Moonstone Hero by David Sklar Reviewed

Moonstone Hero by David Sklar (2022)

This book is going to be hard to forget. A publicist reached out over email asking if I would review a novel based on a doctor’s lived experiences on Kilimanjaro and having to make decisions about how far his character would go to save another life. I insightful books and thought this could take me some interesting places as a reader and a climber. It left me a little uncomfortable.

The book is Moonstone Hero, a novel written by David Sklar, and is being released on or around October 25, 2022. The back of the paperback, focuses on the first half of the book, where the lead character Andrew must choose between going with the rest of his party to the mountain’s summit or descending in the dark to save a stranger, when no one else will. However, this is only a snippet of what I read in the novel’s 243 pages. The climb (or descent, really,) is just the start of what turned into a romantic story; Andrew pursues Eve, the girlfriend of Barry, who Andrew attempts to rescue. The back of the book did not give this theme the proper weight.

The story starts in Tanzania in 1974 and follows Andrew’s life starting on the verge of summiting Kilimanjaro, when Barry comes down with a serious case of pulmonary edema. It is dark when Barry’s condition worsens; Barry needs to get down just when the group of climbers and their guide were leaving the camp to make the final push. (Apparently it was unsafe to descend in the dark by not to ascend to the summit.) Andrew, is a medical student, and puts Barry’s condition first. The lead guide, Salaam, insists Andrew and Barry wait until morning when its light and they return from the top, but finally relents to Andrew and his opinion, as a medical student, and allows Andrew to descend with Barry immediately. Andrew is joined by the leader’s younger cousin, Koba. The others press toward the top.

I enjoyed Sklar’s character Koba, but I worry that I may be appreciating some Western stereotypes of African males unnecessarily without knowing the perspectives. Sklar shared his fears, their origin from his mother and songs they sang in school, his work ethic and how that approach to his job was, in part, to keep him save from the white man. He had a back story that seemed, as a reader, to be authentically African. Koba pretended not to understand Andrew or Barry on the descent, because he knew that if he spoke it would encourage more questions, and he was being cautious with these white men, and didn’t want to be hypnotized by them. It’s likely that Andrew wouldn’t have completed this leg of the journey without him, and Koba learned to admire Andrew. Koba’s honorable character helped set Andrew as the stories honorable hero.

From this point, the climbing portion of the story is a descent, and the rest of the story all goes down hill. Andrew saves Barry’s life and while Barry recovers in the hospital, he takes Eve on an out of place beach vacation. I was sincerely curious about where Sklar would go once Barry reached the hospital, but by this conversation I lost interest, but I plodded on to the end to see what surprises the book had.

I think the story has greater potential with some rewriting. The third person omniscient perspective left too few, if any, conceal-and-reveal moments. It limited Andrew and Eve to being one-dimensional. In good stories, you feel like the character or understand their worries, fears, and what excites them, and these things you can see the mistakes they make and how they overcome their flaws to become heroes. For Andrew, he just seemed like a nice guy doing the right thing but not getting what he wanted out of life. There were mentions about how he was longing for or obsessed with Eve, but I never felt or understood why, only that the perspective indicated that it was destiny, without saying explicitly so.

I was also perplexed by various little things that could have been omitted and that didn’t move the story along. Why did I need to know Eve was wearing eyeliner on the day of the ascent to the summit? (For that matter, why was she wearing eyeliner on the day of the ascent to the summit?) There was a lot of detailed discussion about travel details that were too instructional, such as how one would visit someone by flying in and whether they took a bus or train. And when things did move the story along, details were too often revealed in long answers of dialogue, which is how we learned that Eve, even on the mountain, was ready for the beach, because she said, in thinking aloud about whether to go, that she did in fact pack a bathing suit in her bag.

Moonstone Hero is about Andrew finally getting together with Eve. It only marginally covers climbing Kilimanjaro. And the conflict, drama, and ethical issues that were promised about choosing to do the right thing over going to the summit and peer pressure, never gets much deeper than what was said on the back of the book.

