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Addicted to Danger: Affirming Life in the Face of Death

Addicted to Danger: Affirming Life in the Face of Death

3.6 8
by Jim Wickwire, Dorothy Bullitt

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Adventurist Jim Wickwire has lived life on the edge -- literally. An eyewitness to glory, terror, and tragedy above 20,000 feet, he has braved bitter cold, blinding storms, and avalanches to become what the Los Angeles Times calls "one of America's most extraordinary and accomplished high-altitude mountaineers." Although his incredible exploits have inspired a


Adventurist Jim Wickwire has lived life on the edge -- literally. An eyewitness to glory, terror, and tragedy above 20,000 feet, he has braved bitter cold, blinding storms, and avalanches to become what the Los Angeles Times calls "one of America's most extraordinary and accomplished high-altitude mountaineers." Although his incredible exploits have inspired a feature on 60 Minutes, an award-winning PBS documentary, a Broadway play, and a full-length film, he hasn't told his remarkable story in his own words -- until now.

Among the world's most intrepid and fearless climbers, Jim Wickwire has traveled the globe, from Alaska to the Alps, from the Andes to the Himalayas, in search of fresh challenges and new heights to conquer. Along the way he accumulated an extraordinary roster of historic achievements. He was one of the first two Americans to reach the summit of the 28,250-foot K2, the world's second highest peak, acknowledged as the toughest and most dangerous to climb. He completed the first alpine-style ascent of Alaska's forbidding Mt. McKinley, spending several nights without tents in snowcaves, crevasses, and open bivouacs. But with the triumphs came harrowing incidents of suffering and loss that haunt him still. On one climb, his shoulder broken by a fall, he watched helplessly as a friend slowly froze to death, trapped in an ice crevasse. Buffeted by storms, Wickwire spent two weeks utterly alone on a remote glacier before his rescue. On two other expeditions he witnessed three fellow climbers plunge thousands of feet, vanishing into the mountain mist.

A successful Seattle attorney, Wickwire climbed his first mountain in 1960 and discovered the wonder of leaving behind the complexities of the civilized world for the pure life-and-death logic of granite, glacier, and snow. Deeply compelled by the allure of nature and the thrill of risk, he pushed himself to the limits of physical and mental endurance for thirty-five years, ultimately climbing into legend.

After more than three decades of uncommon challenges, Wickwire faced a crisis of heart -- a turning point that threatened his faith in himself and his hope in the future. How he reassessed his priorities and rededicated his life -- to his family and to his community -- completes a unique and moving portrait of one man's courage, commitment , and grace under pressure. Addicted to Danger is a tale of adventure in its truest sense.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A Seattle lawyer when he is not climbing mountains, Wickwire has scaled K-2 in the Himalayas, the world's second-highest peak, and has thrice failed to conquer Mt. Everest. Closer to home, he has climbed Alaska's Mt. McKinley and is virtually a commuter to the top of Mt. Rainier, which he has reached more than 30 times. Even those not absorbed by this sport will find themselves affected by the author's tales of friends lost on expeditions, including a fellow-climber trapped in a crevasse who could not be rescued and who froze to death as Wickwire hovered helpless in the vicinity. And readers will feel his grief for an outstanding woman climber with whom he fell in love and who died because of her momentary lapse in vigilance. Writing with Bullitt (Filling the Void), Wickwire makes the point with great clarity that he is addicted to danger. His memoir is well worth a read. Photos. (June)
Library Journal
More mountain-climbing, this time from the first American to scale K2.
Kirkus Reviews
Terrible title, but a good adventure story mixed with meditations on the meaning of life and death and dying. Wickwire is one of the world's most accomplished mountain climbers. For over 30 years he has challenged the great summits: Everest, K2 in the Himalayas, Mt. McKinley, and so many others. Some of these mountains he has conquered, some have conquered him, but he has never lost his desire to climb. The descriptions of his adventures are gripping tales. Yet "off the mountains," the writing is unengaging, despite the stylistic contributions of co-author Bullitt (Filling the Void: Six Steps from Loss to Fulfillment, not reviewed). Wickwire's family, for instance, is present throughout the book, and heþs clearly devoted to them, yet the reader does not get more than a one-dimensional understanding of them. On the other hand, the people with whom he climbs are finely sketched; they are real and complex. Perhaps this is because when heþs not climbing, life is, both literally and figuratively, flat; perhaps only when he is in danger does he truly become alive and observant. Wickwire, however, spends little time being introspective here, until (and very effectively) near the end of the book. Both author and reader suddenly realize this book has been about death, the deaths of so many friends on the slopes: fellow climbers, a young woman he dearly loved. The brutal murder off the slopes of his law partner causes him to question hoary clich‚s about adventure: Is dying while doing what one loves any less terrible, any less terrifying, than dying another way? Why purposely put oneself in harm's way? Seemingly disillusioned, this aging athlete responds to his crisisof faith in perhaps the only way he knows how: He climbs a mountain. In the end, the reader knows little about why people like Wickwire are addicted to danger. It may be an unanswerable question. (b&w photos) (Author tour)

