What was to be a glorious final climb to the top of El Capitan by two longtime friends becomes a death-plagued nightmare.
With his first-hand experience as a climber, Long (The Reckoning, 2004, etc.) is able to take readers places they might never have thought to go and make them, if not exactly enjoy the experience, at least feel fairly brave for having gone. The protagonists of his latest novel are veteran climbers Hugh Glass and his buddy Lewis, who first made the 3,000-foot vertical climb to “El Cap,” the largest rock face in the U.S., 35 years ago. Accompanied by the women they would marry, the friends went on to conquer many other heights before their careers separated them. The adventure starts ominously when Hugh, out for a pre-climb hike at the base of the cliff, barely dodges a falling body. The body belongs to a member of a three-woman team that had been taking a new route to the top. Before Hugh can notify the authorities, he has a spooky encounter with Joshua, a madman living on the land, who makes off with the corpse as soon as Hugh leaves. It’s downhill (figuratively) from there. Over pre-climb drinks, Hugh, whose beloved but demented wife disappeared in the Arabian Desert, learns that Lewis’s marriage has fallen apart and meets Augustine, an intense search-and-rescue expert who tells the climbers that he will be heading up on the same route at the same time to rescue his girlfriend. Disregarding all gloomy warnings, Hugh and Lewis launch an assault on El Capitan that will be distinguished by hideous weather, a forest fire and disastrous encounters with Augustine and the remnants of the female team.
Heart-stopping vertical adventure relieved from time to time by old-guy angst.