The story needed some more challenges and the book description needs to be honest. I also think that the fate of Barry was an opportunity to inject more conflict that might have challenged Andrew more and maybe even the circumstances around he and Eve. Andrew could still be a hero, deal with some greater adversity, and he and Eve could still go off into the sunset.

(Don’t buy this one for the AAC Library, Ms. Sauter, it isn’t relevant.)

Rating: 2.25 burritos out of five.

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Not Without Peril by Nicholas Howe Reviewed

Not Without Peril by Nicholas Howe (2009, 2nd ed.)

Nicholas Howe grew up and around the Presidential Range of New Hampshire with the tallest peak, the Mount Washington, within view of his family’s first home. He hiked extensively, served as a trail and hut steward, and participated in some rescue efforts. In his book, Not Without Peril: 150 Years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range of New Hampshire (2009, 2nd ed.,) Howe explains how the mountain trails have changed yet the mountain itself and the people who climbed it have not.

Starting with a grand sentence to lead his book, Howe beckons us to read on: “Mountains were invented in the 19th Century.” We learn about exploration in England’s land in North America and the carriage road up the summit of Mount Washington. We read about Frederick Strickland, an Englishman scientist, who has a tragic mishap in 1849. We follow enthusiastic mountain climbers, and evaluate their situations in 1855, 1886, 1900, 1912, the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1950s, 1986, and the deadly 1994 season.

Often the demises of hikers lost were due simply because they were unprepared. They were without appropriate clothes, nutrition, and navigation. Many died mere meters away from shelter they could not locate due to snow, wind, rain, fog, or the dark. I feel like several disaster stories (including Simon Joseph’s and Joe Caggiano’s) start out “three friends from Boston decided to go climb in the Presidential Range…”

Howe introduced me to Jesse Whitehead. She was the daughter of Alfred North Whitehead, a British-born Harvard philosopher, and she was a scholar of ancient Arabic languages that maintained a prominent place in Boston’s society. Well, she was also a hiker, skier, and a serious climber “long before anyone thought such a calling would include women,” as Howe explained her pioneering ways. Whitehead, with three men, made the first ascent of the Pinnacle in Mount Washington’s Huntington Ravine. Later, she climbed in the Alps, including the an attempt on the Matterhorn. But it was another attempt in Mount Washington’s other major eastern ravine, Tuckerman’s Ravine, that Whitehead makes Howe’s book. She and her partner, a less experienced gentleman, fell from a ghastly height. Howe traces the accident and the rescue (not a recovery) that includes Bradford Washburn, which almost seemed like a cameo in the story.

Howe’s treatment of these stories combine the enthusiasm we share for mountain adventure and is simultaneously clinical enough before leaving the reader sad. After the accident, Howe starts to evaluate the situation for lessons and explains the search and rescue process and tells stories from their perspective with as much ferver as going into the range. Each chapter I read I went with the traveler Howe profiled, full well knowing it wouldn’t end well, and they examined the maps and mistskes by flipping pages back and forth. I’m grateful to Howe and the subjects, like Joseph amd Caggiano, for their anecdotes as I prepare better my next hike.

Howe also taught me about the early visitors approach to the Presidential Range and Mount Washington in particular. They believed the mountain would largely be ascended by horseback, which was why the carriage road and the halfway house was built. The observatory on the summit was not the only purpose. In fact, other early routes attempted to rise up via gradual grades much longer than our uphill trails we rely on today.

I was drawn to reading Howe’s book because of David Roberts’ books about his own adventures with the Harvard Mountaineering Club and retelling of stories of fellow-Harvard alumni Bradford Washburn. Those tales taught me about the significance of climbing Mount Washington, in spite of its relatively low elevation of 1,918 m/6,288 ft. I learned that it was not only the highest peak in the Northeastern United States, but it was also a cold, windy place that was the best “local” training for Alaska and beyond.

