Below Another Sky: A Tibetan Journey of Remembrance

Overview

A renowned adventurer travels to Tibet with a young woman in search of her father's memory and gains a fresh perspective on his own life.

Combining gripping adventure writing with intimate memoir, Rick Ridgeway takes readers to the mysterious mountain domain of Tibet, and into the remote corners of his past. Twenty years ago, in the wake of a massive and terrifying avalanche, Ridgeway cradled his dying friend Jonathan in his arms and pledged to keep watch over Jonathan's infant ...

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Overview

A renowned adventurer travels to Tibet with a young woman in search of her father's memory and gains a fresh perspective on his own life.

Combining gripping adventure writing with intimate memoir, Rick Ridgeway takes readers to the mysterious mountain domain of Tibet, and into the remote corners of his past. Twenty years ago, in the wake of a massive and terrifying avalanche, Ridgeway cradled his dying friend Jonathan in his arms and pledged to keep watch over Jonathan's infant daughter, Asia. Now Asia is a vibrant, headstrong young woman; hoping to help her connect with the father she never knew, Ridgeway takes her to the Himalayas Jonathan so cherished. Together, they search for the place where he died.

Their trek through remote and forbidding terrain-under constant threat from lethal storms and jumpy Chinese military patrols-is a fitting backdrop for the precarious emotional journey that Ridgeway and Asia share, as they venture into alien landscapes of memory and self-discovery. Ultimately, the truths they both seek are revealed, not in the images of a life long gone but in the bright promise of future possibility. In a stunning conclusion on a treacherous and wind-battered mountain face, both Ridgeway and his dead friend's daughter finally embrace the deepest realities of death, and of life.

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Editorial Reviews

Tim Cahill
Destined to be a classic.
Washington Post Book World
. . . a perspective that underscores the humbling vastness and power of the landscape . . . A thoughtful and affecting memoir.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In November 1980, legendary mountaineer Ridgeway watched his friend Jonathan die in his arms after being caught in an avalanche in the Himalayas. Now, 20 years later, as he leads Asia, Jonathan's daughter, on a quest back to the mountains of Tibet in search of Jonathan's grave site, Ridgeway reflects on his friend, on Tibet and on his career as a climber in a moving and exciting tale that is part memoir, part adventure story. To give both the reader and Asia--now a young woman who has no recollection of her father--a fuller understanding of the man Jonathan was, Ridgeway incorporates entries from his friend's journal into his narrative. Ridgeway's writing is vivid, uncluttered and, mostly, unsentimental. Indeed, the author's voice is most authentic describing climbing itself--the lure of the challenge, the thrill of the danger and the sheer beauty of the adrenaline-charged and psychically compelling experience. Although never overtly religious, Ridgeway digs deep to explore his own spirituality in a profoundly spiritual place, recounting his discussions with Asia about Jonathan's commitment to Buddhism and how they may be able to incorporate elements of his beliefs into their lives. Author tour. (Jan. 9) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Below Another Sky begins with a deadly avalanche that sweeps Ridgeway and other mountain climbers 1500 feet. He survived by "swimming" and tumbling head over heels on top of the churning snow. But his friend Jonathan died. Ridgeway was a writer and Jonathan a photographer on assignment for the National Geographic in Tibet in 1980. Some Buddhists struggle to such heights to expiate their sins. In 1999, Jonathan's daughter Asia, who was 16 months old when her father died, persuaded the author to take her to the site of the catastrophe. This trip evoked his previous expeditions, which involved the misery of waiting out snowstorms in cramped tents; risking frozen lungs, toes, etc.; suffering from bad food, headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Narrator Paul Michael is especially good at evoking the drama here. Recommended for general collections where travel and adventure are popular. Gordon Blackwell, Eastchester, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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—andajustifiable sense of awe at the author's own accomplishment. Author tour Rosenblum, Mort A GOOSE IN TOULOUSE: and Other Culinary Adventures in France Hyperion (320 pp.) Nov. 2000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805062847
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/9/2001
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.78 (h) x 1.29 (d)

Meet the Author

Rick Ridgeway, a mountaineer-ing legend, is well known for his writing, photography, and filmmaking. His articles have appreared in numerous magazines, and he is the author of four previous books, including The Shadow of Kilimanjaro, which was named one of the Ten Best Travel Books of 1998 by The New York Times. He lives with his family in Ventura, California.

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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


Minya Konka Base Camp

OCTOBER 14, 1980


I need to get this down while it's still fresh. It must have been nine-thirty by the time we got out of Camp 1 yesterday, but we all agreed that there should still be enough time to climb the fifteen hundred vertical feet to the next campsite, cache our loads, and get back before dark. I drew the first lead, postholing up the slope above camp. Then Kim took over, then Yvon. At noon we stopped next to a crevasse for lunch. Yvon bit off a piece of cheese, then turned to Jonathan. "Whenever you're on a glaciated section," he said, "always stop at the edge of a crevasse when you take a break. That way you'll know you haven't stopped on top of a hidden one. Same for setting up camps."

    "Thanks," Jonathan replied.

    Jonathan had asked us a few days earlier to give him pointers whenever we thought of anything, and Yvon is always obliging to anyone who wants to learn. We finished lunch and continued. Soon our options narrowed to a steep section of chest-deep snow, so we had no choice but to tackle it. I led and Kim followed. To get footing I had to pack the snow first by pressing my whole body into the slope, then my knee and finally my boot. No matter how careful I was, I still knocked snow down on Kim.

    "Sonofabitch. I'm getting buried."

    "Sorry, I can't help it."

    Kim looked up and grinned. "I wasn't cursing you. Just this snow flying down my collar."

    I took another step and knocked down moresnow.

    "Sonofabitch."

    I smiled to myself and kept going. In another hundred feet the snow firmed. In a clearing between clouds we could see just ahead an area of large seracs where the shifting glacier had cleaved into blocks. I stopped and studied our options.

    "Two ways to go. Up the middle through the seracs, or off to the right."

    "Looks a little better to the right," Yvon said.

    While Kim moved up to take the lead, Jonathan stepped aside and took several photographs. I paid out rope, then followed Kim as he angled up the side of a serac that then turned into a long, steep slope. The heavy packs and thin air made the effort debilitating, but we maintained a steady pace. I tried not to look up but instead to focus on the steps in front of me, hoping I might achieve a kind of self-hypnosis.

    "Heartbreak Hill," Yvon called out.

