Rough coverage of tough terrain

7th February 1997 at 00:00
Brendan O'Malley finds plodding prose stalks a guide to adventurous expeditions. EXPEDITION GUIDE Third edition By Wally Keay Pounds 12.95

The Duke of Edinburgh's Award, Unit 1819 Stewartfield Industrial Estate, Edinburgh EH6 5RQ

Tel: 0131 553 5280

The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme publishes a new expedition guide every five years, normally focusing on journeys on foot. But this one broadens the coverage to include ventures on horseback or by bike, canoe, rowing boat or sailing dinghy. It also places a new emphasis on the philosophy and educational aims behind the famous gold, silver and bronze awards.

The guide covers the requirements of the awards, some theory about leadership and teamwork, advice on important aspects of expeditions such as equipment, cooking and planning; information for developing key skills such as navigating and first aid; and safety guidance on dealing with hazards such as poor weather.

There are some interesting reflections on the advances of the modern age, with a section on how to use a hand-held gadget to fire signals at satellites and determine your position; a warning not to shine a torch at a rescue helicopter at night because it could blind any pilot who is using image-intensifying glasses to see in the dark; and a eulogy to the mobile phone for improving communications while batteries last - though there's a reprimand for any assessor who thinks messages left on his answering machine constitute an appraisal of the expedition group's progress.

The author's biggest gripe is with today's sedentary, mechanised lifestyle that has left many of us lacking strength and fitness to carrying a pack up and down mountains. The most common cause of Award expeditions failing is lack of fitness - followed by poor navigation and overweight rucksacks.

Keay, the award scheme's technical and safety adviser, recommends a rigorous, lengthy pre-expedition training programme. But an explanation of "warming up" and "cooling down" periods would have been helpful here. Mountain slopes and rough terrain can test muscles, ligaments and tendons to their breaking point, especially when carrying a heavy load. Not many realise that the risk of debilitating ankle, knee and back strains can be minimised by preliminary stretching exercises.

Ironically, the many glorious colour landscape photographs are enough to make you want to forget the laborious planning, run home, pack your kit and head straight for those idyllic hills. They contrast sharply with occasional amateur snapshots and the worthy but dully censorious tone of the writing. And therein lies the problem with this book. Does the publisher want to warn, inform or inspire?

Too often little thought has gone into using pictures to illustrate the message and providing informative captions. Many diagrams are not labelled and poorly explained. Much of the writing, too, is tiresomely repetitive and wordy.

It may be a safety manual, and it is comprehensive, but better advantage could have been taken of Wally Keay's valuable expertise by commissioning a rigorous sub-editor to knock the book into shape. After all, crisp communication is as important in writing as it is in leading an expedition.

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