I climbed it in 2002 in a round-about way via the Ammonoosuc Trail from the West. I was an experienced hiker from dozens of trips up the Adirondack 46rs, but I didn’t have more than a simple map for directions. I was surprised by many things, from the large lodge known as the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, that I was able to easily make it to the summit of Mount Monroe by a short detour, and that the bald rock was not in fact relatively smooth like the Adirondack peaks but rather enormous boulders evenly spread out; stumbling could easily mean a twisted ankle. I knew the summit had a large weather station and a cog rail train and auto road brought tourists, but it was weird summit experience after walking alone (with joy and meditation) for hours. It’s only taken on a more significant role in my imagination.

Howe’s book is worth reading if you frequent the Presidential Range or if you hike and scramble over peaks often. The anecdotes and historical tidbits, along with practical takeaways for the trail, are valuable and downright charming.

Rating: Four burritos out of five.

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Four New Climbing Books — Narratives — for 2022

Mountain Singe (All rights reserved)

How many new climbing books are coming out this year? Maybe more than 20, but these four books caught my attention. Why? Because they are not advice on climbing a higher grade or improving your skills, like assessing avalanche risk; I mean, you could search the Internet for that.

These are narratives, book narratives. Climber Paul Pritchard explains why this is significant in his 1997 memoir Deep Play: “A magazine that readers dip into, not knowing what kind of excitement they are looking for, and so only happening across a piece of your life, is not a place for such intimate subjects. In a book, on the other hand, readers must go out and find, already knowing that they want to learn about you or read what you have to say.”

Here are my brief notes, and I hope you find at least one worth picking up:

NONFICTION NARRATIVES

Science on the Roof of the World by Lachlan Fleetwood (May 2022) — Lachlan shares untold stories, well untold until now, that give perspective on the nexus of empires and mountains and even sheds light on one of the reaons “dependence on indigenous networks” was erased in order to make knowing the world possible. If that doesn’t compel you to read, well…

Born to Climb: From Rock Climbing Pioneer to Olympic Athlete Culture by Zofia Reych (June 2022) — Reych of Fontenbleua is an anthropologist by training that works in climbing media. They also established the Women’s Bouldering Festival and as of this month, released her first book tracing the rise of climbing to the Tokyo Olympics.

FICTION

Peak: A Novel by Eric Sparling (January 2022) — Sparling tells the story of Phil Truss, diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, turns to not just a modest goal of climbing Rainier but the Mountaineers’ Mountain: K2. Except, after hiring the best guide, he faces a grand demon that has tried to transcend his cage before. The story is gruesome and witty. I reviewed it here.

Native Air by Jonathan Howland (April 2022) — Howland’s first book (and novel) tells the story of Joe Holland from when he was young and climbing free with his partner Pete Hunter, and the story of returning to climbing after Pete’s death. What intrigues me, based on an interview by Chris Kalous, Howland starts the story in the 1980s and leapfrogs to modern gym climbing.

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Peak, a Witty Horror Novel, by Eric Sparling

Peak: A Novel by Eric Sparling (2022)

It was intelligent, exciting, gross, at times nauseating and frightening, and I nearly quit reading it. But I am glad I toughed it out because the conclusion was climbing-history informed and damn witty.

Eric Sparling, a writer from Nova Scotia, wrote Peak published by Podium in 2022, didn’t set out to write a horror book about the supernatural. He liked monster movies like The Thing. And he had gathered a lot of convincing knowledge of high-altitude mountaineering that I was convinced and a climber-writer I referred the book to, who also read it, said it was good, “until it went batshit crazy.”

(Side note: I don’t like violent movies and I have never been inclined toward horror stories in books or movies because I think the real world has enough violence and frightening things; so I always try to pull back that veil of fear and find the beauty because of or in spite of the horrible things. I’ve watched a handful of movies, always with friends, and think fondly of The Others, The Ring, but when I tried reading Mexican Gothica by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, I couldn’t finish. So for Peak, I got the audio book and listened to it driving between meetings for a week. I need a little more old-fashioned grit, I suppose.)

