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Winter 1999/2000
In the magazine
Story Previews
Excerpts From the Print Edition

Prisoner of Hill 52
Let Her Rip!
The Honest Way Up
Extreme Destination: Yasur Volcano, Vanuatu


related web-sites
small arrowPhilip Caputo, U.S. Marine, Vietnam
As part of its Cold War series, CNN interviewed the author.

small arrowVietnam Adventures
This all-purpose travel guide features an entertaining new travelogue each month.

small arrowRe: Vietnam (Stories Since the War)
Read or contribute personal stories of how the war affected individuals.

small arrowVietnam Online
PBS's American Experience series presents a definitive overview.

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small arrowCD-ROM: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Maps—The War Series

Prisoner of Hill 52
By Philip Caputo

He returned to the battlefields of Vietnam to make peace with the ghost of the 23-year-old platoon leader he once was—and with the past that haunts him still.

…I don't know the names of the Vietnamese dead, but I do know the names of some American dead, 16 altogether, and the names merge in my memory into a single name, as the faces merge into one face of a young marine who will never know the indignities of old age:


Their ghosts are here, along with another, and its name is Phil Caputo: the ghost of who I used to be, a 23-year-old rifle platoon leader in the Third Marine Division, a man I am sometimes proud of and sometimes ashamed of, but proud or shamed, a man I must accept as he was then, a warrior, a killer, carbine in his hand, knife and pistol hanging from his belt, his rucksack and cargo pockets filled with the implements of his lethal trade—hand grenades, smoke grenades, flares, compass, maps in acetate covers with patrol routes and checkpoints and concentrations of pre-planned artillery fire marked in grease pencil.

I am here to make my peace with him, and with the biggest ghost of all, the ghost of a past that haunts me still.

* * *

I made my peace with my former enemies nine years ago, when I and seven other American veterans who had become novelists and poets were invited to Vietnam by the Vietnamese Writers Union to meet with Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army veterans who had become novelists and poets. "We are writers of blood and fire," said one of our hosts at the opening conference in Hanoi, sounding a note of brotherhood. "We saw war with the naked eye, but holding a pen is a thousand times more difficult than holding a rifle."

Da Nang was where the war began for me, on March 8, 1965, and I had a strange feeling of homecoming when our group of warriors-turned-writers traveled to that crowded, noisy port on the South China Sea. That evening, at a dinner hosted by the local chapter of the writers union, a poet named Ngan Vinh made a brief speech and then read one of his works, "After the Rain in the Forest." He was a striking man, tall for a Vietnamese at five feet nine [1.8 meters], with a lean, muscular build and a shock of thick, black hair graying at the temples. During the war, Vinh had been a platoon leader like me, commanding 42 men in the first battalion, 40th brigade of the North Vietnamese Army, and his poem was about carrying a wounded comrade to safety after a battle in the monsoon in 1967. The words and imagery—the weight of the man on his shoulders, blood mixed with rain spilling into the mud of the trail—astonished me because they were so like the words and images of a poem I had written in 1966. It was called "Infantry in the Monsoon," and it was about carrying wounded comrades in the rain. I mentioned this coincidence to Vinh after the meal. He asked me to read the poem, but I didn't have it with me; nor could I remember more than a few lines, which I recited at his request. We got to talking, discovered that his battalion and mine had operated in the same valley southwest of Da Nang in early 1966, and though we determined that we had never fought each other, that was close enough.

Vinh filled two glasses with vodka and said we had to drink together. We tossed our glasses back, and then Vinh embraced me and said, "You and me, Philip, we are brothers in arms," and that night, June 21, 1990, was when the Vietnam War ended for me.

Get the full story—and an ADVENTURE Guide to Vietnam—in the Winter 1999/2000 issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ADVENTURE.
(Subscribe today.)


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Let Her Rip!
By Gretchen Reynolds

Perfecting the art of the glide at Wild Women Snowboard Camp with world champion Greta Gaines.

…I might have looked like a pallid working mom. But beneath the Spaghetti Os-stained shirt beat the heart of a Shredding Betty stoked to unearth the tail-grabber within. In other words, I was one of the 14 disciples—from rank amateurs to ollie-loving experts—who'd signed up for the resort's annual three-day Wild Women Snowboard Camp, led by professional boarder Greta Gaines.

Six years ago, Gaines was an industry renegade when she launched the first women-only snowboard camp with a longtime friend, Mary "Bear" Simmons. Today you'd have to say she was a pioneer. As snowboarding's popularity among women continues to grow, Greta has picked up a legion of imitators, from the creatively named Women Only Snowboard Camps, to special instructional programs and weekends for women sponsored by virtually every major resort in the country.