From the Publisher
Seattle Post Intelligencer

Fascinating and searing.

New York Post

A gripping tale.


This book takes you along for a terrifying rush that is life lived on the highest of edges.

Mountaineer Ed Viesturs

This is a book that should be read by everyone who's ever dreamed of climbing.

John Balzar
Los Angeles Times

The day someone can answer "why climb?" is the day men and women won't have to. Until then, many will follow in the bootsteps of Jim Wickwire, one of America's most extraordinary and accomplished high-altitude mountaineers.

Publishers Weekly

Well worth a read....Even those not absorbed by this sport will find themselves affected by the author's tales of friends lost on expeditions.

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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter One: Crevasse

We moved down the Peters Glacier slowly, a sled between us loaded heavy with supplies. Twenty feet of rope linked us -- too close, we knew, but required by the rough, undulating surface beneath our feet. A glacier is not a fixed, solid thing. It flows like a river, with currents, some parts smooth, others rough. Where it changes direction, or where the angle of its slope steepens, the surface will split, creating cracks as deep as a hundred feet. A thin layer of snow can make them invisible.

Chris walked in front. I walked behind, righting the sled each time it flipped. The afternoon sun beat down on us, softening the snow, casting long shadows. Moments after we had decided to head toward smoother ground, Chris broke through the crust and plunged headfirst into a crevasse. I was concentrating on the sled and did not see him fall. Just as I sensed trouble, the rope yanked me into the air, then down into an icy void. "This is it," I thought, "I'm about to die."

In an instant, the sled and I slammed on top of Chris. Stunned but still conscious after the impact, I checked myself for injuries. My left shoulder felt numb and I could not raise my arm. (I later learned my shoulder had broken.) Suppressing an urge to panic, I glanced around and considered what I should do. Balanced awkwardly with one foot on the sled, the other against a slight bulge in the ice, I tried my best to reassure Chris as I took off my pack and squeezed it into an eighteen-inch space between the walls. Then, using my pack for support, I shoved the sled off Chris into an area just below us, where it lodged.

All I could see of my companion were his legs, still in snoidth, and placed the front points of my crampon on the tiny ledge. I edged myself up, placing my back against the opposite wall as a counterforce. The front points held my weight. Using my good arm to wield the hammer, I slowly worked my way up the cold, glassy walls, chiseling a ladder of little ledges as I went. Three chips and a step up, again and again. I concentrated harder than I ever had before. The whole time Chris kept yelling from beneath his pack, "You've got to get me out, Wick! You've got to get me out!" Between puffs and grunts I continued to reassure him, "It'll be okay, I'll get you out." And I felt sure I could.