Sparling tells us the story of Phil Truss, a divorced newly-rich aspiring climber who learned that a brain tumor may kill him within a year. His desires to climb mountains grows and decides he wants to die a mountaineer and what better mountain to climb than the Mountaineer’s Mountain, no not Rainier or even Robson, but K2. He hires Ukrainian superstar alpinist Ivan to be his guide (for the most of his remaining wealth,) and they’re off to the Karakoram.

The first three-fifths of the book Sparling does a reasonably convincing job of describing what the climb would be like from Phil’s newbie-amateur perspective. Phil may be paying the bill, but Ivan is the boss, trying to keep him alive, and more importantly, alive until he succeeds at reaching the top. But along the way, Phil experiences some unusual visions and hears voices. Of course, he has a brain tumor, which could cause that. Ivan even explains his experiences with feeling someone’s tangible presence helping him on a climb, but he was clearly and objectively alone. This was high-altitude climbing and many things can cloud our perspective, Ivan explains.

Phil realizes he can’t ignore the visions and voices he sees of the demon trapped around K2, which he names Varney. Varney chose to reveal himself to Phil because he was the first person ever to K2 wanting life but seeking death. As we read on, as an intriguing detail, we learn that even Aleister Crowley, the Wickedest Man in the World, didn’t have the advantage Phil had in connecting with Varney.

After Sparling’s witting storytelling, my favorite aspect was how Phil dealt with the blog’s, social media outrage, and disgust from other climbers on K2 that he didn’t belong on the mountain. There were opinion pieces lambasting him for being a privileged, rich man buying his way to the top. He weighed that heavily. Was he a fraud? If he lived longer than expected, he would never be a peer to the climbers that climbed and worked for years and decades to top out on K2. He was getting a crash course and practically pulled up the mountain by Ivan, Dawa, and to some extent supernatural forces. In the end, Phil comes to peace within himself about it, but it’s quickly dashed by Varney’s plot being unveiled and what horrifying things Phil must do to transcend into the supernatural.

Other than my reservations about violence and the horrible descriptions of putrid smells (I have to give him high points for “raw vegetables reduced to liquid fermented in a coffin,”) there were two aspects that fell flat for me: First, Dawa, a professional climber on Ivan’s expedition team, was referred to as just “the Sherpa” on several occasions. Perhaps that was intended as a title of respect, but I wasn’t sure it was appropriate today. Lastly, Phil had an amateur perspective that all climbers facing a climbing challenge “storm the gates of hell” to ascend to the top of any peak, especially a dangerous one like K2. That attitude was something I thought too before I started climbing beyond bouldering and reading so many, many more first-hand non-fiction accounts. No climber is so brave and perhaps it was more tied to the book’s theme, but it wasn’t rooted in reality and I think a climber, even one unique like Phil, would understand the calculated risk management that there was no storming anything.

For mountaineering literature, I think it is hard to write something authentic without it being nonfiction. But there are exceptions. Comedy like The Ascent of Rum Doodle comes to mind. And now, for me, so does Peak. I recommend it for climbers and anyone that reads this blog willing to read a supernatural story because the twist at the end is smart and admirable, but you’ll have to go enjoy the whole adventure to find out what I mean.

(By the way, there are two non-fiction books on the market titled Peak. The other is a young-adult novel about a boy named Peak that goes to climb Everest. I read it and recommend it more favorably. Of course, I’m rated G in an R world.)

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Seek More than Summits: Imaginary Peaks by Katie Ives Reviewed

Imaginary Peaks by Katie Ives (2021)

I have a reoccurring dream that starts by arriving at what seems like an amusement park’s parking lot with big, bold signs and lots of cars with lots of people in a natural rock amphitheater. The attraction is through a turnstile entrance in the bottom of a rock wall and everyone, including me, files through. On the other side, everyone is gathering backpacks and water bottles in dusty and trampled woods. I put on my old favorite Jansport pack, which has been long-gone in real life and I start to walk slightly uphill.