    The rope on my waist went taut. I looked up, and Kim had stopped to wait patiently while I caught up. It was all I could do to match his speed, and he was the one punching the steps. I was tempted to unrope and go at my own pace, but there were still crevasses in the area. We had roped up earlier in the morning when we crossed the first crevasses above Camp 1. That was before we got into the soft snow, but footing had still been difficult, with about four inches of new snow over the older surface. Several times my boot skidded on the interior layer, leaving a streak through the new snow. In the back of my mind I knew this was avalanche potential. I wondered what Yvon and Kim thought, but if they were concerned they would have said something. Still, I noticed that whoever was leading stayed on the edges of crevasses, and close to the sides of seracs, avoiding whenever possible the wider slopes that might be dangerous.

    Kim kept leading until the slope laid back, and I took over kicking steps for a long time. I was hypnotized: one foot up, breathe a few times, then move the next foot. I remember Jonathan yelling up, "Rick, you need relief?" Ahead I could see a flat spot on the edge of a crevasse, so I made that my goal.

    "Thirty more yards."

    When I reached the spot, I plopped down, leaned back on my pack, closed my eyes, and breathed heavily. The altitude was now over 20,000 feet, and I wasn't yet fully acclimatized. In a few moments Kim and Yvon arrived.

    "Good effort," Yvon said.

    Jonathan arrived. "Way to punch steps."

    Kim just kept going, lifting his legs and pushing steps into the smooth snow. When the rope caught up, I had no choice but to peel off my shoulder straps so I could stand up, then saddle the heavy pack once more and start following. Ahead, in a glimpse between clouds, we sighted the top of the ridge only a hundred yards farther. The wind strengthened to thirty miles per hour, and the clouds now raced over the snow and again obscured our vision. Through another fleeting hole in the clouds I could see above that the best route was more to the side.

    "Traverse left ... to the crest ... out of the wind."

    In a few minutes we were on a flat bench sheltered in the lee of the ridge. We unshouldered our packs.

    "Good place for the tents."

    "Welcome to Camp 2."

    We sat on our packs and had a second lunch, finishing our Fig Newtons and the last of our lemonade. Through brief windows in the occluding clouds we could see the ridge descending to a col and rising again to two higher summits.

    "Must be Redomain and Dedomain," Yvon said. We had learned the names of these two peaks from reading an account of the 1932 expedition. The clouds opened further, and beyond we could see the yellow-green plateau, and once more I paused to consider our good fortune. The Chinese had just opened their doors to foreign mountaineers, and we were the first Westerners allowed into eastern Tibet since the 1932 expedition, fifty years earlier.

    "Wuuwee" Jonathan said. It was his favorite expression, and even though he said it calmly—almost to himself—I knew it revealed his excitement because he had been saying it continuously since that day nearly a month before when we had first arrived in China. We turned and looked toward the summit ridge, now obscured in clouds. We had an idea what it looked like, though, from studying the 1932 photographs.

    "Two more camps and we can make the summit," I said.

    "Ten days, if we have luck with the weather," Yvon added.

    We rested for a few more minutes, then, in the first clearing, picked up our empty packs and headed down toward Camp 1.


We made good time, slowing to test bridges over crevasses, or, as Kim preferred, to broad-jump them. In only a few minutes we were back at Heartbreak Hill. We down-climbed, belaying each other with our ice axes as anchors. When the angle eased, we decided to glissade. We slid down on our butts, one going faster than the other, laughing and yelling, the rope going taut, pulling one, then the other. I felt like a kid in a giant sandbox of snow. It seemed like only seconds and we were at the bottom and on our feet and continuing down in big jumping steps.

    It went that way for another half hour. We were moving fast, and our spirits were high. We arrived at the hill above Camp 1. We could see below our three yellow tents, and on the trail through the snow leading into camp, three figures. We knew that would be Edgar, Peter, and Jack, moving up to camp. Harry was probably already there, in one of the tents. Everything was on schedule and according to plan.

    We decided to make another glissade. Yvon went first, then me, then Jonathan, then Kim. I heard Kim give a whoop, and I answered with a yoo-hoo. I remember thinking that those guys coming up will get a kick out of watching us slide down.

    Then it happened.


I was in Yvon's track, and I quickly gained speed. Snow built up around me and flew in my eyes. It was hard to see where I was going, but then I didn't need to see since Yvon was first and all I had to do was follow his track.

    I remember my thoughts.

    This is great, we'll be down in a few seconds. The rope is tugging on my waist, though. Yvon must be going awfully fast. But wait, he's first so he can't be going faster because he's making the track. That's funny. All this snow building up around me. There's too much snow. Something's wrong. We've got to be careful. Too much snow, and we'll load the slope. We have to stop glissading. Now, right now, stop! Stop! Oh my God, it's too late.

    It was as if the snow all around me had started to boil.

    Get off to the side. Quick. Stand up and run. Can't get up. You have to. Get up. Can't.

    Then underneath me the snow seemed to explode.

    No way to get out now. It will stop, just below the tents, has to. No, we're gaining speed. No, no. There's someone beside me. Jonathan? Kim? Can't tell. Someone yelling, "Oh, Christ, here we go!" Who was it? Kim? Jonathan? No, Kim. Start thinking. Think fast. We can't get out, but we still might stop. If we stop, I might be buried. Smothered. Remember what they say, "If you're in an avalanche, start swimming to stay on top." So try to backstroke. You're still on top, stay there. Backstroke, hard. It'll stop. Oh no, losing control. Can't, have to stay on top. No, I'm flipping.

    I made a complete cartwheel, snow, sky, snow blurring across my vision.

    Everything spinning. Tumble, up, down, up. Then in. Oh my God. I'm buried. Under the snow. Eyes open. White, everything still moving, moving fast. Curl up tight. Like you're supposed to do in a plane crash. Trap air in front, have an air pocket when it stops. That way I'll last long enough until those guys dig me out. Those guys in camp, they're watching. They'll know where we are and be right here. They'll dig. Air pocket, curl up. I'll make it. Look past my arms. Ice pulsing around me, like it's breathing. Must still be going fast, can't breathe. I need air. Spots in front of me, black and white. Am I still alive? I must be.

    Then suddenly my face surfaced. I sucked air as fast as I could, then backstroked until my chest, then my knees, pulled out. Around me the snow was heaving and pulsing, as if it were alive and taking huge, deep breaths. To the side an outcrop sped by in a blur. Then in front, past my feet, I saw the slope steepen, then disappear over an edge. It was the cliff, the rock face below Camp 1, and it went several hundred feet down. Then I remember how suddenly everything slowed. I must have breathed deeply, and exhaled deeply, because I paused, and in that brief second I managed to calm my thoughts. I looked ahead and to the side as the whole slope of snow we were riding, the tons and tons of it, pitched into space, and I recall very clearly my next thought:

    October 13, 1980. Thirty-one years old. Buried in Tibet.


