I am an adventure-adrenaline junkie. Okay, let's amend that: I am an adventure-adrenaline junkie....from the comfort of my couch. In other words, I love true adventure books. Especially ones about mountain climbing. I have no idea where this love came from given that I've never climbed a mountain in my life, nor do I intend to. I've even been known to avoid small inclines while taking a stroll around the neighborhood. Reading about these adventurous souls who tackle the world's most dangerous peaks, however, stirs something in my soul. Probably a little smugness that I'm not the one who fell down an icy crevasse in sub-zero temperatures and ended up a frozen mummy abandoned on a mountain side.
Whatever the reason, a well-written climbing story will always find it's way onto my bookshelves. This summer, the book I couldn't resist was Andy Hall's Denali's Howl, the riveting story of the ill-fated 1967 Wilcox Expedition on North America's tallest peak, Denali.
|The Wilcox Expedition (1967)|
Formerly known as Mt. McKinley, Denali dominates the Alaska Range. At 20,237 feet high, Denali isn't the highest peak in the world, but the climb from the base of the mountain to the peak is 18,000 feet and that is the largest of any in the world.
In July of 1967, twelve young men set off to conquer Denali. Most of them had enough climbing experience that it should have been a routine ascent. They had planned and conditioned themselves for this climb for months and months. What they hadn't planned for was an unforecast super-storm that bore down on the mountain just as the Wilcox Expedition was approaching the summit, trapping them in far-below freezing temperatures and hurricane force winds in the matter of minutes, conditions that continued for ten days.
Of the twelve men who left the base of Denali, only five were to return. What happened up on the summit of that mountain has been shrouded in mystery for over forty years. Reluctant and conflicting accounts from the survivors over the years have only added to the confusion as survivors and those who watched from afar passed around accusations and blame.
Alaskan author Andy Hall's account of that fateful expedition is masterful. Despite his obvious meticulous research he never once allows the narrative to bog down with onerous details. Facts are presented where known and where they aren't, Hall provides plausible scenarios based on the evidence that is known. He provides first-rate biographical background on each member of the expedition, making it easy for the reader to keep track of each team member as the doomed party makes their way unknowingly towards disaster. Throughout the fast-moving narration, he also intersperses an excellent geological history of the imposing mountain as well as the fascinating climbing history over the past one hundred years.
Overall, Denali's Howl is so well-written it certainly rivals Jon Krakauer's blockbuster climbing hit Into Thin Air. If you enjoyed the one, you'll certainly appreciate the other.
Highly recommended non-fiction.
Title: Denali's Howl
Author: Andy Hall
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Date: June 12, 2014
Source: Review copy courtesy of publisher