cover image The Big Open: On Foot Across Tibet's Chang Tang

The Big Open: On Foot Across Tibet's Chang Tang

Rick Ridgeway. National Geographic Society, $26 (302pp) ISBN 978-0-7922-6560-3

Adventure writer Ridgeway (The Shadow of Kilimanjaro) crafts an urgent, poetic narrative as he guides readers across Tibet's barren and treacherous northern plateau in search of the calving grounds of the chiru, an endangered antelope. Along with his three companions--late nature photographer Galen Rowell, Conrad Anker, who wrote the foreword, and Jimmy Chin--the seasoned mountaineer traces the female chiru's 200-mile migration route. The bulk of the story focuses on the Chang Tang's natural splendor and the adverse conditions the group faced while lugging 200 pounds of food, water and photographic equipment on aluminum rickshaws at soaring altitudes.""To conserve batteries,"" Ridgeway writes,""everyone but Conrad turns off their headlamps. In the east a fingernail of moon glows through a reef of clouds. We are traveling at a compass bearing of 30 degrees, and I assume that Conrad, like me, is using the stars in the sky to maintain our course."" But Ridgeway also offers a thoughtful regional history and an affecting description of the complex human struggle surrounding the rampant poaching of chiru and the illegal trade in their pelts (their fur is woven into shahtoosh, an ultrafine and precious wool). The group's mission is ultimately successful: the Chinese government plans to create a national preserve based on their discovery. The international effort to save the Tibetan antelope and the""big open"" steppe it inhabits elevates the narrative beyond the usual extreme travel tour to an enthralling and hopeful height. Color photo insert not seen by PW.