Sunday, October 3, 2010

Halfway to Heaven

My sister Norma Jean knows that when I lived in Colorado, I had spent quite a few years climbing Fourteeners -- peaks at least 14,000 feet high -- before becoming distracted by my obsession with skydiving. She read Halfway to Heaven and told me how much she enjoyed the book. Although she has no interest in climbing any of these herself, it entertained her and retained her interest because of the great writing style of the author, Mark Obmascik. He gives a little description of himself on the book jacket as being "fat, forty-four, father of three sons, and facing a vasectomy" when he decided to try some male bonding with his son by hiking a peak together.

And then, in what he describes as a fit of insanity, he decided to try climbing all fifty-four of the Fourteeners in one year! Only a select few have accomplished the feat. The book tells of his adventures.

Some of the reviews call it a "hilarious midlife picaresque" or an "oxygen-deprived romp," or a "coming of middle-age adventure story." These descriptions are all true, and I've enjoyed the book a great deal. Obmascik's way of writing captivated me from the beginning, and since I've climbed several of these peaks myself, I was interested in finding out how he dealt with the difficulties I also faced. Climbing some of these peaks is simply dealing with hiking up several thousand feet of elevation gain while at altitude. Most start somewhere above 10,000 feet and you just grunt and sweat and keep going until you're at the summit.

Obmascik tells in his chapter on "Gravity" about one guy he climbed with who "has only six more Fourteeners to go, but they are all either hard physically, or hard technically, or simply hard both ways. Now that silver has completed its hostile takeover of his scalp, he wonders how many more hard peaks his legs can withstand." No kidding.

It's true that there are some hard and fast rules that everyone who is successful at climbing these peaks follows: you start really early, before dawn, get up to the summit before noon, and climb back down by early afternoon. In the High Country, thunderstorms are a real danger and build almost every afternoon. Most fatalities in Colorado are from falls or lightning strikes. I've been in a few sticky situations myself. On my other blog I wrote about some dumb things I did while learning the ropes.

Here in Washington state, all the hikes I do are tame in comparison to Colorado's Fourteeners, but people still die from falls and from getting lost. However, we start our hikes from somewhere around 3,000-4,000 feet and climb up to 6,000 or so, maximum. Big difference. I'm not sure how I would fare if I tried to climb Fourteeners today.
If you read about Mark's adventures in his book, you wil definitely be entertained. The Cascades, for me, are exciting enough, and beautiful, to boot. This picture was taken last Thursday on Ptarmigan Ridge, and I feel the same wonder and challenge from them today that I got from Colorado's Fourteeners thirty years ago.
:-)

15 comments:

  1. Why shucks, I don't need to climb mountains to have an oxygen-deprived romp; all I need to do is walk around the house. Cheaper too. Um, never mind, no it's not.

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  2. That sounds like an exciting fun book. I'm not at all surprised you've climbed higher than you're climbing these days.

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  3. Sounds like a terrific book. But Djan - the stuff you do - whether it's climbing up 14,000 feet or plunging down from that height...wow. You are one daring lady.

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  4. Sounds like a great book!! All the things you do helps keep you young!! I am falling behind...... I'd better get busy!!

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  5. I am just so over the top impressed with your accomplishments I have to gush! The highest I ever got was Mt. Washington in NH (because it was there, and I lived there). No wonder you are in such terrific shape.

    I've read all the old books on Everest, and have gorgeous coffee table books, and have read most of the stories of the people who have done the fourteeners. I'm putting this one on the Amazon list! Thanks for the heads up.

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  6. This sounds like a great read even for those of us who aren't climbers. I have always preferred my backpacking and hiking journeys to be at lower elevations (even though I love flying I don't care for heights). I'm adding this one to my reading list. Thanks for the review DJan.

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  7. ah they are beautiful...will have to check out this book as i have read sevearl on climbers...

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  8. Interesting book. Thanks for the review. I think anyone that climbs to 14,000 feet deserves my kudos. Climbing higher than 7-9 is enough for me and is often not as enjoyable as a hike at lower elevations. I can't go nearly as far. You are really in shape to do the hiking you do. Hats off!

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  9. I e3njoy reading books written by mountain climbers. I'll have to check this out. thanks for the review.

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  10. You amaze me DJan! You've really had some adventures. And I'm sure you'll have many more.

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  11. A really excellent documentary I would suggest as well is the film "Touching the Void" about a harrowing incident faced by two climbers on a mountain in South America. More importantly it is a story about perseverance in the face of tremendous adversity. It has become one of my top ten favorite films.

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  12. You are still climbing, that is the highlight here. Your hikes are quite an accomplishment.

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  13. Sounds like a good book. I'll put it on my amazon list. Thanks for letting us know about it.

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  14. I'm glad you enjoyed the book. It sounds like it is written just for you :)
    Blessings, Star

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