Inside the snow again, curled up in the airplane-crash position. Something hits hard. Ice blocks punching my back, then my arm. Hard, hard on my arm. Am I dead? My arm hurts, pain. Am I being broken? I see myself as they dig me out, all rag doll. It's okay. Listen, mom, dad, brother, everybody. I know you love me and I love you but listen, it's okay, this isn't that bad.

    Hit again. Still alive? Dead yet? Pain. I feel pain. Must be alive because I feel pain. I'm still buried. Open my eyes. Snow. Big ice blocks in front of my face, moving in and out, shifting ice blue shifting and moving. Any moment now, any second and that's it, one final blow.

    Surface ... I'm on top. Breathe, I can breathe. Suck in the air as fast as I can. Can I survive this? Maybe, so breathe fast, hard. If I go under again, I'll need it. Pull my arm out, good, now the other arm. Legs out. Pull hard, strain. Legs are out. Ice moving all around me, pulsing, breathing, moving fast. Roaring noise. To the side, rock cliffs whirring past. Must be in the gully, going down the rock face.

    Think fast. On top, made it this far. I can make it. Maybe. Have to fight. Fight for everything, everything. Swim. Breathe fast, stay on top no matter what. Backstroke. Look, there's Yvon in front of me, right there. His head is up too. Stay on top, backstroke. Wait, it's slowing. The avalanche, it's stopping. It's stopped.

    Get out. Can't move, the rope so tight on my waist, can't get out. Knife? My pack? Where is it? Oh my God, the snow, it's moving again. It's going to start again. No. Get out, quick, out, out. God no, here we go again. There's the lower cliff. We're heading toward it. God, I remember, it's a big one. We can't survive. Sliding slowly, toward the cliff. Pull, pull as hard as you can. This rope! Cliff getting closer, no, no! Not after we have stopped. No, no ... wait ... wait ... it's slowing again. Slowing, slowing, slowing, it's going to stop, going to stop ... it's stopped. Now get out, quick. Out of the rope. There, I can slip it off. Off my waist, slide the loop down my legs, over my boots. Okay, now go to the side, crawl if you have to, careful so the snow doesn't start sliding again. Probably have fractures, so go slow but quick. Slow and quick, like this. To the side, crawl, yes, keep going. To that rock. The rock is safe, off the snow. There, I made it. I'm safe. Okay breathe, breathe again, again. Alive. God, I'm alive ... alive ... alive....


The strain on the rope as we each tumbled helter-skelter had widened the loop around my waist enough so I was able to slip it over my legs, then flee from the mass of ice blocks I was certain would start moving again, sliding toward the next cliff. When the avalanche had stopped the first time, then started again, I had lost hope. I felt cheated. I had accepted death, then had been given a reprieve, then was sentenced again, all in a minute or less. Now the ice had stopped a second time, and I feared it would again start moving, this time toward the cliff just in front of us, a cliff I knew would spell our end. I had struggled like a caged wild animal to remove the rope so I could crawl off the avalanche ice to the security of a rock I had spied a few feet away, at the edge of the jumbled ice.

    Once on the rock I sat panting, unable to do anything until I caught my breath and the dizziness went away, anything except repeat to myself over and over that I was alive. I was certain to be injured, but where? I felt my legs, moving them carefully. Then my arms, my ribs, my back. Bruises, bad ones, but apparently no broken bones. I wasn't seriously injured.

    What about the others? I looked over and saw Yvon, at an angle below me, thirty feet away. He was buried to the waist, but his arms were free and he was working slowly to free himself. There was blood running down his face. I looked up the narrow slope where we had stopped and saw Kim. He was staring back at me. Our eyes held, and I remember they were eyes like blue diamonds. At that moment he may have thought he was dead, or that maybe the ice was going to start moving again. His eyes had the look of an animal that knows it is about to be killed. There was blood on his face and blood trickling out of his mouth, staining his teeth. Then suddenly he screamed. It was an animal scream, and it made me look away.

    Jonathan was closest, only a few feet from me, at the edge of the ice. He was head down, with the rope around his waist stretched tightly to where it disappeared into the snow that was now set hard as concrete. He was trying to say something, but I couldn't tell what it was. I didn't move, but continued to lie on the rock thinking that somehow we were all alive and we were all going to get out of this. When my breathing slowed, I realized I needed to think of what to do next. We were all alive, but the others seemed hurt. I wasn't hurt, and I needed to help them. Who first?

    I looked again toward Yvon. He was still buried to the waist, and now he was leaning back on the snow as if he had given up trying to get out. Blood was running out the corner of his mouth. He still had his glacier glasses on. How could that be? Then I called to him, "Yvon, are you okay?" He turned and looked up at me but only stared, not saying anything.

    "Yvon, are you hurt?"

    "Where are we?" he said.

    Kim screamed again, and I looked back at him. He was on one knee, struggling in a frenzy to stand up. Maybe he still thought the ice would move again. "I can't breathe," he yelled. Panic in his voice. "Get this rope off." He started pulling the rope where it disappeared into the ice. He pulled like a madman, screaming as he yanked on the rope. "I can't breathe!" Help Kim first, I thought.

    I stood and made a few steps toward Kim, but then looked at Jonathan. He was moaning. "Jonathan, are you okay?" He mumbled something, but I couldn't understand him. Then I thought, Better help Jonathan first; his head's downhill, and he's having trouble breathing.

    I bent down and looked in his eyes and said, "Jonathan, we're all alive. We all made it. Everything is going to be okay." Then I asked him where he was hurt, but he couldn't answer. Our eyes held for a moment, and I said, "Don't worry." I had to get him upright, but then I thought, Careful, he might have broken bones. Move him carefully. I reached under his head and tried to get my hand along his back in case it was broken. He was heavy, but lifting slowly I straightened him out. "Okay, buddy, that should be better." He still didn't answer, but we looked at each other and then I heard Kim scream again, "I can't breathe! The rope. Get the rope off." Kim was on his feet, charging against the rope like a wild animal against a leash, screaming. I looked at Jonathan and said, "Hang on, I've got to help Kim. He can't breathe. I'll be right back. Everything's okay."

