Last Season

( 55 )


Destined to become a classic of adventure literature, The Last Season examines the extraordinary life of legendary backcountry ranger Randy Morgenson and his mysterious disappearance in California's unforgiving Sierra Nevada—mountains as perilous as they are beautiful. Eric Blehm's masterful work is a gripping detective story interwoven with the riveting biography of a complicated, original, and wholly fascinating man.

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Destined to become a classic of adventure literature, The Last Season examines the extraordinary life of legendary backcountry ranger Randy Morgenson and his mysterious disappearance in California's unforgiving Sierra Nevada—mountains as perilous as they are beautiful. Eric Blehm's masterful work is a gripping detective story interwoven with the riveting biography of a complicated, original, and wholly fascinating man.

Winner of the 2006 Discover Award, Nonfiction

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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)
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.”
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."
"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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060583019
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/30/2007
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 93,521
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Eric Blehm

Eric Blehm is the former editor of Transworld SNOWboarding, author of Agents of Change: The Story of DC Shoes and Its Athletes, and coauthor of P3: Pipes, Parks, and Powder. The Last Season was a Book Sense bestseller and a Barnes & Noble Discover selection. He lives in southern California with his wife and son.


In 1999, Blehm became the first journalist to accompany and keep pace with an elite Army Ranger unit on a training mission. His access into the Special Operations community set an important milestone for American war journalism two years before reporters began to gain widespread "embedded" status with the U.S. military in the War Against Terror.

Blehm has earned a reputation for both his accuracy and leave-no-stone-unturned approach to nonfiction writing. For The Only Thing Worth Dying For, he interviewed the surviving members of ODA 574, Special Operations soldiers and airmen, key commanders, war planners, and Hamid Karzai. He also scoured the military records and personal writings of the Green Berets involved. This unprecedented access continued with Fearless: Adam Brown’s civilian and military life was recounted to Blehm by family, friends, SEAL teammates, and other members of the military. In addition, he drew from official documents, statements, military records and reports, criminal records, family archives, letters, emails, and journal and diary entries. While writing The Last Season, Blehm pieced together the portrait of Randy Morgenson from journals, letters, photos, and interviews with his wife, friends, and colleagues, as well as by retracing Morgenson’s steps in the backcountry of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

This diligent reportage has made Blehm a recognized voice in many communities, including National Park Service search-and-rescue (the Morgenson investigation was one of the most extensive search-and-rescue operations in NPS history) and various branches of the military, particularly the Special Operations community.

Blehm is also the founder of Molly the Owl Books, the independent publishing company behind Molly the Owl—his popular nonfiction children’s book about a barn owl and her family-which won the 2011 Nautilus Award and the 2011 San Diego Book Award. Currently, he is working on his next nonfiction book, which takes place during the Cold War era.

Good To Know

Some fascinating outtakes from our interview with Blehm:

"I became a writer so I could see the world and experience some of the places and things I'd read about as a kid. My mother died from cancer when I was 17, and toward the end of her life she told me, "If there is something you want to do in life, do it now, because you don't know about tomorrow." She had been a workaholic and was always putting off things like travel for later. Because she didn't get that chance, I have lived my life through her words of wisdom. Don't wait. If you have something you want to do, get on it. One of the best decisions I made was to use my savings to travel around the world for almost a year with my wife before we settled down and started a family. It was a time to slow down after working high-stress jobs right out of college and really relish the experiences.

Although I've been called an adventurer because of the stories I've written in locales ranging from the Himalaya to Iran, I have to say that being a parent is the greatest adventure of all. It's the most amazing, wonderful, exciting, and challenging "journey" that I've ever been on. My hat goes off to parents everywhere who try to make this world a better place by filling it with open-minded, responsible, and kind-hearted kids who will become open-minded, responsible, and kind-hearted adults.

It took me seven years to get through college, working 30 hours a week all the way through. First, however, I moved to Breckenridge, Colorado, to be a snowboard bum. So many people told me, "If you quit school now, you'll never go back." I knew I wanted a higher education, but I didn't know what in, so I followed my heart and eventually ended up graduating with honors from San Diego State University with a degree in journalism and a minor in outdoor recreation.

Snowboarding has been my ticket to seeing the world. Surfing has been my yoga. I think it's important to have something in your life that transcends being just a hobby. Something fulfilling, not because of success or accomplishments but simply through the act of doing it. Fishing, not to catch fish, but to be in the wilds ... that sort of thing.

I once jumped into a freezing-cold lake to try to revive a drowning trout. I would rather surf a lesser, uncrowded wave than deal with the vibe of a crowded peak. My idea of a perfect day is doing anything with my family, unplugged from the rest of the world. I believe in karma and the Golden Rule. I like good tequila better than good wine. I can get dressed for almost any occasion in less than five minutes. I've been saying I'll try yoga for about twenty years now. I'd rather fish a wild stream for small fish than a dammed lake for big fish. I actually really like my in-laws, all of them. Hospitals scare me. Oh, and about that trout-it lived to swim another day.

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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.


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.