Despite my impatience to reach the surface, I never let the distance between indentations exceed six inches. I knew that if I fell back down, I would probably get wedged, like Chris, between the walls or be hurt worse than I already was. This was my only chance. Near the top, where the shaft widened to about three feet, I twisted my upper torso, drove the ice hammer into the lip of the crevasse at my back, and pressed my feet against the opposite wall. With one rapid movement, I levered my body over the lip and onto the surface of the glacier. It had taken an hour to ascend what turned out to be a twenty-five-foot shaft.

Nearly exhausted, relieved to be alive, I lay on the snow and gasped for breath. Raising my head to look around, I was startled by the quiet and the brightness of the sun on the broad, tilted glacier. Though tempted to rest a little longer, a sense of urgency made me struggle to my feet. I knew I must work fast. If I didn't get Chris out before nightfall, he would die from the cold.

From the crevasse edge, I took up the slack in the rope and pulled wit h all my might. He did not budge. I tried again -- nothing. And again -- still no movement. I would need to go back down. I tied the rope to the picket, which I pounded into the hard snow. Then I attached the rope to the jumars (with nylon slings for my feet), which allowed me to descend swiftly but safely into the crevasse.

It took me about five minutes to return to Chris. Hanging a few inches above him, I tried to hoist his pack with my hands and one good arm, but nothing budged. In the hope that changing the rope's position would make a difference, I tied it to each of the pack's accessible cross straps and pulled. But still the pack did not move. I tried to reassure Chris, but when I drove my ice hammer into the pack, all I did was move the top a few inches; then it settled back into place. I attempted to use the power of my legs to lift the pack by stepping upward in the slings. Nothing was working.

I thought that if I could open Chris's pack and empty its contents, enough pressure would be released to let him move, but when I tried tearing its tough fabric open with my ice hammer I could only make ineffectual punctures. The pack, like a block of wood in a vise, was simply too compressed. Lacking equipment with which to construct a pulley system, I could not dislodge Chris. So, after two hours of continuous effort, I stopped. "Sorry, this isn't working," I conceded. "I'm going back up to try to get someone, anyone on the radio."

After hauling up my pack, I retraced our tracks to a nearby knoll, where I desperately radioed for help: "This is an emergency. Can anyone hear me? If you can, I need your help." I repeated the message again and again, but no one answered; I never really ex pected a reply. In this valley, so far away from anyone who might have come, our line-of-sight radio was useless. We had set out to climb Mt. McKinley by a remote, untraveled route, and this was the price wepaid. No one would come to help. We were alone.

I went back down with little hope of freeing my friend and repeated the rescue maneuvers I feared would fail. Chris's incessant pleas subsided as he gradually realized I could not get him out. Having planned to climb Mt. Everest with me the following year, he said, "Climb it for me, Wick. Remember me when you're on the summit." A classical trumpeter, Chris asked me to take his mouthpiece there. "I don't know about me," I replied, "but someone will. I promise." We spoke of his imminent death, but I could not believe that so young and vibrant a man was actually about to die right in front of me.

After asking me to relay messages to his family and closest friends, Chris entreated me to help him die with dignity. However, I could think of no way to ease his suffering or speed his death. I asked him whether he wanted his body left in the crevasse or brought out. He said his father could decide. At about nine-thirty, six hours after we fell into the crevasse, Chris conceded, "There's nothing more you can do, Wick. You should go up." I told him I loved him and said a tearful good-bye. As I began my ascent, Chris said simply, "Take care of yourself, Jim."

Back on the surface, physically spent, emotionally exhausted, and racked with guilt, I pulled on a parka and collapsed into my half-sleeping-bag and bivouac sack -- an uninsulated nylon bag used in emergencies for protection against the wind. Lying at the edge of the crevasse, I listened to my friend grow delirious from the searing cold. He talked to himself, moaned, and, at around eleven, sang what sounded like a school song. At 2 A.M. I heard him for the last time. Chris Kerrebrock was twenty-five. I was forty.

