Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest

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Overview

"I am neither churchly nor a particularly spiritual person, but I can tell you that some force within me rejected death at the last moment and then guided me, blind and stumbling--quite literally a dead man walking--into camp and the shaky start of my return to life."

On May 10, 1996, nine climbers perished in a blizzard high on Mount Everest, the single deadliest day ever on the peak. The following day, one of those victims was given a second chance. His name was Beck Weathers....

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Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest

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Overview

"I am neither churchly nor a particularly spiritual person, but I can tell you that some force within me rejected death at the last moment and then guided me, blind and stumbling--quite literally a dead man walking--into camp and the shaky start of my return to life."

On May 10, 1996, nine climbers perished in a blizzard high on Mount Everest, the single deadliest day ever on the peak. The following day, one of those victims was given a second chance. His name was Beck Weathers.

The tale of Dr. Seaborn Beck Weathers's miraculous awakening from a deep hypothermic coma was widely reported. But the hidden story of what led the pathologist to Everest in the first place, and his painful recovery after his dramatic rescue, has not been told until now.

Brilliant and gregarious, Weathers discovered in his thirties that mountain climbing helped him cope with the black dog of depression that had shadowed him since college. But the self-prescribed therapy came at a steep cost: estrangement from his wife, Peach, and their two children. By the time he embarked for Everest, his home life had all but disintegrated.

Yet when he was reported dead after lying exposed on the mountain for eighteen hours in subzero weather, it was Peach who orchestrated the daring rescue that brought her husband home. Only then, facing months of surgery and the loss of his hands, did Beck Weathers also begin to face himself, his family, his past and uncertain future.

Told in Beck Weathers's inimitably direct and engaging voice--with frequent commentary from Peach, their family, their friends and others involved in this unique journey--Left for Dead shows how one man's drive to conquer the mostdaunting physical challenges ultimately forced him to confront greater challenges within himself. Framed by breathtaking accounts of his near death and resurrection, and of his slow and agonizing physical and emotional recovery, Left for Dead offers a fascinating look at the seductive danger of extreme sports, as in rapid succession a seemingly unstoppable Weathers attacks McKinley, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro--before fate stops him cold, high in the Death Zone of the world's tallest peak.

Full of deep insight and warm humor, Left for Dead tells the story of a man, a marriage and a family that survived the unsurvivable. Candid and uncompromising, it is a deeply compelling saga of crisis and change, and of the abiding power of love and family--a story few readers will soon forget.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A survivor of the disastrous Mt. Everest expedition described in Jon Krakauer's bestseller Into Thin Air, Weathers is the climber many readers will remember from searing media photos of a man with heavily bandaged hands and a face so badly frostbitten it scarcely seemed human. In fact, Weathers had been abandoned by his fellow mountaineers as dead and spent some 18 hours on the mountain in subzero temperatures before miraculously regaining his senses and staggering into camp. Back in the U.S., Weathers, who is a physician, lost both hands and underwent extensive facial reconstruction. But there were other wounds to heal: he had neglected his family so much in pursuit of his hobby that his wife had decided to end the marriage once he returned. Co-written with Michaud (The Evil That Men Do; The Only Living Witness), this book deals in part with the climb but mainly with Weathers's life before and after the catastrophe. The man who wrote this book doesn't seem any less self-absorbed than the one who climbed Mt. Everest. In the years before the disaster, Weathers spent every spare moment pursuing his own interests as his wife and children became strangers to him. Now he claims to have rediscovered his family, but, unfortunately, the reader learns very little about them. Ultimately, this engrossing tale depicts the difficulty of a man's struggle to reform his life. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
When a blizzard trapped the author and dozens of other climbers near the summit of Mount Everest in 1996, much of the world closely followed the tragedy, in which nine died. Weathers, a Dallas-area pathologist who paid $65,000 to climb the mountain, was given up for dead only to amaze everyone, himself included, when he survived the seemingly impossible conditions. The author begins this work with the tragedy on Everest, chronicled in Jon Krakauer's best-selling Into Thin Air (LJ 4/1/97) as well as David Breashears's High Exposure (LJ 6/1/99). He then spends the majority of the book examining his reasons for pushing himself to climb tall mountains and explaining how the experience has changed him and his family. A deeply moving account of a person coming to terms with his shortcomings and his response when given a second chance, this book is highly recommended for all collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/00.]--Tim Markus, Evergreen State Coll. Lib., Olympia, WA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375504044
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/25/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 292
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.51 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Beck Weathers has become a much-sought-after speaker before professional, corporate and academic audiences. He lives with his family in Dallas, where he also practices medicine.

