Last Season
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Last Season

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by Eric Blehm
     
 

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In the spirit of Jon Krakauer's bestselling Into the Wild, Eric Blehm's The Last Season examines the extraordinary life of legendary backcountry ranger Randy Morgenson and his mysterious disappearance in California's unforgiving Sierra Nevada.

The granite spires of the High Sierra have historically been a refuge of inspiration and adventure for the

Overview

In the spirit of Jon Krakauer's bestselling Into the Wild, Eric Blehm's The Last Season examines the extraordinary life of legendary backcountry ranger Randy Morgenson and his mysterious disappearance in California's unforgiving Sierra Nevada.

The granite spires of the High Sierra have historically been a refuge of inspiration and adventure for the likes of John Muir and Ansel Adams, as well as for the pioneering rock climbers of the 1960s. But these mountains are as perilous as they are beautiful: here is where the Donner Party was trapped and where scores of unlucky hikers must be rescued every year. The Last Season tells the inspiring, poignant story of Morgenson, who, over the course of twenty-eight summers living alone in this craggy wilderness, became a celebrated ranger in the National Park Service's most adventurous unit. For the solitary, introspective Morgenson, who grew up in Yosemite Valley and as a young man honed his mountaineering skills in the Himalayas, this was more than a job -- it was a calling. He became fiercely devoted to preventing outside forces from encroaching on the wilderness he loved.

But over the years, the isolation Morgenson had once cherished took its toll, and he grew increasingly estranged from his wife and friends. When, at the height of his struggles, he went missing without a trace in Kings Canyon National Park, where he had long patrolled, many suspected suicide or foul play. Morgenson, after all, had once said, "The least I owe these mountains is a body." As one of the Park Service's most intensive search-and-rescue operations unraveled, some wondered if they were searching for a man who did not want to be found.

Destined to become a classic in mountain literature, The Last Season is a work that is as captivating in its writing as it is compelling in its sense of adventure. It is the result of eight years of research by Eric Blehm to uncover the truth about one of the national parks' greatest mysteries. Blehm's reconstruction of a desperate search-and-rescue operation woven with Morgenson's riveting biography takes readers deep into the heart of the High Sierra and into the little-known and much-romanticized world of the backcountry rangers -- revealing in the end the mind and spirit of a complicated, original, and wholly fascinating man.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review from Discover Great New Writers
To pick up The Last Season is to lose oneself in a mesmerizing story about a place few could survive in and even fewer have visited -- the unforgiving backcountry of the Sierra Nevadas. Blehm narrates this true account of the disappearance and search for Randy Morgenson, a National Park Service ranger who, one morning after 28 seasons on the job, failed to answer his radio call.

The introverted Morgenson was more comfortable with the natural world than with people. A gifted photographer and a lyrical writer, he dropped out of college to begin a career that would send him into the remote parts of California's Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Passionate about the mountains, he excelled at his responsibilities, which ranged from clearing away garbage left by careless campers to rescuing injured hikers. Dedicated to keeping the wilderness undisturbed, he was proud of his ability to leave no trace of himself wherever he camped.

That skill would prove costly when, at age 54, he went missing. Blehm seamlessly combines a detective story with a celebration of nature that calls to mind the works of classic American writers like Thoreau and Emerson. His gripping narrative will cause readers' hearts to ache at the disappearance of this undervalued soul. But their spirits will soar at the grandeur and mysticism of nature expertly captured in its most primal state. (Summer 2006 Selection)
bn.com
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
To pick up The Last Season is to lose oneself in a mesmerizing story about a place few could survive in and even fewer have visited -- the unforgiving backcountry of the Sierra Nevadas. Blehm narrates this true account of the disappearance and search for Randy Morgenson, a National Park Service ranger who, one morning after 28 seasons on the job, failed to answer his radio call.

The introverted Morgenson was more comfortable with the natural world than with people. A gifted photographer and a lyrical writer, he dropped out of college to begin a career that would send him into the remote parts of California's Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Passionate about the mountains, he excelled at his responsibilities, which ranged from clearing away garbage left by careless campers to rescuing injured hikers. Dedicated to keeping the wilderness undisturbed, he was proud of his ability to leave no trace of himself wherever he camped.