    When I reached Kim, I told him to stop pulling against the rope. "Can't breathe," he screamed in panic. "My back. I'm hurt. Can't breathe."

    "Relax, relax. Take the strain off the rope so I can untie it."

    Kim collapsed on his knees. I coaxed him to move a few inches, to relieve tension on the rope. But the knot was too tight to untie. I thought, Should I keep working on it, or help the others? How is Yvon?

    I looked down. Yvon had nearly dug himself out, but he was again leaning back against the snow. He seemed dazed.

    "Yvon, are you hurt?"

    "What happened?" he said, looking up.

    "Are you okay?"

    "Where are we? What happened?"

    I couldn't tell if he was seriously injured. I managed to untie the knot in the rope around Kim's waist.

    "Okay," I told him, "now I've got to help the others."

    I stepped across the avalanche debris to Yvon.

    "Are you hurt?"

    "I don't think so. What happened?"

    "We were in an avalanche. Stay right here. I've got to help Jonathan."

    When I got to Jonathan, I bent down to ask how he was doing. I looked in his face and felt my stomach tighten. His eyes had rolled back in his head. I thought, No, it can't end this way. We're all going to come out of this okay. I knelt close to his mouth. He wasn't breathing. I put my hand on his neck and felt his pulse. It was quick and strong. I thought, He's still alive. Have to get him breathing, fast. I held his head in my lap and placed my finger on his tongue and breathed into his mouth. Once, twice, three times. Nothing. Again, once, twice. Nothing. Then I saw his chest rise and fall. He started to breathe again. He's going to make it, I thought. Things will turn out okay. We're all going to get out of this alive.

    Then the breathing stopped. I waited, but he had stopped breathing. I breathed into his mouth once, twice, and again he started breathing on his own. But there was a sound from inside his chest. I thought, No, no, this isn't going to happen. We've all got to come out of this okay. We're all still alive. It has to stay that way.

    He breathed three times, and stopped, and I breathed again into his mouth. He breathed, stopped, I breathed into him, he started. His pulse was still strong. I had to keep him going until the others arrived. The others. Where were they? Edgar, Peter, Jack? They saw us go down, so surely they were right behind, coming down to help. They should have been here by now, though. Wait. Maybe the avalanche was so wide they had been swept away, too. They could be buried in this snow.

    I stood up and looked around. Yvon was below, now on his feet, standing and staring at me. Kim was crawling off the ice, still crying in pain, blood trickling from his mouth. Our red rope wove in and out of the jumbled blocks of snow and ice like a string of intestine from a gutted animal. But no sign of anything else. I thought, If the others were in here, they're all buried. No, that couldn't be, because the debris isn't that thick. If they were here, I'd see some sign. So they must still be coming down.

    I turned back to Jonathan and saw that he had stopped breathing again, and once more I started mouth-to-mouth. His chest would rise, fall, I would breathe in his mouth and his chest would rise, hold, fall, not move, then rise again on its own, fall, rise, fall ... stop. I would watch, wait, then put my mouth again to his and start over. I kept my finger on his neck and his heart still beat. He stayed alive, and I kept hoping.

    I looked up and saw that Yvon had walked over and was standing a few feet away, watching me administer to Jonathan. He was stiff and not moving, standing like a scarecrow. There was blood on his face.

    "Are you sure you're not hurt?"

    "What happened?"

    "We were in a big avalanche, Yvon. We just fell fifteen hundred, maybe two thousand feet. I don't know, a long ways. We're all alive. But Jonathan is hurt bad."

    "What mountain is this?"

    "Yvon, go help Kim."

    Yvon looked toward Kim who was now off the ice, lying on his side, doubled up and moaning.

    "What mountain did you say this was?"

    Yvon then started toward the place where he had been buried. I was afraid he would walk off the cliff that was only a few yards away.

    "Yvon, don't walk around. Come over here; help Kim."

    Yvon turned and started back my way, still in a daze. I needed more help. Where were the others?

    "Help!" I shouted. "Down here. Help!" There was no reply, and I called again. Yvon was now standing nearby.

    "Where are we?"

    "Minya Konka, Yvon."

    "Where?"

    "Minya Konka, in Tibet, in China."

    "What are we doing in China?"

    I turned back to Jonathan. He had stopped breathing, so I resumed mouth-to-mouth, but each time I breathed into him there was that sound in his chest. I waited. His head rested on my knee. I moved my fingers through his hair and watched his face. His lips had lost color. All of a sudden his face paled, as though some part of his being suddenly evaporated. In less than a second he was different. I held him in my lap as I continued to slowly stroke his hair. I bent down and gently kissed him on the forehead, then set his head down and folded his arms on his stomach so he looked comfortable. Yvon stood watching. He didn't say anything, and I didn't think he understood.

    "Yvon," I said, looking up at him, "Jonathan just died."

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Table of Contents

Prelude: Journal Entries, October and November, 1980 1
Part 1: Khumbu and the Everest Region, May 1999 25
Part 2: Chang Tang, June 1999 97
Part 3: Kham, July 1999 257
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Introduction

Minya Konka Base Camp
October 14, 1980

I need to get this down while it's still fresh. It must have been nine-thirty by the time we got out of Camp 1 yesterday, but we all agreed that there should still be enough time to climb the fifteen hundred vertical feet to the next campsite, cache our loads, and get back before dark. I drew the first lead, postholing up the slope above camp. Then Kim took over, then Yvon. At noon we stopped next to a crevasse for lunch. Yvon bit off a piece of cheese, then turned to Jonathan. "Whenever you're on a glaciated section," he said, "always stop at the edge of a crevasse when you take a break. That way you'll know you haven't stopped on top of a hidden one. Same for setting up camps."

"Thanks," Jonathan replied.

Jonathan had asked us a few days earlier to give him pointers whenever we thought of anything, and Yvon is always obliging to anyone who wants to learn. We finished lunch and continued. Soon our options narrowed to a steep section of chest-deep snow, so we had no choice but to tackle it. I led and Kim followed. To get footing I had to pack the snow first by pressing my whole body into the slope, then my knee and finally my boot. No matter how careful I was, I still knocked snow down on Kim.

"Sonofabitch. I'm getting buried." 

"Sorry, I can't help it."

Kim looked up and grinned. "I wasn't cursing you. Just this snow flying down my collar."

I took another step and knocked down more snow.

"Sonofabitch." 

I smiled to myself and kept going. In another hundred feet the snow firmed. In a clearing between clouds we could see just ahead an area of large seracs where the shifting glacier had cleaved into blocks. I stopped and studied our options.