The next morning I wrote in my diary,

I feel indescribable guilt and failure for not getting him out and for leaving him to die alone. I don't know how I got myself out with my injured arm. I had to if I would see my precious wife and children again. I can't write more because of sobbing.

Copyright © 1998 by James Wickwire and Dorothy Bullitt

Meet the Author

Jim Wickwire is a partner in the law firm of Wickwire, Greene, Crosby, Brewer & Seward. He lives in Seattle with his wife and has five children and twin granddaughters.

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Addicted to Danger: A Memoir About Affirming Life in the Face of Death 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Addicted to Danger: A memory about affirming life in the face of death. Author:Jim Wickwire & Dorothy Bullitt. Jim Wickwire dedicated his life to climbing in spite of having a wife and childre, along with being an attorney. Loving nature and the thrill of mountain climbing, he always made an effort to reach the summit of every mountain. wickwire is a man of courage. He climbed his first mountain in 1960 and never stopped until his age took him over. He traveled the entire world to attempt different and more thrilling expeditions and the dangerous encounters of each mountain he attempted. He suffered through bitter cold, blinding storms, many avalanches, and all of the friends that have died on these expeditions. In 1978 Wickwire was the first American mountain climber to reach the 28,250 foot summit of K2, which is the second highest peak in the world. Addicted to Danger is for those who enjoy thrilling tales. This book is great to read. If you would like more information feel free to email my above address.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Taking a humanistic approach to reviewing a major part of his life, Wickwire provides a lucid review whilst reflecting upon the development of his mountaineering career to date. Co-authored with Bullitt, the book is very well written, supported by interesting and valuable graphic displays, enjoyable and easy to read, using exceptionally large print fonts. This biographical account aims to provide a rather detailed ad hoc account of Wickwire's reflections upon the 'wild' side of being 'out there' throughout the process of seeking (and acquiring) the quest for sportsmanship. The book gives appropriate credits to the existing prototype mountaineering literature (e.g., Edmond Hilary and more recently Jon Krakauer or Sir Ranulph Fienes), but as far as the writing here is concerned somehow lacks the impact of others, and fails to capture much technical account of mountaineering styles and techniques. However, in comparison to some of the existing mountaineering literature, it certainly provides a passionate account of the inside world of professional Mountaineering and the conscience of a 'devoted' mountaineer repeatedly exposed to life-threatening (and life-taking) danger. Wickwire comes across as a representative of a minority lucky group which is relatively well-resourced and supported. Another gem of this book, was to learn that such an incredible amount of one's time and energy might be spent on such an action/adventure pursuit. However, such might only be revealed following a protracted period of reflection of any sort (whether in preparation for writing a book or not). How amazing! Diane HUI. Educational Psychology Research and Evaluation, University of Missouri-St Louis, St Louis, Missouri.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As much an account of our human frailties as it is of our bravados, this is a great armchair read for those interested in the great outdoors and some of its top class adventurers of the last half century. Manageable in a single sitting, Wickwire & Bullitt recount one man's story of a 30+ yrs devotion to (part-time?) mountain climbing career which includes meetings with the World's major ranges and their recent climbers. This volume is true story-telling of high altitude adventures with a stunning cast, told in a lucid, accessible fashion with care and passion. Novel in the sense that the action is told biographically without too much technical detail, this book deals with exposure to the death of those dear in both a moving and inspiring way. A must read for budding and seasoned serial hikes/climbers, as much as for those wishing to share the passion without the risk of exposure to their own series of Annapurnas.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I like how Jim discusses and describes his mountaineering failures and successes. Failing to reach mountain summits happens as much or more than success. The journey is the important aspect of any adventure. With the righ attitude, ever adventure can be an enriching experience even if the goal isn't attained. I also like how he describes his guilt of being away from his family for extended periods of time. On this issue, I would agree with Dr. Laura - he was overly selfish in fulfilling his desires at the sacrifice of his family's needs. However, I commend Mr. Wickwire for sharing his inner thoughts and incredible mountaineering experiences.