Stephen G. Michaud is the author or co-author of nine books, including The Evil That Men Do and The Only Living Witness. His Web site is www. stephenmichaud.com.

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Read an Excerpt

ONE

On the evening of May 10, 1996, a killer blizzard exploded around the upper reaches of Mount Everest, trapping me and dozens of other climbers high in the Death Zone of the Earth’s tallest mountain.

The storm began as a low, distant growl, then rapidly formed into a howling white fog laced with ice pellets. It hurtled up Mount Everest to engulf us in minutes. We couldn’t see as far as our feet. A person standing next to you just vanished in the roaring whiteout. Wind speeds that night would exceed seventy knots. The ambient temperature fell to sixty below zero.

The blizzard pounced on my group of climbers just as we’d gingerly descended a sheer pitch known as the Triangle above Camp Four, or High Camp, on Everest’s South Col, a desolate saddle of rock and ice about three thousand feet below the mountain’s 29,035-foot summit.

Eighteen hours earlier, we had set out from the South Col for the summit, heartened as we trudged along by a serene and cloudless night sky that beckoned us ever upward until dawn, when it gave way to a spectacular sunrise over the roof of the world.

Then confusion and calamity struck.

Of the eight clients and three guides in my group, five of us, including myself, never made it to the top. Of the six who summited, four were later killed in the storm. They included our thirty-five-year-old expedition leader, Rob Hall, a gentle and humorous New Zealander of mythic mountaineering prowess. Before he froze to death in a snow hole near the top of Everest, Rob would radio a heartbreaking farewell to his pregnant wife, Jan Arnold, at their home in Christchurch. Another sad fatality wasdiminutive Yasuko Namba, forty-seven, whose final human contact was with me, the two of us huddled together through that awful night, lost and freezing in the blizzard on the South Col, just a quarter mile from the warmth and safety of camp.

Four other climbers also perished in the storm, making May 10, 1996, the deadliest day on Everest in the seventy-five years since the intrepid British schoolmaster, George Leigh Mallory, first attempted to climb the mountain.

May 10 began auspiciously for me. I was battered and blowing from the enormous effort to get that far, but I was also as strong and clearheaded as any forty-nine-year-old amateur mountaineer can expect to be under the severe physical and mental stresses at high altitude. I already had climbed eight other major mountains around the world, and I had worked like an animal to get to this point, hell-bent on testing myself against the ultimate challenge.

I was aware that fewer than half the expeditions to climb Everest ever put a single member — client or guide — on the summit. But I wanted to join an even more select circle, the fifty or so people who had completed the so-called Seven Summits Quest, scaling the highest peaks on all seven continents. If I summited Everest, I would have only one more mountain to go.

I also knew that approximately 150 people had lost their lives on the mountain, most of them in avalanches. Everest has swallowed up several dozen of these victims, entombing them in its snowfields and glaciers. As if to underscore its vast indifference to the whole mountain-climbing enterprise, Everest mocks its dead. The glaciers, slowly grinding rivers of ice, carry climbers’ shattered corpses downward like so much detritus, to be deposited in pieces, decades later, far below.

Common as sudden, dramatic death is among mountain climbers, no one actually expects to be killed at high altitude. I certainly didn’t, nor did I ever give much thought to whether a middle-aged husband and father of two ought to be risking his neck in that way. I positively loved mountain climbing: the camaraderie, the adventure and danger, and — to a fault — the ego boost it gave me.

I fell into climbing, so to speak, a willy-nilly response to a crushing bout of depression that began in my mid-thirties. The disorder reduced my chronic low self-regard to a bottomless pit of despair and misery. I recoiled from myself and my life, and came very close to suicide.

Then, salvation. On a family vacation in Colorado I discovered the rigors and rewards of mountain climbing, and gradually came to see the sport as my avenue of escape. I found that a punishing workout regimen held back the darkness for hours each day. Blessed surcease. I also gained hard muscle and vastly improved my endurance, two novel sources of pride.

Once in the mountains (the more barren and remote, the better), I could fix my mind, undistracted, on climbing, convincing myself in the process that conquering world-famous mountains was testimony to my grit and manly character. I drank in the moments of genuine pleasure, satisfaction and bonhomie out in the wilds with my fellow climbers.

But the cure eventually began to kill me. The black dog slunk away at last, yet I persisted in training and climbing and training and climbing. High-altitude mountaineering, and the recognition it brought me, became my hollow obsession. When my wife, Peach, warned that this cold passion of mine was destroying the center of my life, and that I was systematically betraying the love and loyalty of my family, I listened but did not hear her.