"Two ways to go. Up the middle through the seracs, or off to the right." 

"Looks a little better to the right," Yvon said.

While Kim moved up to take the lead, Jonathan stepped aside and took several photographs. I paid out rope, then followed Kim as he angled up the side of a serac that then turned into a long, steep slope. The heavy packs and thin air made the effort debilitating, but we maintained a steady pace. I tried not to look up but instead to focus on the steps in front of me, hoping I might achieve a kind of self-hypnosis.

"Heartbreak Hill," Yvon called out. 

The rope on my waist went taut. I looked up, and Kim had stopped to wait patiently while I caught up. It was all I could do to match his speed, and he was the one punching the steps. I was tempted to unrope and go at my own pace, but there were still crevasses in the area. We had roped up earlier in the morning when we crossed the first crevasses above Camp 1. That was before we got into the soft snow, but footing had still been difficult, with about four inches of new snow over the older surface. Several times my boot skidded on the interior layer, leaving a streak through the new snow. In the back of my mind I knew this was avalanche potential. I wondered what Yvon and Kim thought, but if they were concerned they would have said something. Still, I noticed that whoever was leading stayed on the edges of crevasses, and close to the sides of seracs, avoiding whenever possible the wider slopes that might be dangerous.

Kim kept leading until the slope laid back, and I took over kicking steps for a long time. I was hypnotized: one foot up, breathe a few times, then move the next foot. I remember Jonathan yelling up, "Rick, you need relief?" Ahead I could see a flat spot on the edge of a crevasse, so I made that my goal.

"Thirty more yards." 

When I reached the spot, I plopped down, leaned back on my pack, closed my eyes, and breathed heavily. The altitude was now over 20,000 feet, and I wasn't yet fully acclimatized. In a few moments Kim and Yvon arrived.

"Good effort," Yvon said. 

Jonathan arrived. "Way to punch steps." 

Kim just kept going, lifting his legs and pushing steps into the smooth snow. When the rope caught up, I had no choice but to peel off my shoulder straps so I could stand up, then saddle the heavy pack once more and start following. Ahead, in a glimpse between clouds, we sighted the top of the ridge only a hundred yards farther. The wind strengthened to thirty miles per hour, and the clouds now raced over the snow and again obscured our vision. Through another fleeting hole in the clouds I could see above that the best route was more to the side.

"Traverse left . . . to the crest . . . out of the wind." 

In a few minutes we were on a flat bench sheltered in the lee of the ridge. We unshouldered our packs.

"Good place for the tents." 

"Welcome to Camp 2." 

We sat on our packs and had a second lunch, finishing our Fig Newtons and the last of our lemonade. Through brief windows in the occluding clouds we could see the ridge descending to a col and rising again to two higher summits.

"Must be Redomain and Dedomain," Yvon said. We had learned the names of these two peaks from reading an account of the 1932 expedition. The clouds opened further, and beyond we could see the yellow-green plateau, and once more I paused to consider our good fortune. The Chinese had just opened their doors to foreign mountaineers, and we were the first Westerners allowed into eastern Tibet since the 1932 expedition, fifty years earlier.

"Wuuwee" Jonathan said. It was his favorite expression, and even though he said it calmly -- almost to himself -- I knew it revealed his excitement because he had been saying it continuously since that day nearly a month before when we had first arrived in China. We turned and looked toward the summit ridge, now obscured in clouds. We had an idea what it looked like, though, from studying the 1932 photographs.

"Two more camps and we can make the summit," I said. 

"Ten days, if we have luck with the weather," Yvon added. 

We rested for a few more minutes, then, in the first clearing, picked up our empty packs and headed down toward Camp 1.

We made good time, slowing to test bridges over crevasses, or, as Kim preferred, to broad-jump them. In only a few minutes we were back at Heartbreak Hill. We down-climbed, belaying each other with our ice axes as anchors. When the angle eased, we decided to glissade. We slid down on our butts, one going faster than the other, laughing and yelling, the rope going taut, pulling one, then the other. I felt like a kid in a giant sandbox of snow. It seemed like only seconds and we were at the bottom and on our feet and continuing down in big jumping steps.

It went that way for another half hour. We were moving fast, and our spirits were high. We arrived at the hill above Camp 1. We could see below our three yellow tents, and on the trail through the snow leading into camp, three figures. We knew that would be Edgar, Peter, and Jack, moving up to camp. Harry was probably already there, in one of the tents. Everything was on schedule and according to plan.

We decided to make another glissade. Yvon went first, then me, then Jonathan, then Kim. I heard Kim give a whoop, and I answered with a yoo-hoo. I remember thinking that those guys coming up will get a kick out of watching us slide down.

Then it happened. 

I was in Yvon's track, and I quickly gained speed. Snow built up around me and flew in my eyes. It was hard to see where I was going, but then I didn't need to see since Yvon was first and all I had to do was follow his track.

I remember my thoughts. 

This is great, we'll be down in a few seconds. The rope is tugging on my waist, though. Yvon must be going awfully fast. But wait, he's first so he can't be going faster because he's making the track. That's funny. All this snow building up around me. There's too much snow. Something's wrong. We've got to be careful. Too much snow, and we'll load the slope. We have to stop glissading. Now, right now, stop! Stop! Oh my God, it's too late. 

It was as if the snow all around me had started to boil.

Get off to the side. Quick. Stand up and run. Can't get up. You have to. Getup. Can't. 

Then underneath me the snow seemed to explode. 

No way to get out now. It will stop, just below the tents, has to. No, we're gaining speed. No, no. There's someone beside me. Jonathan? Kim? Can't tell. Someone yelling, "Oh, Christ, here we go!" Who was it? Kim? Jonathan? No, Kim. Start thinking. Think fast. We can't get out, but we still might stop. If we stop, I might be buried. Smothered. Remember what they say, "If you're in an avalanche, start swimming to stay on top. So try to backstroke. You're still on top, stay there. Backstroke, hard. It'll stop. Oh no, losing control. Can't, have to stay on top. No, I'm flipping.

I made a complete cartwheel, snow, sky, snow blurring across my vision.

Everything spinning. Tumble, up, down, up. Then in. Oh my God. I'm buried. Under the snow. Eyes open. White, everything still moving, moving fast. Curl up tight. Like you're supposed to do in a plane crash. Trap air in front, have an air pocket when it stops. That way I'll last long enough until those guys dig me out. Those guys in camp, they're watching. They'll know where we are and be right here. They'll dig. Air pocket, curl up. I'll make it. Look past my arms. Ice pulsing around me, like it's breathing. Must still be going fast, can't breathe. I need air. Spots in front of me, black and white. Am I still alive? I must be.