In some of the dreams I am with my wife, sometimes the kids are with us, in another version I am there with my sister, and sometimes I am going solo. In all of them there is a way station and a camp a little further up from there. I remember peculiar details about the station, like quality of the wood, the knots in the step, and the pattern of the pine and leafy deciduous trees behind its lichen covered roof. In some of the dreams, I went much farther.

From the camp, the steepness increases and the trees fade into fog and the fog into snowy terrain, as if going through C.S. Lewis’ magical wardrobe, and coming to a precipice. The cliff, in the dream, is just a viewpoint of the next leg of the journey. From there I see snowy peaks, most of them resembling K2, the Matterhorn, and peaks I once took in during my pilgrimage to Alaska. The biggest mountain, and it was a mountain not merely a peak, dwarfed them all, and was still far away. It was both intimidating and welcoming me.

I like to think of my imaginary mountain as a make believe interpretation of Denali, capping off or crowning a continent. I have the dream periodically, but have gone years between reaching the precipice to take in the great mountain. And I considered my dream frequently as I read Katie Ives’ first book, Imaginary Peaks: The Riesenstein Hoax and Other Mountain Dreams published in 2021 by The Mountaineers Books. Ives shares a reoccurring dream of her own and stories from fact, fiction, a mix of the two, sometimes spiritual objectives, and a hoax intended to shake up the new direction mountain climbing was taking among the outdoors community after World War II.

THE CRUX HOAX

In the 1962 issue of Summit, the climbing magazine of the day, there was an anonymous contribution with an enticing photo of multiple alpine big walls broken up with hanging glaciers with several routes marked. The accompanying story told of attempts, but no first ascents. The caption read: “[T]he unclimbed summit of ‘Riensenstein [sic],’ approximately 8,100 feet, near Prince Rupert in British Columbia.” These big walls were tantalizing and different from the walls of Gunks and Yosemite. They were exotic and waiting to be climbed. It was in a specific place and had a story that convinced most readers. Some went to British Columbia seeking these walls, only to be confused by the story and the landscape.

Did these mountains exist? If not, why would someone tease the readers so? Did the editors know and were they in on the prank? The mysterious Riesenstein in Summit was proven years later, by Al DeMaria and Pete Geiser’s article in the 1966 American Alpine Journal, was in fact an overlooked part of the Alaska Range called the Kichatna Spires. Even Bradford Washburn, who photographed most the range and knew of them, discouraged young alpinists from visiting there later because the precipitation clearly funneled to the spires’ valley.

Katie Ives digs deep in her book into the story behind the hoax as well as the deep seeded reasons we want to believe, seek, and even conjure imaginary mountains. It’s an entrancing journey into a world where humans create ideas and places to believe in, and even stories for the real places in our lives to give them more meaning. Ives takes you on a tour of the Seven Cities of Cibola, Mount Hooker and Mount Brown, Diamond Mountain, Shangri-La, Minya Konka, Amye Machen, Nanda Devi, and even Narnia. Some are fictional, some are real, but the stories are sometimes both at the same time.

Mount Riesenstein, British Columbia (All rights reserved)

The hoax was created by Harvey Manning, Ed LaChapelle, and Austin Post coming together. While each had a significant contribution from their special backgrounds and skills, Ives reveals that Manning was the instigator. Manning was best known for being a coauthor of Freedom of the Hills, the classic mountaineering instruction guide. He had successfully tried other hoaxes before, but this was his greatest; Manning hadn’t fooled people into believing in a new technology that didn’t exist this time (because he had,) no, for his greatest act, Manning would move a whole mountain! As his reward, readers looked on in wonder, climbers went searching on expeditions, and both dreamers and fools were made.