The pathology deepened. Increasingly self-absorbed, I convinced myself that I was adequately expressing my love for my wife, daughter and son by liberally seeing to their material needs, even as I emotionally abandoned them. I’m eternally grateful that they did not, in turn, abandon me, although with the mountain of insurance I’d taken out against the possibility of an accident, I should have hired a food taster.

In fact, with each of my extended forays into the wild, it became clearer, at least to Peach’s unquiet mind, that I probably was going to get myself killed, the recurrent subtext of my life. In the end, that’s what it took to break the spell. On May 10, 1996, the mountain began gathering me to herself, and I slowly succumbed. The drift into unconsciousness was not unpleasant as I sank into a profound coma on the South Col, where my fellow climbers eventually would leave me for dead.

Peach received the news by telephone at 7:30 a.m. at our home in Dallas.

Then, a miracle occurred at 26,000 feet. I opened my eyes.

My wife was hardly finished with the harrowing task of telling our children their father was not coming home when a second call came through, informing her that I wasn’t quite as dead as I had seemed.

Somehow I regained consciousness out on the South Col — I don’t understand how — and was jolted to my senses, as well as to my feet, by a vision powerful enough to rewire my mind. I am neither churchly nor a particularly spiritual person, but I can tell you that some force within me rejected death at the last moment and then guided me, blind and stumbling — quite literally a dead man walking — into camp and the shaky start of my return to life.



TWO

The expedition began with a flight from Dallas on March 27. I had to lay over one night in Bangkok before finally arriving in dusty, bustling Katmandu, the capital of Nepal, on the twenty-ninth.

At Tribhuvan International Airport I spied a tall, very athletic-looking fellow waiting in the line to check in. Assuming he was also a climber, I approached him and introduced myself. Sure enough, he was Lou Kasischke, an attorney from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, who’d come to Nepal to climb Mount Everest, too.

Lou and I quickly realized that of all the climbers in our group, we had the most in common. We were both professionals of about the same age and climbing experience, with similar socioeconomic backgrounds. We both were married with kids, and both our wives disapproved of climbing. Over the coming weeks, we would become good friends, as well as tent mates for the expedition.

It took a while to get through customs. Not knowing how things are done in Katmandu, I’d made the mistake of acquiring a visa in advance, which meant I’d stand in a line at least ten times longer than any of my visaless fellow travelers. I was far and away the last person on my flight to finally get out of the airport.

Outside, I joined up with Lou and a couple of other members of our expedition. A van was waiting to carry us through Katmandu’s chaotic traffic to our hotel, the Garuda, an open and airy place and a comfortable haven that clearly catered to a climbing clientele. The walls were covered with posters of the world’s great mountains. At the top of the stairway, grinning down on us, was a poster of Rob Hall himself.

Katmandu was a busy, hot and friendly place, with numerous tourists and trekkers, plus us climbers. We enjoyed wandering around the city but did no real sightseeing. I put off buying gifts for the children and the usual peace offering for Peach, incorrectly assuming there’d be plenty of opportunity for that when I returned from Everest.

Two days later, Rob Hall put us into a Russian-built Mi-17 helicopter, an enormous, shuddering contraption that bore us unsteadily to the 9,200-foot-high Nepalese village of Lukla, where we would begin our trek to Everest itself.

It takes about a week to walk through Nepal’s rugged Khumbu region from Lukla to Everest Base Camp. This is Sherpa country: high valleys and deep gorges, where the natives, about twenty thousand of them, traditionally have been subsistence farmers and hunter-gatherers.

No more, however. The roadless Khumbu is now tourist country.

In 1996, an estimated 400,000 tourists swarmed across Nepal, many of them through the Khumbu, a motley herd of foreigners with fistfuls of hard currency to buy food and shelter, trinkets and entertainment. By far the most important among these visitors were questers such as myself, the deep-pocketed (by Sherpa standards) foreigners who arrive each year to climb Sagarmatha — “goddess of the sky” — as Everest is known locally.

The practical-minded Sherpa have traded their hoes and hunting tools for backpacks to act as porters for the various expeditions. Today, a Sherpa can earn a couple of thousand dollars or more lugging gear up and down the mountain for a typical two-month climbing expedition. That’s more than ten times Nepal’s annual per capita income.

The downside, of course, is that the work is arduous and dangerous: Memorial cairns erected along the upper reaches of the narrow trail to Everest remind you that one in three of those who’ve died on the mountain has been a Sherpa.

In his definitive chronicle of our doomed expedition, Into Thin Air, the journalist Jon Krakauer would describe me as “garrulous” on the walk in. That’s probably charitable. I could have talked the ears off a rubber rabbit. I was eager to be liked, accepted, a member of the group. Under such circumstances, I typically talk a lot. If someone had thrown a Frisbee, I would have caught it with my teeth to please them.