Then suddenly my face surfaced. I sucked air as fast as I could, then backstroked until my chest, then my knees, pulled out. Around me the snow was heaving and pulsing, as if it were alive and talking huge, deep breaths. To the side an outcrop sped by in a blur. Then in front, past my feet, I saw the slope steepen, then disappear over an edge. It was the cliff, the rock face below Camp 1, and it went several hundred feet down. Then I remember how suddenly everything slowed. I must have breathed deeply, and exhaled deeply, because I paused, and in that brief second I managed to calm my thoughts. I looked ahead and to the side as the whole slope of snow we were riding, the tons and tons of it, pitched into space, and I recall very clearly my next thought: 

October 13, 1980. Thirty-one years old. Buried in Tibet. 

Inside the snow again, curled up in the airplane-crash position. Something hits hard. Ice blocks punching my back, then my arm. Hard, hard on my arm. Am I dead? My arm hurts, pain. Am I being broken? I see myself as they dig me out, all rag doll. It's okay. Listen, mom, dad, brother, everybody. I know you love me and I love you but listen, it's okay, this isn't that bad.

Hit again. Still alive? Dead yet? Pain. I feel pain. Must be alive because I feel pain. I'm still buried. Open my eyes. Snow. Big ice blocks in front of my face, moving in and out, shifting ice blue shifting and moving. Any moment now, any second and that's it, one final blow.

Surface . . . I'm on top. Breathe, I can breathe. Suck in the air as fast as I can. Can I survive this? Maybe, so breathe fast, hard. If I go under again, I'll need it. Pull my arm out, good, now the other arm. Legs out. Pull hard, strain. Legs are out. Ice moving all around me, pulsing, breathing, moving fast. Roaring noise. To the side, rock cliffs whirring past. Must be in the gully, going down the rock face.

Think fast. On top, made it this far. I can make it. Maybe. Have to fight. Fight for everything, everything. Swim. Breathe fast, stay on top no matter what. Backstroke. Look, there's Yvon in front of me, right there. His head is up too. Stay on top, backstroke. Wait, it's slowing. The avalanche, it's stopping. It's stopped.

Get out. Can't move, the rope so tight on my waist, can't get out. Knife? My pack? Where is it? Oh my God, the snow, it's moving again. It's going to start again. No. Get out, quick, out, out. God no, here we go again. There's the lower cliff. We're heading toward it. God, I remember, it's a big one. We can't survive. Sliding slowly, toward the cliff. Pull, pull as hard as you can. This rope! Cliff getting closer, no, no! Not after we have stopped. No, no . . . wait . . . wait . . . it's slowing again. Slowing, slowing, slowing, it's going to stop, going to stop . . . it's stopped. Now get out, quick. Out of the rope. There, I can slip it off. Off my waist, slide the loop down my legs, over my boots. Okay, now go to the side, crawl if you have to, careful so the snow doesn't start sliding again. Probably have fractures, so go slow but quick. Slow and quick, like this. To the side, crawl, yes, keep going. To that rock. The rock is safe, off the snow. There, I made it. I'm safe. Okay breathe, breathe again, again. Alive. God, I'm alive . . . alive . . . alive . . . .

The strain on the rope as we each tumbled helter-skelter had widened the loop around my waist enough so I was able to slip it over my legs, then flee from the mass of ice blocks I was certain would start moving again, sliding toward the next cliff. When the avalanche had stopped the first time, then started again, I had lost hope. I felt cheated. I had accepted death, then had been given a reprieve, then was sentenced again, all in a minute or less. Now the ice had stopped a second time, and I feared it would again start moving, this time toward the cliff just in front of us, a cliff I knew would spell our end. I had struggled like a caged wild animal to remove the rope so I could crawl off the avalanche ice to the security of a rock I had spied a few feet away, at the edge of the jumbled ice.

Once on the rock I sat panting, unable to do anything until I caught my breath and the dizziness went away, anything except repeat to myself over and over that I was alive. I was certain to be injured, but where? I felt my legs, moving them carefully. Then my arms, my ribs, my back. Bruises, bad ones, but apparently no broken bones. I wasn't seriously injured.

What about the others? I looked over and saw Yvon, at an angle below me, thirty feet away. He was buried to the waist, but his arms were free and he was working slowly to free himself. There was blood running down his face. I looked up the narrow slope where we had stopped and saw Kim. He was staring back at me. Our eyes held, and I remember they were eyes like blue diamonds. At that moment he may have thought he was dead, or that maybe the ice was going to start moving again. His eyes had the took of an animal that knows it is about to be killed. There was blood on his face and blood trickling out of his mouth, staining his teeth. Then suddenly he screamed. It was an animal scream, and it made me look away.

Jonathan was closest, only a few feet from me, at the edge of the ice. He was head down, with the rope around his waist stretched tightly to where it disappeared into the snow that was now set hard as concrete. He was trying to say something, but I couldn't tell what it was. I didn't move, but continued to lie on the rock thinking that somehow we were all alive and we were all going to get out of this. When my breathing slowed, I realized I needed to think of what to do next. We were all alive, but the others seemed hurt. I wasn't hurt, and I needed to help them. Who first?

I looked again toward Yvon. He was still buried to the waist, and now he was leaning back on the snow as if he had given up trying to get out. Blood was running out the corner of his mouth. He still had his glacier glasses on. How could that be? Then I called to him, "Yvon, are you okay?" He turned and looked up at me but only stared, not saying anything.

"Yvon, are you hurt?" 

"Where are we?" he said. 

Kim screamed again, and I looked back at him. He was on one knee, struggling in a frenzy to stand up. Maybe he still thought the ice would move again. "I can't breathe," he yelled. Panic in his voice. "Get this rope off." He started pulling the rope where it disappeared into the ice. He pulled like a madman, screaming as he yanked on the rope. "I can't breathe!" Help Kim first, I thought.

I stood and made a few steps toward Kim, but then looked at Jonathan. He was moaning. "Jonathan, are you okay?" He mumbled something, but I couldn't understand him. Then I thought, Better help Jonathan first; his head's downhill, and he's having trouble breathing.

