In this debut memoir, an aging son embarks on a trek to secure a final resting place for his father’s ashes and his turbulent childhood memories.
Abell is a retired industrial designer and a native of Wisconsin, a place, he notes, that has diverse topography but no big mountains. As a child with alcoholic parents, he developed an interest in “rarified air” by perusing his father’s mountaineering books and noticing that his father “was never in pain when he spoke of the Himalaya.” Abell was in his 50s when he began to summit high peaks himself—Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro among them—usually with his wife or one or both of his sons in tow. The memoir chronicles his “most deep-seated dream of all”: a nine-day hike at the age of 59 to Nepal’s Mount Everest Base Camp, elevation of around 17,500 feet, where he planned to spread the last of his father’s ashes. This short, elegant book contains few surprises. Everest’s base camp is a well-known tourist destination, and Abell chose an expedition sponsored by Himalayan Experience, one of the best outfitters available. Chapters progress from his arrival in smoggy Katmandu to his final ascent toward the stony base camp in the shadow of the world’s highest mountain. Aside from a bout with altitude sickness, Abell was rarely out of his comfort zone. Instead, drama in the narrative arises from strategically placed flashbacks, so readers learn more with each passing step about what has led him to this particular place. Abell is a patient, careful storyteller; the descriptions of his parents, who seem like terrific people and horrific alcoholics at the same time, are illuminating. Yet readers get few specifics on Abell’s own challenges with alcoholism. Still, his candor is refreshing: “I hadn’t come here to pretend I was Reinhold Messner or some other great mountaineer.” Overall, the book is a testament to the author’s sustained gratitude for his life and his loved ones.
A sincere, though at times predictable, account of a momentous physical and emotional journey.