, including their fields and animals. These experiences bring me back to my early years in rural Missouri and keep me interested in exploring more.

Copyright © 2022 Anne Frej. All rights reserved.




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