I bent down and looked in his eyes and said, "Jonathan, we're all alive. We all made it. Everything is going to be okay." Then I asked him where he was hurt, but he couldn't answer. Our eyes held for a moment, and I said, "Don't worry." I had to get him upright, but then I thought, Careful, he might have broken bones. Move him carefully. I reached under his head and tried to get my hand along his back in case it was broken. He was heavy, but lifting slowly I straightened him out. "Okay, buddy, that should be better." He still didn't answer, but we looked at each other and then I heard Kim scream again, "I can't breathe! The rope. Get the rope off." Kim was on his feet, charging against the rope like a wild animal against a leash, screaming. I looked at Jonathan and said, "Hang on, I've got to help Kim. He can't breathe. I'll be right back. Everything's okay." When I reached Kim, I told him to stop pulling against the rope. "Can't breathe," he screamed in panic. "My back. I'm hurt. Can't breathe." 

"Relax, relax. Take the strain off the rope so I can untie it." 

Kim collapsed on his knees. I coaxed him to move a few inches, to relieve tension on the rope. But the knot was too tight to untie. I thought, Should I keep working on it, or help the others? How is Yvon?

I looked down. Yvon had nearly dug himself out, but he was again leaning back against the snow. He seemed dazed.

"Yvon, are you hurt?" 

"What happened?" he said, looking up. 

"Are you okay?" 

"Where are we? What happened?" 

I couldn't tell if he was seriously injured. I managed to untie the knot in the rope around Kim's waist.

"Okay," I told him, "now I've got to help the others." I stepped across the avalanche debris to Yvon.

"Are you hurt?" 

"I don't think so. What happened?" 

"We were in an avalanche. Stay right here. I've got to help Jonathan." 

When I got to Jonathan, I bent down to ask how he was doing. I looked in his face and felt my stomach tighten. His eyes had rolled back in his head. I thought, No, it can't end this way. We're all going to come out of this okay. I knelt close to his mouth. He wasn't breathing. I put my hand on his neck and felt his pulse. It was quick and strong. I thought, He's still alive. Have to get him breathing, fast. I held his head in my lap and placed my finger on his tongue and breathed into his mouth. Once, twice, three times. Nothing. Again, once, twice. Nothing. Then I saw his chest rise and fall. He started to breathe again. He's going to make it, I thought. Things will turn out okay. We're all going to get out of this alive.

Then the breathing stopped. I waited, but he had stopped breathing. I breathed into his mouth once, twice, and again he started breathing on his own. But there was a sound from inside his chest. I thought, No, no, this isn't going to happen. We've all got to come out of this okay. We're all still alive. It has to stay that way.

He breathed three times, and stopped, and I breathed again into his mouth. He breathed, stopped, I breathed into him, he started. His pulse was still strong. I had to keep him going until the others arrived. The others. Where were they? Edgar, Peter, Jack? They saw us go down, so surely they were right behind, coming down to help. They should have been here by now, though. Wait. Maybe the avalanche was so wide they had been swept away, too. They could be buried in this snow.

I stood up and looked around. Yvon was below, now on his feet, standing and staring at me. Kim was crawling off the ice, still crying in pain, blood trickling from his mouth. Our red rope wove in and out of the jumbled blocks of snow and ice like a string of intestine from a gutted animal. But no sign of anything else. I thought, If the others were in here, they're all buried. No, that couldn't be, because the debris isn't that thick. If they were here, I'd see some sign. So they must still be coming down. 

I turned back to Jonathan and saw that he had stopped breathing again, and once more I started mouth-to-mouth. His chest would rise, fall, I would breathe in his mouth and his chest would rise, hold, fall, not move, then rise again on its own, fall, rise, fall . . . stop. I would watch, wait, then put my mouth again to his and start over. I kept my finger on his neck and his heart still beat. He stayed alive, and I kept hoping.

I looked up and saw that Yvon had walked over and was standing a few feet away, watching me administer to Jonathan. He was stiff and not moving, standing like a scarecrow. There was blood on his face.

"Are you sure you're not hurt?" 

"What happened?" 

"We were in a big avalanche, Yvon. We just fell fifteen hundred, maybe two thousand feet. I don't know, a long ways. We're all alive. But Jonathan is hurt bad." 

"What mountain is this?" 

"Yvon, go help Kim." 

Yvon looked toward Kim who was now off the ice, lying on his side, doubled up and moaning.

"What mountain did you say this was?" 

Yvon then started toward the place where he had been buried. I was afraid he would walk off the cliff that was only a few yards away.

"Yvon, don't walk around. Come over here; help Kim."

Yvon turned and started back my way, still in a daze. I needed more help. Where were the others?

"Help!" I shouted. "Down here. Help!" There was no reply, and I called again. Yvon was now standing nearby.

"Where are we?" 

"Minya Konka, Yvon." 

"Where?" 

"Minya Konka, in Tibet, in China." 

"What are we doing in China?" 

I turned back to Jonathan. He had stopped breathing, so I resumed mouth-to-mouth, but each time I breathed into him there was that sound in his chest. I waited. His head rested on my knee. I moved my fingers through his hair and watched his face. His lips had lost color. All of a sudden his face paled, as though some part of his being suddenly evaporated. In less than a second he was different. I held him in my lap as I continued to slowly stroke his hair. I bent down and gently kissed him on the forehead, then set his head down and folded his arms on his stomach so he looked comfortable. Yvon stood watching. He didn't say anything, and I didn't think he understood.

"Yvon," I said, looking up at him, "Jonathan just died." 

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Interviews & Essays

Talking with Rick Ridgeway and Asia Wright

In a way, you are both survivors of the avalanche on Minya Konka. Rick, in the obvious sense, but also Asia, because you grew up dealing with its effects, not knowing your father. How did this sense of survivorship affect your journey? How does it affect you in general?

AW: I have never thought of myself as a survivor of the Minya Konka avalanche, but I lost my father and I had never brought closure to that. Growing up he was always this wonderful story to me, and being on Minya Konka and everywhere we traveled made the story become reality. Accepting death is one of those strange human needs, and to do so, one needs to be able to truly experience the loss. For it to be real, I had to go there.

RR: I've never had survivor's guilt. I've always felt badly that of the four of us, Jonathan was the least experienced yet paid the highest price for what was a misjudgment of snow conditions by all of us. We were all there by choice, however, doing what we loved, and that he hit his head and broke his neck-if that indeed is what killed him-could have happened to any of us. If I haven't felt guilt, I have felt an obligation to Jonathan to take the most I could from the experience-to wring from it everything I could that might allow me to live my life more fully, with appreciation for what I have, and in that way bring the most value to the fact I lived while he died. That is one of the main motivations why I wanted to learn as much as I could from the precocious wisdom that Jonathan had to offer, a wisdom that was quite extraordinary considering he died at age 28.

