New Review for “Dancing on the Edge of an Endangered Planet”


Wild tales of adventure and a bit of inspiration is the subtitle of this book. Wild tales, indeed!
Author John Mattson may have started life on the lonely prairies of North Dakota, but boy oh boy did he ever pack a hundred years of adventures into one life. From page one to 252, I don’t think anyone could jam more sights, adventure, craziness and unharnessed will to live into one book. This was a fun one to read.


Starting out a college student who decides to try alpine skiing on a whim, then moving on to being a rodeo cowboy, a rock climber, a free spirited kayaker , a river explorer, and more, this is a story that made me think how I wish I could have done just one of these things! Full of old photographs and tall tales galore, Mattson easily and humbly describes his life enjoying the many natural splendors of our planet–and the dangers as humanity’s greed and evil lay bare the ecosystems that Mattson holds dear.


Although it is not a literary masterpiece–there are a few typos, and the oversized manuscript is a little unwieldy, the typeface choppy–I don’t doubt for a minute that Mattson ever intended for it to be a highbrow book. His wild storytelling feels like you’re sitting next to him at a bonfire, sipping coffee, swapping tales. His enthusiasm for life and extreme sports is never told with a haughty swagger, but almost with an innocent, slightly crazy daredevil’s smirk, in natural country boy I can’t believe I actually did that twang that makes you feel entirely at ease–even as you are stepping off an alpine cliff with him, ready to slalom to the bottom on homemade skis.


Dancing on the edge takes you from country to country , from the US to Belize, Nepal, Chile and more, as cars break down and are left roadside, as small groups of hardcore adventurers sleep in caves and under the stars, as avalanches and river rapids and danger-filled landscapes threaten them at every pass. I truly appreciated Mattson’s descriptive talents as he took the time to look for and tell the reader about natural wonders along the way: sunlight sparkling on river rapids, flocks of ewes on mountaintops, the simple but delicious foods he enjoyed. He speaks often of the friendships he made, and often cites near strangers by name, as if tipping a gloved hand to them for the warm memories they made together.


I found it fascinating that he also includes great mechanical and engineering detail about equipment used and locations visited (in between jumping off mountains and sliding down rivers, he earned an engineering degree and is a designer-builder). Because of this attention to minuscule details and embellishments, I really felt like I was there, too.
If you’ve ever wished that you could just lock up your house and take a wild trip around the world, with no luxurious hotels and a/c to distract you from enjoying the natural planet and its people, take a copy of this book and read away. You’ll be wiping sweat off your brow and steadying your heart rate in no time.


Review by Alicia Accardi
Closed the Cover



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A Summer in the Needles of South Dakota

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.”   — Henry David Thoreau


Fast food in the seventies

Fast food in the seventies

“Wow! That was really good for my psyche!” exclaimed Pete Delannoy, as I caught him after a 50 foot lead fall.

It was the longest fall that I had ever witnessed, and I caught him just a few feet from the ground with a running belay. It was good for his psyche because he was afraid that he might have hit the ground.  Pete was trying to climb a classic Needles route called “Hairy Pin” and his fall had been stopped by one old quarter-inch bolt. After a brief rest, he tried again, with the same result.

Pete Delannoy on the 1st ascent of The Crack of Earthly Delights.

Pete Delannoy on the 1st ascent of The Crack of Earthly Delights.

“Thanks for a great belay! I think I have the move figured out now,” he said, and immediately went up for a third try.  The third try was the charm, and I had a chance to follow with a tight rope. I also fell, but my fall was only a few inches, and I managed to make the moves on the second try.

The South Dakota Needles were the closest climbing area to my home state, and I had the luxury of hanging out with some top “rope guns” for the better part of a summer in the mid-1970’s.

I had met Bob Archbold at the Devil’s Tower, and he invited me to join him at his deluxe camp. Bob and his friend Jim Black had started a climbing school at Sylvan Lake and had set up very luxurious accommodations.

The camp site they had chosen was in a beautiful, remote setting and had a large rock overhang to provide shelter. A few pitons provided anchors for a deluxe racking system, and we also had a picnic table and a large hammock.  Most of the local climbers called it the “sex cave,” but it was really just an overhanging rock.

The guiding business wasn’t very good, but some beautiful Midwestern gals were very impressed by the manly climbers, and the cave family grew.  The warm summer days were spent climbing and hiking, and the evenings were spent socializing around a warm fire.  We discovered a variety of mint plants, that made some very tasty tea that complemented the simple gourmet meals that we enjoyed in our wilderness paradise.

There were only a handful of climbers in the Needles that summer, but Bob seemed to know them all and it was a very friendly family. Many new routes were being established, and I had some great opportunities to try them.  I was somewhat of a fledgling climber, but it was a wonderful experience to hang out with all the heroes, and my skills gradually increased. The many spectacular spires offered some incredible summit vistas, and the lush meadows between them provided a maze-like setting with hundreds of secret places.

One of Bob’s best friends was a legendary old climber named Paul Muell, who had served the U.S. Military in a special forces unit.  He was also an explosives expert and was working on the Crazy Horse Monument in it’s early days of construction.  Paul was an excellent climber with a very cool head and bravely led the Needles classics, which were considered very dangerous leads in most of the climbing circles.

Climbing in the Needles has a very interesting history, which centers on Herb and Jan Conn. They started climbing in the Needles in 1949 with only tennis shoes and a sixty-foot rope, and they managed to summit more than 200 spires.

All of their routes were climbed free, and they used a very minimal amount of fixed protection, which was always placed by the leader. This standard has survived the test of time and has left a paradise of pristine rocks that are uncluttered with bolts and webbing. Drilling a hole in granite with a hammer while standing on a small crystal with a twenty-foot run-out is quite a bold task, so the few bolts that exist are very well placed.

“The protection is adequate, and you don’t need a big rack,” remarked Paul, as he reached into his tobacco can for some ground up rock dust.  He didn’t use chalk, and he often climbed in the Conn style, with some old tennis shoes that he called K-Martos. But, when the going got really tough, he would put on his PA’s and would occasionally reach into his back pocket for the tobacco can.

Climbing with Paul and Bob was a real joy, and I had the privilege of experiencing the summits of many of the classic routes.

The Needles is still one of my favorite places on the planet, and I have very fond memories of our little cave family and the magical summer that I spent there.