A young woman’s quest for insight into the life of her adventurer father serves as a backdrop for this memoir from Ridgeway (The Shadow of Kilimanjaro, 1998, etc.), another man known to walk on the extreme side.
We begin 20 years back on Minya Konka, a mountain in Tibet, during an avalanche: the author describes the elemental reckoning of being churned at tremendous speed with great blocks of ice and rushing snow. The writing is sudden and immediate, the experience terrifying: he survives, but a close friend of his does not, and Ridgeway watches death steal over him as he cradles the man’s head in his lap. He vows to shoulder some measure of responsibility for the man’s daughter, Asia, then 16 months old. Cut to the present: Ridgeway takes Asia on a long pilgrimage to the site of her father’s grave on Minya Konka. They travel light but hard through the Khumbu to Kathmandu, make a push through remote Chang Tang and the Crystal Mountains, then on to the final resting place. The author punctuates the tale of this journey with accounts of his wild adventures—from running guns in Panama (a really stupid idea he had as a young kid, and one that cost him dearly in the end) to making an attempt on K2 without oxygen. His observations on the changes that have been made to the landscapes over the past two decades are particularly interesting, as are his remarks about the changes that have affected the mountaineering community. Perhaps most revealing of all here is the contrast of the excitement of his past adventures with the ongoing tedium and hardships of the trek he now makes with Asia.
Thrilling stuff, told with respect and humility for both people and place—and a justifiable sense of awe at the author’s own accomplishment.