Jonathan's wisdom is revealed in the journals he left behind. As you traveled, you both read regularly from them, passages he wrote while covering some of the same territory. What effect did his words have on you and what did you get from them?

AW: Reading his journals was like reading an autobiography, and although he was my father, he is still a stranger to me in some ways, like a character in a book. If anything, the journals re-emphasized the passion he had for Asia and the mountains. To me, however, his photography helps me understand his passions best. I have been surrounded by his art since I was born.

RR: I think he had two big things to offer. First, he had an extraordinary ability always to be critiquing his own actions, to review his choices to make sure they were not motivated by some advancement of his ego. In this way, he had achieved an unusual honesty with himself. Jonathan strove always to "see things as they are."

The second important thing Jonathan had to offer was his ability to live in the moment. He wrote: "I will strive to treat every day as though it were my only one. I have wasted many days, and no doubt I will waste more. But by experiencing and accepting the reality of the present, I can learn not to regret the past, nor to fear the future." I think that says it best.

Rick, your depiction of the actual avalanche in Below Another Sky is breathtaking. Is the memory still fresh in your mind?

RR: Even now, more than 20 years later, I do pause once in awhile and relive those moments, and they are still fresh. And I suppose that means those approximately 60 seconds we were in the avalanche are indelibly etched into my memory.

Asia, can you describe your emotions when you realized you had actually found the gravesite?

AW: I knew that we had found the gravesite before Rick had a chance to tell me, but even knowing it was there, I couldn't look up. Before we had come around the last corner I had experienced an overwhelming sense of emotion and had been shaking and crying. I knew exactly where it was even though I had never even seen a picture of that spot. I distinctly remember looking up from the ground over my left shoulder and seeing a ruined pile of rocks and colorful objects amidst the mass. At that point it hit me where I was and what that was and I completely broke down. I just questioned myself over and over again about what I was doing and why I was there. I couldn't go up to the grave at first. When Rick got up there and broke down, I felt I needed to be there for him. At that moment I felt that this had to be harder for him because he had known my father, been there with him when he died, and buried him.

The popularity of books such as Into Thin Air has brought a lot of attention to mountaineering and adventure travel over the past few years. It almost seems that the Everest mystique has been compromised because so many more people have made the climb. What do you think the affect of the popularization of adventure travel has been? Has it affected your travels or your outlook? RR: Now I need to look further afield to find places that are less-visited or frequented. Those have always been the places that draw me the most, and with more people out there going to outback places, there are fewer and fewer that are little-known, at least by Westerners. But they are still there. I continue to be amazed how many people seem-in my view, anyway-to limit themselves by following everyone else to the same place. Everest is an example, but so are other popular climbs like Aconcagua (highest peak in South America) and McKinley, or Denali (highest peak in North America.) As with Everest, people are drawn there, and flock there, because they are "the highest." I've learned that the goal is not the summit, but the route. It's not the top, but the getting to the top, that counts. So if you buy that, it doesn't matter whether the top is the highest or the hundredth highest or even if it's a peak so remote nobody knows how high it is, as was the case with the mountain Asia and I climbed in the Aru Basin. I find the trend of everyone following everyone else to the "big-name" peaks and adventure travel destinations even in my own backyard in California. All summer there are dozens of people a day lined up to get a permit to hike up Mt. Whitney. On top, you're lucky if there are less than fifty other people there, when within eyesight are dozens of other peaks, most even more spectacular, with nobody on them. But they are not the highest peak in the lower 48, as Whitney is. To me, this is missing an opportunity.

You have narrowly escaped death several times-in a Panamanian jail, from typhoid in Borneo-besides the avalanche on Minya Konka. Several of your friends, in addition to Jonathan, have been killed in pursuit of adventure. Have you been able to figure out what drove you to push the envelope over and over again? Any regrets?

RR: I don't consider that I take heedless risks, but rather that I take calculated risks, and the formula of those calculations is getting more conservative as I get older. The formula really changed when I began to have children. Even before, though, as I got older, I increasingly tried to manage the risks I took, or was willing to take. My answer to anyone who charges that I have a death wish is to say that yes, I have a death wish: to die as an old man looking back on a life with no regrets about the major choices and decisions I've made.

But what drove me to make the risks I did? In the case of the harder climbs, it was, in part, to push myself, to find my limits. This is something that young people, I believe, are perhaps genetically impelled to do. The danger is pushing the exploration of those limits too far, like my old climbing partners, Chris Chandler and Ron Fear. I learned mountaineering from them. Ron was killed in a rafting accident in Peru. Chris died of cerebral and pulmonary edema while trying to climb Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak, in winter, without oxygen. Cerebral and pulmonary edema can hit anyone, from novice to the most experienced moutaineer with no warning, but I realized that they both died in part for the willful way they courted danger. I hope my stories in Below Another Sky will caution young people in that respect and that they will discover it in the reading, as I discovered it in the living of these stories.

In the book, you seem to develop a kind of father-daughter relationship. Rick, you often comment on how you're learning to appreciate Asia as an adult and recognize her strengths, an understanding most fathers come to as their daughters get older. Do you think that the father-daughter description is accurate?

AW: Rick and I didn't know each other all that well before the trip, but I have always felt a bond with him. He was the person that probably knew my father the best and was most like my father.

RR: In some ways maybe, but in most ways no. Certainly by age difference our relationship is like that. At the beginning of the journey, one of my goals was to be some kind of father for Asia because I knew this was a big gap in her life, and I wanted to help fill it if I could. After the journey I asked Asia if she felt of me as a kind of surrogate father, and she said no, that it wouldn't be possible for me to fill that role. "But I do feel you are a close friend, as close as any member of my family. And I've learned a lot from you, and I hope to learn a lot more." I would say that if a goal for both of us is "to see things as they are," she's doing an accurate and unsentimental job of it with an answer like that.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2001

    WHAT A TRIP

    This is a beautifully written book, not just from the descriptions of the climbing and the countryside, but the human story as well. My heart breaks for young Asia, who has never known her father, but has the courage to seek for him on an amazing journey. The author blends his life story of adventures seamlessly into the journey through Nepal and Tibet. A must read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2001

    A lost father

    Below Another Sky is equal too looking into the souls of Mr. Ridgeway and Ms. Asia Wright, as they both try and find what they both want,inner peace. The writing is excellent, and the reader will feel like they are actually part of their journey.

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