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Table of Contents

Prologue     1
Missing     5
The Granite Womb     29
Into the High Country     49
The Search     67
After the Riots     87
Paid in Sunsets     107
Center Stage for the Hermit     129
Polemonium Blues     147
Granite and Desire     177
Bring in the Dogs     201
The Wilderness Within     225
The Range of Darkness     239
Sermon on the Mount     267
The Devil's Advocates     283
A Missed Clue     309
Epilogue     325
Author's Note and Acknowledgments     329
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 55 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 55 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2007

    An inspiring read, an ode to the power and beauty of nature and the individual

    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!!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2014

    Good read


    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2011

    Loved the book

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 30, 2011

    A good read, especially if you love the outdoors

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 2, 2010

    Hard to put down

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great true story, suspenseful.

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2009

    A riveting account of survival in the wilderness

    I found this book to be well-researched and very interesting. I recently moved to the Sierra, and reading this book has made me relaize a new respect and appreciation for the mountains that I now call home. Randy's story is tragic, but also fascinating. This book shows both his love of the mountains and his vulnerability as a person, and how ultimately, those two things came together for The Last Season.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2007

    Lost in The Last Season

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2014

    Page turner

    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 .

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2013

    Interesting read

    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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  • Posted June 1, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Better than "Into the Wild"

    This book was based on a recommendation for those outdoor enthusiasts that embrace the ideology of Edward Abbey. At first I was a little hesitant thinking this book was just going to be another Into the Wild. It was not long before I realized this incredible story was going to be part wilderness and conservation awareness that develops into a murder mystery. Eric Blehm is going to be an author that will soon make a name for himself as the next infamous journalist non-fiction writer. His stories read like fiction, yet his details of his interviewees illustrate the humanity behind the people that are more than just names in the books.
    For those interested, I did get bogged down during the teenage life of the character, but I assure you if you can push through you will not be disappointed.

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  • Posted February 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Blehm enlightens readers about little known backcountry rangers in our parks.

    In this day and age of "going green", many of the dedicated park rangers have been trying to keep the national parks green and natural for years before it became "chic". The main character in the book, Randy Morgenson, is researched in great detail by the author and should be an example for all of us on how to respect and care for our beautiful parks. In this techno age, this book was a refreshing step back into nature and a detailed look at the life of a man truly dedicated to preservation and slowing down enough in life to enjoy the natural beauty around us. A must-read for anyone who enjoys the outdoors, and anyone that is interested in becoming an outdoorsman.

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  • Posted March 2, 2009

    Good Read!

    This book is well written and informative. Very indeep!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2008

    Not that good

    Like some of the other reviewers I found this book long and boring with a few interesting parts. I was interested in reading this book and I love the outdoors but the more I got into it the harder it was to keep on reading.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2007

    Great book about rangers and the Sierras

    Not having any true back country hiking experiences this book opened me up to that whole experience. I found the book very insightful in what drives people to enjoy/preserve the back country. I highly recommend it to non-hikers and hikers alike.An extremely well researched book!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2007

    Fascinating storytelling

    An amazing story, engaging from start to finish. As someone who has enjoyed backpacking and the outdoors all his life, this book really resonated with me. However, I believe that those who haven't had the luxury of exploring the wilderness will also enjoy this book immensely. It seems to me that this world could use more people that appreciate nature and wild places like Randy Morgenson.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2007

    A reviewer

    Tired after returning from a solo hiking trip in the eastern sierras, I was going to relax and read just a bit, but got lost in his story and finished it in one day - then reread most of it the next day. An amazing tale of an exceptional man!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2007

    Not that great

    I didn't find this book so wonderful as everyone else apparently has. I thought it was kind of boring and I personally could not get into it. I finally did read most of it (skimming the last few chapters to find out if they ever found his body). I'm glad others enjoyed it. I would never compare this to Jon Krauker's 'Into the Wild' because 'Into the Wild' is so interesting and hard to put down. 'The Last Season' is hard to keep picking up.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2006

    An Exquisite, brilliantly researched portrait of the life of a backcountry ranger

    I remember hearing when Randy Morgenson went missing. A backcountry soloist myself, I noticed signs posted at the trailheads in Sequoia National Park. I recall wondering: What had happened to Randy? Would he ever be found? Would I accidentally stumble upon some clue? And what would happen if I should ever disappear? Eric Blehm's brilliantly researched book answers many of these questions, and more. Eric creates an exquisitely sensitive portrait of a rugged man who devoted himself to the wilderness he loved, and who ultimately gave his life back to the mountains. 'The Last Season' ignites the passion of the reader for the remote high country in which Randy lived during the most formative parts of his life. A fitting eulogy for the dedicated backcountry ranger, 'The Last Season' tells the true tale. Randy was not perfect, but he was exceptional. Eric illuminates the multiplicity of Randy's life, the nobility and the sadness, the funny anecdotes, and ultimately the ending. Tragic? I think not. I believe that Randy would have been honored to be seen for who he was, a passionate eccentric, a man dedicated to life, to his friends, to his wife, and especially to the mountains that he the very end. Eric Blehm brings alive the life and the death of backcountry ranger Randy Morgenson, and the blissful yet unforgiving perfection of the magnificent Sierra Nevada.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2006

    An excellent story about introverts

    This is an exceptional story about an introverted outdoorsman who died as he lived, alone and in the wild. The author gives us great detail about the harsh environment in this beautiful part of the country. Anyone who enjoys the outdoors will enjoy this story.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 55 Customer Reviews

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