That skill would prove costly when, at age 54, he went missing. Blehm seamlessly combines a detective story with a celebration of nature that calls to mind the works of classic American writers like Thoreau and Emerson. His gripping narrative will cause readers' hearts to ache at the disappearance of this undervalued soul. But their spirits will soar at the grandeur and mysticism of nature expertly captured in its most primal state. (Summer 2006 Selection)
Men's Journal
"Blehm mounts the search for Morgenson with a thriller's pacing.... A potent testament to the enduring power and allure of wild open spaces."
Outside
"As Jon Krakauer did with INTO THE WILD, Blehm turns a missing-man riddle into an insightful meditation on wilderness and the personal demons and angels that propel us into it alone."
National Geographic Adventure
"Blehm...deftly interweaves the story of Morgenson's life-long devotion to wilderness with a riveting account of the hunt for him."
Library Journal
In this tribute to backcountry National Park Service rangers (and a poignant and evocative homage to one in particular), Blehm (Agents of Change: The Story of DC Shoes and Its Athletes) instantly captures readers. Randy Morgenson served as a backcountry ranger in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for 28 seasons until he mysteriously disappeared. His remains were only found five years later. Did Morgenson purposefully walk away, or did he meet with a tragic accident? Blehm uses Morgenson's journals to retrace Morgenson's steps and to illustrate the lives of backcountry rangers, who protect, serve, save, and recover with little recognition. Readers will experience the daily hopes of rescue and the eventual letdown when the search efforts must be called off. While the book is a tribute to one man, the descriptions of backcountry rangers' lives will fascinate many. Blehm's impossible-to-put-down account belongs in all California regional collections and all public libraries and is a worthy addition to academic libraries with environmental collections as well. Readers who enjoyed Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild may also appreciate. (Black-and-white photo insert not seen.)-Nancy Moeckel, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Probing account of the mysterious death in the High Sierras of a veteran National Park Service ranger and the passion that shaped his life. Blehm, an outdoor-sports editor and writer, goes to great lengths to establish the wilderness experience, skills and dedication of outdoorsman Randy Morgenson in a sometimes redundant apotheosis. Morgenson mysteriously disappeared in his 28th season as a backcountry ranger while on patrol in July 1996, in the Kings Canyon national park, some 200 miles south of Yosemite in a valley called, by legendary wilderness pioneer John Muir, one of the most beautiful in the Sequoia region. Yet while the book unfolds with flashbacks as his fellow rangers marshal to search for him some six days after his last communication, Blehm also builds the picture of a complex and conflicted person, as well as a man whose wife, having become aware of his recent affair, is seeking a divorce. The question of whether Morgenson was in a state of depression serious enough to take his own life haunts the expedition as the search party fans out, some recalling that he "hadn't been himself" in the weeks or even months prior. The suspense is leavened by hints that the circumstances of his death are not to be immediately resolved. But in piecing together Morgenson's conversations, memos and personal journals while serving (as backcountry rangers sum it up) "to protect the park from the people and the people from the park," Blehm somewhat offhandedly illuminates the ultimate quandary of wilderness preservation: For whom and for what do we persist in it? Morgenson's conflict yields an apt metaphor: Privately referring to outsiders who intruded into his idyllic solitude as "swinishAmericans," he nonetheless established an exemplary record of providing aid to all who got into trouble on his watch. A rambling, yet compelling portrait of a man who perhaps loved the wilderness too much.
Aron Ralston
“A legendary tale of wilderness devotion.”
Bill McKibben
“A first-rate detective story but an even better love story—an account of the love for wild places.”
Jordan Fisher Smith
“A gripping account. . . . I couldn’t put it down.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“A deeply layered, meticulously researched, greatly entertaining read.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060583002
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/04/2006
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Last Season


By Eric Blehm

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Eric Blehm
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060583002

Chapter One

I shall go on some last wilderness trip, to a place I have known and loved. I shall not return.
-- Everett Ruess, 1931

The least I owe these mountains is a body.
-- Randy Morgenson, McClure Meadow, 1994

The bench lake ranger station in Kings Canyon National Park was still in shadow when Randy Morgenson awoke on July 21, 1996. As the sun painted the craggy granite ridgelines surrounding this High Sierra basin, a hermit thrush broke the alpine silence, bringing to life the nearby creek that had muted into white noise over the course of the night.