Ives reveals that Manning was a dreamer himself and sought to recreate an innocent mystical experience in nature, an experience had in the hills and that could only be duplicated there. Manning had found some secrets of the outdoors and that most people, even the new outdoor enthusiasts of his day, were missing it. New gear from sleeping bags, backpacks, and camp stoves, to name a few, were all being developed from the military industry birthed in World War II and now promoted to improve the outdoor experience for everyone, just at higher prices. Manning felt it was unnecessary and greedy. At the same time, a new kind of climber was coming onto the scene; they needed untrodden peaks where “no one” had been, or no one had recorded going, to fill new entries of alpine journals with their name on it. Manning thought it was “a pretentious bullshit thing,” according to someone who knew Manning and listened to him laugh about the climbers declaring they would be the first to ascend the Riesenstein. Reading this made me consider how even I preferred my simple Jansport backpack and Timberland boots when I started hiking to the new, “technical” gear from Eastern Mountain Sports with specific brand names I started acquiring when I began earning a pay check. Did I need it for the most wonderful experiences in nature?

Ives sprinkles her book with many little stories of other climbs and points of mountaineering history that even I hadn’t come across. And, having known quite a bit about the real history of the Kichatna already, I was very pleased that she relayed their whole story from their first obervation by Westerners in 1898 to the real first attempts. (After reading Ives’ book, I feel that Manning’s hoax story was practically prophetic in nature about how the first attempt would go.)

Most of all, I appreciate how Ives isolated the notion of what we seek when we go into nature looking for adventure through examining Manning’s life. It’s intensely personal and sometimes it’s fundentally about the imagined story and narrative we tell ourselves.

RIESENSTEIN  AND BRIDGING GENERATIONS

Coincidentally, my first issue of Alpinist Magazine was issue 36 in autumn 2011. That was when Ives first wrote about the Riesenstein Hoax. I started conversing and later working with Ives on a couple of projects of my own or Alpinist around the same time. Then I thought I was just catching up about the Riensenstein and that this story was lasting and legendary in the mind of romantic climbers, like me (though I am much more romantic about climbing than I am a climber.)

Ives’ Map Remnant (All right reserved)

Actually, it was relatively new to Ives too. She re-discovered the Riesenstein Hoax from Andy Selters through his 2004 book Ways to the Sky. (I haven’t read Ways to the Sky yet, but I can tell you that it was a Banff Mountain Literature Competition winner in the history category, which is a gold-star level recommendation to me.) Thank you, Mr. Selters for reintroducing it. It might not have caught Katie Ives’ eye until much later, if at all.

Digging into the whole story of the Riesenstein Hoax also reintroduced us to the magazine, Summit, and its publishers Jean Crenshaw and Helen Kilness. However, in the early days they used pseudonyms and and published letters to the editor addressed “Dear Sir,” because when the magazine started in 1955, Crenshaw and Kilness were concerned their magazine wouldn’t be taken seriously if readers knew it was being run by women. Later, it wasn’t the case after the magazine ran for a few years.

Katie Ives is celebrated today for her writing and leadership of Alpinist Magazine. She started almost from its inception, and watched it go out of business and be resurrected with the help of Michael Kennedy. But Ives gentle and influential editorial touch (which I experienced as a contributor) gave it a unique place among climbing periodicals; you didn’t have to be a world-class climber to contribute, art was welcome, and many diversified viewpoints were encouraged and sought. In Alpinist and in her book, she makes a point to use indigenous names of destinations and mountains in parenthesis in a persistent effort to overcome the, as Ives wrote in the book, “[A]ttemped suppressions of the heritages of Indigenous people–first with colonialist myths and imagined blanks projected onto maps, then new boundaries drawn across conquered lands and new names imposed on ancient rivers, valleys, and peaks.” There have been other female publishers and editors in climbing — several I still read and admire like Alison Osius (check out her biography of Hugh Herr) — and having this connection between Ives and Crenshaw and Kilness through the Riesenstein and this book brings me joy!

(For a brief read, before you buy her book, please read about Ives’ visit to Crenshaw and Kilness in 2014 in Alpinist 49: “A House of Stone and Snow.”)