…"I've loved watching women become a big, big presence in snowboarding," Gaines says. "I look around the slopes and see hundreds of women, where there were none 15 years ago. It makes me look smart." (Some 60 women a year have attended the various Wild Women camps around the country, many of them fervent, almost evangelical repeat customers.)

On the first morning of camp, we new arrivals begin to understand why. "It's so freeing for women to get aggro!" Gaines is yelling from her cross-legged perch atop the sign-in table. All around, campers are pulling on rental boots and swapping stories of bruises and mild concussions from camps past. Gaines's voice rises above the chatter. "Women were born to ride!" she calls. "A long, long time ago, we were all surfers. It's in our nature. The mother goddess wants you here! She welcomes you to the great sorority of the hippie!"

"Excuse me," someone tentatively breaks in during one of Gaines's brief pauses for breath, "are wrist guards mandatory?"

"Unless you want to learn how to write with your toes," Gaines responds, "wrist guards are absolutely mandatory."

The mother goddess has spoken. And so camp begins.

Get the full story—and an ADVENTURE Guide to adult-only boarding camps—in the Winter 1999/2000 issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ADVENTURE.
(Subscribe today.)

ADVENTURE Online Extra
Q&A: Greta Gaines, Rock Star Snowboard Queen
Meet the mother goddess of Wild Women Snowboard Camps.


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small arrowSkiNet
Find news, polls, snow reports, gear reviews, and more.

small arrowSki Utah: Brighton Area
Brighton's boundary policy, says author David Quammen, seems to be "Go wherever you want, whenever you want, folks, but please be careful."
The Honest Way Up
By David Quammen

Swooping downhill has its obvious rewards, but there's nothing quite like the dour exhilaration of walking up.

Sometimes adrenaline flows uphill. Sometimes it beckons toward a realm above and beyond where the chairlifts and gondolas can carry you, an airier zone only accessible by slog-foot muscle. You ride to the top but aren't satisfied there. You slide off the chair, you snap out of your bindings and strap your skis onto a pack, you check your transceiver for reassurance that they'll know where to dig for your body, and then you confront a small orange sign: SKI AREA BOUNDARY, it says. NO SKI PATROL OR AVALANCHE CONTROL BEYOND THIS POINT. You step past it. And you begin to climb.

Resort skiing drops away beneath you. Lift cables become delicate lines on a map. It feels like a sort of willful, grunt-work levitation. Then, suddenly you are free—free of the heavy traffic, the hard piste, the embarrassment of unearned verticality. You're free to stumble and wheeze upward in pursuit of more pungently complicated pleasures, free to get yourself lost, buried, or broken. Swooping downhill has its obvious rewards, yes, but there's nothing quite like the dour exhilaration of walking up.

Get the full story—and a guide to backcountry skiing and snowboarding spots—in the Winter 1999/2000 issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ADVENTURE.
(Subscribe today.)

Should out-of-bounds skiing and boarding be more widely accessible?


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Extreme Destination:
Yasur Volcano, Vanuatu

By Ted Allen

From Vanuatu, the South Pacific island chain that brought you land diving and cargo cults, comes Yasur Volcano, the coolest peak you've never heard of.

WHERE: Like Lilliputians on the nose of a sleeping giant, humans have for centuries scaled the gentle slopes of the Yasur Volcano on the Melanesian island of Tanna, to the very lip of its 820-foot-deep [250-meter-deep] crater. But the giant is hardly asleep: Since its "discovery" in 1774 by Captain James Cook, the 1,184-foot [361-meter] cone has continually spewed plumes of sulfurous gas and showers of sparks and ash….

WHY: Besides its vibrant culture (and the dyspeptic volcano), Tanna offers a wealth of adventures. Its turquoise waters are home to 4,000 species of sea life, and thus, some of the best snorkeling in the world, rivaling Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Trails crisscross the island and local sports range from sea kayaking to bungee-jumping (or land-diving, which originated on the island of Pentecost, in central Vanuatu).

HOW: It's a puddle-jump from the Fiji city of Nadi to Port-Vila, on the Vanuatu island of Éfaté (take Air Vanuatu; 67-8-23878, call 800 677 4277 [U.S. and Canada] for bookings). From there, a Discover Vanuatu pass from Vanair (67-8-25045) makes it easy to hop between Tanna and other isles. Stay in your own thatch-roof hut at the Tanna Beach Resort (67-8-68626) or search for simpler lodgings via the Vanuatu Cultural Centre (67-8-22129).

Get the full story in the Winter 1999/2000 issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ADVENTURE.
(Subscribe today.)


Winter 1999/2000: Previews | Forum | Q&A | Nick's Take 2 | From the Field | Guide Lines
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