World-class mountain climber and guide gets a posthumous tribute from a mournful, devoted friend and fellow mountaineer.
Birkby opens atop the 18,000-foot Himalayan peak Kala Patar. It’s 1996, and Scott Fischer (1955–96) is showing him the skyline of Mount Everest, where Fischer will shortly lose his life. That climb was a far cry from the pair’s initial adventure back in 1982, when Fischer convinced a then-inexperienced Birkby to scale Mount Olympus. The author details Fischer’s childhood, when a love of camping and a penchant for thrill-seeking blossomed into challenging hikes as a teenager with the National Outdoor Leadership School. He would later join NOLS as an instructor, counting among his students Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm, 1997, etc.). Birkby tenderly recalls Fischer’s clumsiness in his early 20s, when he miraculously survived more than 12 deadly plummets and was nicknamed “the Fallingest Man in Climbing.” After gaining increased experience and acumen, he left NOLS and formed Mountain Madness, a company offering guided climbs whose motto was “Make it happen.” Deftly detailing Fischer’s life in conversational prose, Birkby shares stories about encountering bears and traversing frozen terrain in the Alaskan wilderness, adventures ascending Kilimanjaro and the death-defying challenges of the Annapurna Circuit trail. As his son neared his first birthday, Fischer became more determined than ever to scale Everest. Climbing down from its 29,000-foot peak in May 1996, the group he was guiding got caught in a blizzard. Everyone managed to descend to safety except Fischer, who perished from exposure. The tragedy received widespread media attention and a lasting memorial in Jon Krakauer’s eyewitness account, Into Thin Air (1997).
A fitting homage to one of the great outdoor extremists.