YOUR IMAGINARY MOUNTAINS

My reoccurring mountain dream may be organic, just as I dream about my wife and baseball too, but many of us are seeking mountains in our day dreams. We watch Reel Rock, YouTube videos, buy climbing magazines, and read books. We want something from these mountain experiences. And Katie’s exploration of Manning’s hoax has me wondering about whether I really want, or ever wanted, the first ascent and a fresh entry in an American Alpine Journal. Manning didn’t and thought it was an unjustified ambitious desire when we didn’t have to feed ego to take joy from the mountains and wilderness. Perhaps Summit‘s companionable and accessible approach to the mountains is enough.

I recently read Grace Lin’s novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. In it, there is a peak named Never Ending Mountain on which you can reach our nearest celestial neighbor. At the top, the protagonist doesn’t solve her problem or her riddle, but takes a giant leap in learning how. I like to climb, and hike, and spend time in the outdoors, and search for answers, peace, and joy that I can put in my backpack for later. Manning shows us a different way, and Katie introduces us to all kinds of wonderful new paths to look.

If you are looking for magic places, whether it’s your real summit, a mountain pass, Middle Earth, Narnia, or the transformative power of a walk in the woods without a map, I highly recommend you read Katie Ives’ Imaginary Peaks. No, you have to read Katie Ives’ Imaginary Peaks. When you’re done, leave her a good review in stars, and maybe shoot me an email and let me know your thoughts too. I’ll pass them on to her publisher so she can go write the next one!

Rating: Four-and-a-half burritos out of five.

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A Life Lived Wild by Rick Ridgeway Reviewed

Life Lived Wild by Rick Ridgeway (2021)

I have seen his name on the spines of a handful of books and his picture in Patagonia catalogues but haven’t really understood why that was. His mountaineering exploits never stood out front and center and he seemed more of a travel writer. I didn’t actually understand why he kept coming up. Now I know.

Ridgeway has written his autobiography, A Life Lived Wild: Adventures at the Edge of the Map, published by Patagonia Books in 2021, and it’s beautiful, both for the cover, the photographs, and his life’s story. It could almost be mistaken for a coffee table book, like many of new volumes from Patagonia Books today. It could easily have been a paperback without all of the coffee table elements and have become a dogged-eared copy in a young person’s backpack guiding them on an unconventional path to success.

Despite climbing Everest and being among the first Americans to summit K2 in 1978, Ridgeway was never the most important person in the events he was part of and witnessed. He was a team player. He grew into the role of mentor and coach, doling opportunity freely, including to Jimmy Chin, and he guided characters like Dick Bass and Frank Wells to climb the Seven Summits (the Kosciuszko version) for the first time, regardless of which Pacific-Australia peak they climbed. From there, he filmed for television and documentaries, including Patagonia’s 180° South, and fostered his love for birds into wildlife in general and took to advocacy. But the lasting impact on me, has been his lasting relationships, often expressing gratitude to people, like Chris Chandler, who invited him to climb Everest.

Chandler’s invitation changed Ridgeway’s life course. Ridgeway’s life was off to a difficult start: During his high school years, his father burned down the house his family called home, committing insurance fraud for his mother’s and his sake and vanished into the South Seas. Ridgeway moved into his best friends parent’s Airstream trailer while he finished school. Ridgeway’s mother saw her son’s interest in mountain climbing (through applying his book learning from Freedom of the Hills on Mount Baldy,) and needing somewhere to send him during the summer, enrolled him in Outward Bound.

Everest started a great journey of friendship for Ridgeway, during his expeditions to Everest, K2, and into once-forbidden China to attempt Minya Konka. On Everest expedition, Ridgeway met Jonathan Wright. Wright took Ridgeway on a significant detour prior to the ascent to visit a monastery. Ridgeway learned meditation and found inner peace, or at least the seeds of it, within himself. Wright would also speak up for the less experienced Ridgeway during the climb and gave him advice, as if he were sharing tips for being a good factory worker together: Be patient and don’t slack when it’s your turn. It later got Ridgeway to the summit of K2.