A glance at his makeshift thermometer, a galvanized steel bucket filled with spring water, told him it hadn't dropped below freezing overnight. But it was still cold enough at 10,800 feet to warrant hovering close to the two-burner Coleman stove that was slow to boil a morning cup of coffee. If he had followed his normal routine, Randy had slept in the open, having spread out his sleeping bag on a gravelly flat spot speckled with black obsidian flakes a few steps from the outpost. Hardly the log cabin vision that the words "ranger station" evoke, the primitive residence was little more than a 12-by-15-foot canvas tent set up on a plywood platform. A few steelbear-proof storage lockers and a picnic table completed what was really a base camp from which to strike out into the roughly 50 square miles of wilderness that was Randy's patrol area.

Before, or more likely after, the hermit thrush's performance -- assuming he followed his custom before a long hike -- Randy ate a hearty "gut bomb" breakfast of thick buckwheat pancakes with slabs of butter and maple syrup. Then began the ritual of loading his Dana Design backpack for an extended patrol. Methodically, he stuffed his sleeping bag into the bottom, followed by a small dented pot -- blackened on the bottom -- that held a lightweight backpacker stove wedged in place by a sponge so it wouldn't rattle. A "bivy" sack was emergency shelter. A single 22-ounce fuel bottle, a beefed-up first aid kit, a headlamp, food -- each item was a necessity with a preordained spot in his pack.

He locked his treasured camera equipment, six books, and a diary inside a heavy-duty "rat-proof" steel footlocker that was "pretty good at keeping rodents out too," he'd been known to say. His only source for contacting the outside world -- a new Motorola HT1000 radio, along with freshly charged batteries -- was zipped into the easily accessible uppermost compartment of his pack. This was the second radio he'd been issued that season; the first one had lasted only eight days before it stopped working on July 8. On July 10 he'd hiked over Pinchot Pass to the trail-crew camp at the White Fork of the Kings River, the location he'd arranged in advance with his supervisor if his radio conked out. A backcountry ranger named Rick Sanger had met him there with the replacement Motorola he now carried.

The least-used item in his pack was a Sequoia and Kings Canyon topographic map. He reportedly referenced it only while trying to orient lost or confused backpackers, or during a search-and-rescue operation. As longtime friend and former supervisor, retired Sierra Crest Subdistrict Ranger Alden Nash, says, "Randy knew the country better than the map did."

For nearly three decades, when someone went missing in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, standard operating procedure had included at least a radio call to Randy, the parks' most dependable source of high-country knowledge.

"Randy was so in sync with the mountains," says Nash, "that he could look at a missing person's last known whereabouts on a topographic map, consider the terrain and 'how it pulls at a person,' and make a judgment call with astounding results.

"One time, a Boy Scout hiking in the park got separated from his troop and couldn't be found before nightfall. Randy looked at a map for a few minutes, traced his thumb over a few lines, and then tapped his finger on a meadow. 'Go land a helicopter in that meadow tomorrow morning, he said. 'That's where he'll be.'

"Sure enough, the Boy Scout came running out of the woods after the helicopter landed in that meadow. He'd taken a wrong turn at a confusing trail intersection and hadn't realized his mistake until it was almost dark and too late to retrace his footprints. The Scout was scared after a night alone, but he was fine.

"Randy," says Nash, "had figured that out by looking at a map. He told me where to go over the radio. John Muir himself couldn't have done that. But then, Muir didn't spend as much time in the Sierra as Randy."

