All Elevations Unknown

Book Review



All Elevations Unknown


Sam Lightner, Jr.


Broadway Books, Division of Random House Inc., New York, NY



Reviewed By:

Frank Fogg

Review Date:

June, 2001



In All Elevations Unknown, Sam Lightner Jr. tells  us the story of two adventures for the price of one. He relates the true story  of his quest to climb an unknown mountain deep in the jungles of Borneo, and  also of a commando operation into the same area almost fifty years earlier against  an occupying Japanese force.

Inspired by World Within: A Borneo Story, Sam decides  to climb the Batu Lawi, a remote mountain inside Borneo. The mountain is not listed on any map and Sam only has a few small pictures of it from old books,  yet he successfully mounts a mountain climbing expedition with the financial  help of several corporate sponsors and the assistance of local tribesmen.

Get more information about All Elevations Unknown at Amazon.comAlong  the way, his party was forced to fight nature in her many forms. A wide variety  of poisonous snakes, parasites, and diseases are pandemic in the Borneo jungle,  and the author relates instances of parasitic worms dropping from his nose and bloodthirsty ground leeches attacking at every opportunity. One of the mountain climbers had a near death experience when he encountered a bamboo viper only inches from his face during the final climb to the summit.

The terrain and weather also fought the adventurers  at every opportunity. There are no roads to get to the mountain, so the climbers embarked on a week-long hike through the jungle to arrive at the foot of Batu  Lawi. Torrential rains were a daily occurrence and humidity often approached  100%. The mountain climbers found themselves nearly trapped inside of a thunderstorm during their final day of climbing and were forced to leave much of their climbing equipment behind.

The other story in this book is about Major Tom Harrison,  a member of the British SAS and the leader of the guerrilla groups in Borneo during the Second World War. Harrison parachuted deep into the interior of Borneo, an area known for its ruggedness and also for fierce headhunting native tribes.  Not knowing whether he would be able to organize a resistance or become a trophy  for the headhunters, he was surprised when the tribes appointed him their leader.  Harrison equipped the tribes with modern combat equipment including machine  guns and grenades, and began a series of battles at which the Japanese forces were completely destroyed.

Harrison chose to remain in Borneo after the war. He married a woman from Borneo and helped the tribes to develop schooling and other infrastructure to lead them into the modern age. Lightner visited Harrison's grave as a final  tribute to the man that inspired his expedition.

The author freely admits that most of the conversation in  the chapters about Harrison is made up, but he bases his development of the  story on numerous eyewitness accounts and descriptions. The story has a realistic  feel to it, and one quickly develops an appreciation for the difficulties Harrison surely faced on this mission. The personal glimpses Lightner gives about the difficulties involved with completing the expedition make that part of the story  interesting even to non-climbers, and the descriptions of the wildlife and vegetation  are fascinating to those that will never visit such an isolated area.

This is a wonderful novel for military history buffs looking for untold stories of the Second World War. Adventurers and rock climbers will  surely appreciate this tale of travel into dark and distant jungles and a casual reader will find this book different than many, yet quite entertaining.

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