Ridgeway also became a documentary filmmaker on K2 by happenstance. He filled in for an absent teammate on the factory-work-like slope of the seige-style expedition, learned a new skill, and grew a new branch in his career. He would go on to film for CBS, Patagonia, and other nature documentations.

When Ridgeway met his wife Jennifer, she was a jet-setter of the 1970s and early 1980s like he was, both traveled widely to exotic places but for contrasting lifestyles. Jennifer was a purchaser for Calvin Klein. Ridgeway and a friend tried coaxing her to join them on a trek  for a National Geographic assignment. They even offered that they could get her good boots in a nearby neighborhood of Kathmandu; but she declined gracefully, explaining that the farthest she walks is from a New York City taxi to the doors of Bergdorf Goodman. They made it to dinner instead and rendezvoused on other occasions. They both learned that had lost important people in their lives and supported each other in healing. They later married at his beach shack near Montecito, California.

Rodgeway knew Doug Tompkins and Kris McDivitt Tompkins before they were married,  and before establishing Esprit. Kris and Doug would sell Esprit, with its brand The North Face, to save millions of acres in Patagonia for conservation. Doug was a friend and adventure buddy with Yvon Chouinard, and Ridgeway was with them on the fateful kayaking trip in 2016 when Doug’s boat flipped and he died of hypothermia.

The story that touches me the most about Ridgeway was the extended story of Jonathan Wright. Shortly after the Everest expedition, and Ridgeway’s historic K2 summit, Ridgeway and Wright joined Yvon Chouinard and others to climb in China for the first time since the People’s Republic of China closed Its borders from Western travelers. They’re destination was Minya Konka, the Tibetan name for Gongga Shan, which its summit was 7,556 m./24,700 ft. above sea level. It had only been climbed twice before, once by Americans in 1932 and the Chinese in 1957. This time, they were going to put up a new route.

There is some dispute about the avalanche risk assessment or whether there was one, but above Camp II Ridgeway and others glissaded down the slope to show off and return, hallering yahoo as they went. The subtle yet unmistakable and dreadful whump sound from the snow released the snow sheet on the slope and threatened everyone. Jonathan Wright, Ridgeway’s best friend, was killed. They buried him on the mountain.

The team retreated home and Chouinard shouted and cursed the mountains for what happened. He even complained that, “These mountains are too high,” which made me consider whether they were (still am, actually.) A guide from the Tetons blamed Ridgeway for triggering the avalanche because he was too preoccupied making the documentary of the climb to assess the risk.

Jonathan Wright was survived by his wife and infant daughter Asia Wright. Ridgeway wrote about Asia’s request to him that he take her to the slopes of Minya Konka to visit her father’s resting place in his book, Below Another Sky: A Mountain Adventure in Search of a Lost Father (1998.) I saw this book in paperback in 2000 when I started reading climbing books but quickly dismissed it; it appeared too sentimental and not adventurous enough. After reading A Life Lived Wild I now think that I was too young to understand. Now that I am 43 and a father, I am planning on reading it.

So Rick Ridgeway is more than I expected. My friends, Alex and Caleb in Alexandria, have been involved with Patagonia stores in Washington, DC and the newer shop across the Potomac in Alexandria, VA for the last 20 years. One of them is an assistant manager. They have met many of the filmmakers, authors, and subjects of the company’s communications when they have come through for employee and public events. They were first introduced to Ridgeway just after 2000 and speak fondly of him and hold him in high regard. He seems to hold a different place compared to the other athletes that tour their shops. As they mention to me that when they first met him that he wasn’t as tall as they expected, they brush past that facet and talk about 180° South or the initiatives at the company he lead since 2005. They talk about his life’s work, the work on his book, that I recommend, A Life Lived Wild.

Rating: Three-and-a-half burritos out of five.

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