A bold statement, but true. At 54, Randy had spent most of his life in the Sierra. This included twenty-eight full summers as a backcountry ranger and the better part of a dozen winters in the high country as a Nordic ski ranger, snow surveyor, and backcountry winter ranger. Add to that an enviable childhood spent growing up in Yosemite Valley -- where his father worked for that park's benchmark concessionaire, Yosemite Park and Curry Company -- and Randy had literally been bred for the storied life he would lead as a ranger.

His backpack loaded, one of the last things he would have done was tuck into his chest pocket a notepad, a pencil, and a hand lens that had been his father's.

At some point, Randy tore a page from a spiral notebook and wrote: "June 21: Ranger on patrol for 3-4 days. There is no radio inside the tent -- I carry it with me. Please don't disturb my camp. This is all I have for the summer. I don't get resupplied. Thanks!"

He fastened the note to the canvas flap that served as his station's door, tightened the laces on his size 9 Merrell hiking boots, and pinned a National Park Service Ranger badge and name tag to his uniform gray button-down shirt. With an old ski pole for a hiking stick, he walked away from the station.

Continues...


Excerpted from The Last Season by Eric Blehm Copyright © 2006 by Eric Blehm. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Aron Ralston
“A legendary tale of wilderness devotion.”
Jordan Fisher Smith
“A gripping account. . . . I couldn’t put it down.”
Bill McKibben
“A first-rate detective story but an even better love story—an account of the love for wild places.”

Meet the Author

Eric Blehm is the award-winning author of the New York Times bestsellers Fearless and The Only Thing Worth Dying For. His first book, The Last Season, was the winner of the National Outdoor Book Award and was named by Outside magazine as one of the "greatest adventure biographies ever written." He has dedicated his life to telling the stories of those who serve.

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Last Season 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 53 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am largely a domesticated dweller of the southern california suburbs. 'The Last Season' gave me pause to reflect on that fact and challenge myself to look around, and venture out. This book is a poetically written ode' to the power and beauty of nature, and the strength and courage of a man and his ideals. Blehm's research is meticulous and his respect and love of the subject matter is authentic and 100% inspiring. I encourage you to slow down and take in this book. I hope you find the same inspiration, strap on some hicking boots and head for the hills!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A travel log within a story. I got a real feeling of the back country and the special people it takes to manage it. The story of the rangers tragic end made for a interesting avenue to explain this area and the people evolved in its care. Probably could have been told in a shorter format ,such as a magazine article, I felt it was stretched out a little in the middle to lengthen the story. Well written though and I enjoyed it even though it was a fast read .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A+
Mississippi_Rob More than 1 year ago
I found the book to be engrossing. Although I don't quite relate to the main charater, I found him to be very interesting and I got a glimpse into a real life that was different than my own. As a backpacker, I could understand the desires and loves of the main charater. I was drawn in by the narrative, made to feel as though I knew this man, his family, his life.
100Peaks More than 1 year ago
This is a well-written book that keeps the reader guessing until the end. I kept wondering, "How could the author know this?" Randy's notes are poetry, reminiscent of Muir's writings. I am glad we got a glimpse into the heart of someone so in love with the wilderness.
carolha More than 1 year ago
I could hardly put this book down once I started reading because I was eager to get to the conclusion: did Randy Morgenson intentionally lose himself in the backcountry of the High Sierra, or did one of the most experienced backcountry rangers have a tragic accident? As you follow one of the most extensive searches in National Park history for the lost National Park Ranger, you also learn the story of his life. He was a person one could look up to, but he was also human and therefore subject to human vulnerabilities. We could use more Randy Morgenson's in this world.
vharris More than 1 year ago
When I began reading the book, I didn't know if I was honestly going to like it. Really got you to thinking that if one is going to work in the wilderness, make sure all emergency training is used, and stay in contact with more than one communication tool.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I pretty much agree with the previous reviewer who gave this two stars. While it does contain some interesting history about the National Park Service and the rangers who patrol them, the book itself is fairly boring and lacks the supsense and flow of timelines and events of similiar reads like Into Thin Air, The Perfect Storm and Into The Wild, all of which are 5 star books.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thought this was a good book that gave an interesting look at the life of back country rangers. There were a few times where I though the book dragged on a bit, but overall I enjoyed it and would recommend it.
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