The long trail, which rises ever upward through the Khumbu, is the important first step toward preparing yourself to withstand high-mountain conditions that no organism of more than single-cell complexity was ever meant to endure. It’s a pleasant trek, in any event, or can be if the route isn’t choked with trekkers, climbing parties and the Khumbu’s ubiquitous yak trains. Every once in a while you come around a turn and there, off in the distance, is this giant rock, nearly six miles high, thrusting its head up above everything around it.

On clear days you can see a steady plume of ice and snow streaming for a mile or so off Everest’s summit. This is the mountain’s distinctive white banner, highlighted against the cobalt sky, and a signal that the jet stream, with its winds of 150 to 200 miles an hour, is screaming right over Everest, as it does for most of the year. No one tries to reach the top in these conditions.

But at one time in the spring, and once more in the fall, the banner fades. The ferocious winds lift off Everest, offering a brief window of opportunity for you to go up there, try to tag the top and then hope that you get back down alive.

The Khumbu trail leads up out of the valleys past the treeline to the lower stretches of the twelve-mile-long Khumbu Glacier. At an altitude of approximately sixteen thousand feet you encounter the last settlement of any consequence, a pestilential, medieval hellhole known as Lobuje.

One of the ironies of mountain climbing is that in order to achieve the pristine heights, you must inevitably slog through noisome hog wallows such as Lobuje. There is a straightforward explanation for this. Remote settlements like Lobuje were not established with hordes of visitors in mind. Put several hundred humans and the odd herd of yaks together in a primitive hamlet where dried dung soaked in kerosene is the primary fuel, and sanitation a foreign expression, and you get these characteristically foul trailside settlements. In Lobuje, there was the added frisson of knowledge that the hands that piled up the dung also put out your dinner. Our single hope was to get in and out of Lobuje without contracting any major diseases.

The second I saw Lobuje I realized there was no way I was going to patronize any of its facilities for travelers. Lou and I decided instead to pitch a tent. We had to scout for some time to find a spot both free of offal and upwind of the dung fires.

That season there’d been heavy snow on the trail up to Everest Base Camp, about seven miles beyond Lobuje. Yaks still couldn’t negotiate the final stretch, meaning that all gear, equipment and food had to be carried the last few miles on human, mostly Sherpa, backs. Even beneath Lobuje the path was steep and deep with snow. At one turn we saw a bloody yak leg sticking straight out of a snowbank. We were told the limb simply had snapped off as the animal had struggled through the snow.

In Lobuje, we received word that one of our Sherpas had fallen 150 feet into a crevasse and broken his leg while scouting trails on the mountain above us. We all spent an extra day in Lobuje while Rob Hall and one of his guides went ahead to help manage the Sherpa’s rescue and evacuation.

Everest Base Camp, where you actually begin to climb the mountain at 17,600 feet, is higher than all but two points in the United States, both in Alaska. Interestingly, you cannot see the upper part of Mount Everest from Base Camp. As it is, you are huffing and puffing by the time you get there, and you wonder when you finally arrive, exhausted, just how in the world you’re ever going to survive. We arrived on April 7.

Copyright 2000 by Beck Weathers with Stephen G. Michaud
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 25 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2003

    terrible book

    If I could give less than one star, I would."Left For Dead" is one of the worst books I have ever read. The back of the book tells how it is a story of survival and a reclaiming of a life. The book however does not live up to this promise. Only about 1/4 (at most) is about Beck's part in the Everest tragedy and his recovery from the event. This small portion is basically a rehash of things already described in Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" and Boukreev's "The Climb". There is absolutely nothing new here, as you would think would be since it is written by Beck himself. The remainder of the book contains a seemingly endless debate between Beck and his wife, Peach, about who is the worse spouse. I found it very monotonous and unentertaining to read. Throughout the accusing, criticizing and belitlling I found nothing that resembled the story of survival and the reclaiming of a life that the book said to offer. Stay away from this book.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2001

    One of the worst books I have ever read

    As the critic review states 'this book deals in part with the climb but mainly with Weathers's life before and after the catastrophe'. And even though the excerpt implies the book is about the climb, it is not. The majority is about his life which is the most boring, obnoxious, arrogant, bunch of hogwash I have ever read. Unfortunately, I did not read the reviews. I heard an interview of him by Neal Boortz on a local Atlanta radio station. I bought the book thinking the book would focus on the climb. Instead it is about his cat, his son and daughter, just mindless, totally uninteresting drivel. I could not even finish the book. It was bad enough paying for the book but I was really mad at taking the time away from reading good books to read this ripoff.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2011

    Rip+off

    Thought+I+was+buying+a+book+about+survival+on+Everest%2C+but+got+an+autobiography.+Disappointed.%0A

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2006

    Glad I read it -

    'I searched all over the world for that which would fulfill me, and all along it was in my own backyard.' That's how Beck Weathers sums up what his harrowing Everest adventure taught him. If you're looking for suspense, look elsewhere. The facts of the 1996 climbing season on Mount Everest are well known, and Dr. Weathers (a Texas pathologist) tells his own climb's story in his book's first section. This is one man's personal memoir, not a mountaineering book, and I knew that when I bought it. His reasons for wanting to summit Everest were entirely unlike pioneer climber George Mallory's famous, 'Because it is there.' For Dr. Weathers this was one more way to insulate himself from the growing pain of living. What could make such an outwardly successful human being feel that way about his life? Beck Weathers had it all, and not just the material things that a partner in a thriving medical practice can afford for himself and for his family. He also had a loving wife, two healthy and gifted children, a host of friends, and a supportive extended family. Yet this brilliant and charismatic man could not bring himself to believe that these people really did love him, and wanted his company. Nor could he allow himself to enjoy theirs, because in his mind he did not deserve happiness. He deserved, instead, the kind of punishment that extreme sports inflict. The enormous gap between Beck's world as he perceived it through the filter of chronic depression, and Beck's world as it really was, closed when he to all intents and purposes froze to death on Mount Everest. Opening his eyes after hours of lying out in a blizzard, left for dead not once but twice by comrades unable to carry him to safety, was his first miracle. Getting off the mountain alive was his second, after the Base Camp doctors responded to news of his revival by telling those trying to care for him after he stumbled into camp horribly frostbitten: 'He is going to die. Do not bring him down.' The third miracle, though, is the greatest one. Beck Weathers held onto his near-death epiphany. He believed the truths he'd finally glimpsed, and used that knowledge to transform his life. Slow reading at times, as we follow Beck's early life and go with him through young manhood? Maybe. But everything he says in those chapters is necessary to the story, and his flashes of wry and biting humor had this particular reader howling at times. He spares himself nothing, and allows others who know him - wife 'Peach' mostly, but also his children, brothers, and associates - to add their viewpoints even when they honestly disagree with his own. No, this isn't a book about mountaineering. It's about redemption, and how high a price one man paid to find the happiness that should have been his all along. I am very glad I read it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2006

    delicious

    I felt this book not only summed up what Krakauer began but also swam beneath the surface of Beck Weathers and his extraordinary recovery. I also enjoyed Beck¿s struggle to refurbish his marriage. I offer oodles of praise for Beck Weathers.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2001

    'Left For Dead' left me gasping for air!

    Left for Dead is an intense book that plunges it's readers into a epic story of survival and of the strength and perservierence of the human spirit. I lost a whole nights sleep because I couldn't put it down, and then lost another thinking about it! If you enjoy reading about Mt. Everest, climbing, survival, or anything at all, you will love this book! A must buy!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2013

    Brilliant!

    Brilliant!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2012

    Good book

    This story should be a lesson for all who think that they can buy the summit of Everest or other high peaks with little to average climbing skills

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Touching Adventure

    Beck Weathers proves there's a mountain we all need to climb in order to transform our self-serving behaviors to serving others. Beck's journey is written to inspire and entertain. You will be fully absorbed and impressed by his articulate style. I was moved to both tears and laughter.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2001

    Phoenix Redux

    Don't read Left for Dead if you expect to get the skinny on what really happened on that tragic day on Everest, this book only focuses 1/10th of its pages on those events, and then only sketchily. But it's a fascinating psychological study of a man, and what makes people want to climb, the climbing fraternity, and a disintegrating marriage. The author's wife and others have their own voices in the book, and it makes a very effective look at all sides involved. A fascinating read, and it's a shame on the lack of Everest information, because Weathers can really write well, and explains himself wonderfully. He needs to write another book focusing only on that 1996 expedition.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2000

    When all seemed against...... he succeeded

    Amazing courage and willingness to go on and beat the odds that had become paramount in his quest for survival.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2000

    Up from the grave he arose!

    I was so pleased to stumble on this book at one of your Atlanta stores. I blasted through this excellent book in one yummy night. Beck is a superb writer and I appreciate him sharing all he must have gone through with us. I highly recommend this book.

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    Posted October 23, 2010

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    Posted December 28, 2010

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    Posted July 6, 2010

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    Posted November 22, 2008

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    Posted July 9, 2012

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    Posted September 12, 2010

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    Posted May 15, 2010

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