Halfway to Heaven: My White-Knuckled--and Knuckleheaded--Quest for the Rocky Mountain High

Halfway to Heaven: My White-Knuckled--and Knuckleheaded--Quest for the Rocky Mountain High

by Mark Obmascik


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Fat, forty-four, father of three sons, and facing a vasectomy, Mark Obmascik would never have guessed that his next move would be up a 14,000-foot mountain. But when his twelve-year-old son gets bitten by the climbing bug at summer camp, Obmascik can't resist the opportunity for some high-altitude father-son bonding by hiking a peak together. After their first joint climb, Obmascik, addled by the thin air, decides to keep his head in the clouds and try to scale all fifty-four of Colorado's 14,000-foot mountains, known as the Fourteeners-and to do it in less than one year. The result is Halfway to Heaven, a rollicking, witty, sometimes harrowing chronicle of an outrageous adventure that is no walk in the park. This "hilarious midlife picaresque" (Publishers Weakly) has garnered wide critical acclaim, was named an "Editor's Pick" by Parade, won the 2009 National Outdoor Book Award for Outdoor Literature, and made one reviewer laugh so hard he "blew beer out of [his] nose" (Colorado Daily). Like the author's critically acclaimed debut, The Big Year, it brings a keen eye and sharp humor to an obsessive subculture: climbers who share the author's crazed passion of scaling all fifty-four of the famed and feared Fourteeners.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416567004
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 05/11/2010
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 304,162
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Mark Obmascik is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and bestselling author of The Big Year, which was made into a movie, and Halfway to Heaven. He won the 2009 National Outdoor Book Award for outdoor literature, the 2003 National Press Club Award for environmental journalism, and was the lead writer for the Denver Post team that won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Denver with his wife and their three sons.

Read an Excerpt


I was fat, forty-four, and in the market for a vasectomy. My mortgage was half gone, but so was my hair. Crabgrass bugged me.

After sixteen years of marriage, my wife and I completed each other's sentences. Most were about our boys. We had three, though they sounded louder. Because Merrill traveled for her job, and I stayed home for mine, my three sons saw a lot of me. I changed their diapers, cooked their meals, coached their soccer, and harped about their homework. I was around so much that when our three-year-old woke in the middle of the night, he usually screamed for me. Our pubescent twelve-year-old, however, usually screamed at me. The eight-year-old could go either way.

It was a chaotic life, but a fun life, and I knew how to live it — until an emergency phone call rocked my world.

"Dad," our twelve-year-old said from his Colorado summer camp, "they're taking me to the hospital."

Turns out Cass and a bunch of camp buddies were climbing Pikes Peak, elevation 14,115 feet, when he tripped and slashed open his shin to the bone. Now I was the one screaming.

"Dad," he said, "calm down. I summited. It was amazing. I saw the sunrise from the top of the mountain. I slipped on the way down, but I made it to the top — two-and-a-half miles above sea level."

"How bad does it hurt?"

"I summited, Dad. I summited."

With ten surgical staples in his leg, Cass actually let me hug him in front of his friends. He even hugged me back. Then we did something more surprising: We talked.

He told me that mountains over 14,000 feet were called Fourteeners, and that Colorado had a bunch of them. He asked if I knew anything about them.

I did.

Our home state has fifty-four peaks higher than 14,000 feet — more than any other state or province in North America. Every year more than 500,000 people try to climb a Fourteener, but fewer than 1,300 people have ever reported standing atop them all. Colorado's Fourteeners have been summited by skiers and snowboarders, racers and amputees, dogs, cats, cockatiels, monkeys, and horses, people as young as one and as old as eighty-one. One Texan spent three weeks pushing a peanut to the summit of one peak with his nose. There have been gunfights and cannibalism, avalanches and helicopter crashes. Hundreds have died and thousands have been maimed.

One blond boy even survived America's most famous Fourteener with a Frankenstein scar on his leg.

Nice one, Dad, he said, but how do you know all this?

Once upon a time, before I was a husband or a father — back in the days when my inseam had more inches than my waistline — I somehow managed to climb a few Fourteeners.

My son was shocked. For a fleeting millisecond, he even looked at me as if I were almost not embarrassing. Teetering on the edge of a truly touching father-and-son moment, I was ready for another hug, but he was overcome by another surge of testosterone.

Dad, how about if we climb a Fourteener together?

Well, when I was climbing mountains — that was a lifetime ago, back when I liked to exercise. These days I like to eat. I've packed so much on my hips it would be like climbing with a pony keg of beer in my fanny pack. Imagine lugging all that extra weight up the 1,860 steps of the Empire State Building, four times, and doing it in highaltitude air with about a third less oxygen than Manhattan. All that work would be just one Fourteener.

He looked at me. I looked at him.

My mind was racing: Could I do it? Was it even possible for me to try? Back when I was in shape, those five Fourteener summits were still about the hardest sport I'd ever taken on — harder than two-aday football practices as a high school punk, harder than weeklong bike tours that sent me, an alleged adult, four hundred miles over and around the mountain ranges of Colorado. Still, the beauty of the Fourteeners was something to remember. Standing on the roof of the Rockies, high above the trees and the clouds and the everyday worries, always made me feel like I was halfway to heaven. Now I'm forty-four, and my life is halfway there too.

Cass kept looking at me. I wondered what he saw. Someone to argue with? Someone to avoid? Someone who once did something cool, but way before he was even born? My face must have betrayed my fear: The older I get, the better I was.

Then he said the magic words: Dad — please.

I couldn't resist.

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Obmascik

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Failure 5

Grays Peak

Torreys Peak

2 Religious Experience 11

Mount of the Holy Cross

3 The Mission Takes Shape 22

Huron Peak

Quandary Peak

La Plata Peak

Mount Sherman

Mount Yale

Mount Princeton

4 The Monkey 35

Creston Needle

Humboldt Peak

Mount Elbert

Grays Peak

Torreys Peak

5 Man-Date 59

Missouri Mountain

6 Panic 72

Mount Antero

7 Shock 81

Mount Massive

8 Bulldog 97

Mount Shavano

Tabeguace Peak

9 Punishment 107

Mount Columbia

10 Blown Away 111

Mount Evans

Mount Bierstadt

11 The Elephant 118

Mount Belford

Mount Oxford

12 One Benjamin Franklin 123

Culebra Peak

San Luis Peak

13 Gravity 137

Little Bear Peak

Blanca Peak

Ellingwood Point

14 Guts 148

Wetterborn Peak

Uncompahgre Peak

Redcloud Peak

Sunshine Peak

15 Scruples 175

Mount Democrat

Mount Lincoln

Mount Bross

16 Gnawed 182

Mount Lindsey

17 Day at the Office 188

Pyramid Peak

18 Limits 196

Maroon Peak

Castle Peak

19 Man Maker 207

Missouri Mountain

20 The Needles 212

Mount Eolus

Sunlight Peak

Windom Peak

21 The Bald Leading the Blind 228

Wilson Peak

22 Homestretch 236

Handies Peak

Mount Sneffels

Snowmass Mountain

Kit Carson Peak

Challenger Point

Mount Harvard

Capitol Peak

El Diente Peak

Mount Wilson

North Maroon Peak

Crestone Peak

23 Return 249

Longs Peak

24 Summit 260

Pikes Peak

Bibliography 267

Acknowledgments 271

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Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled--and Knuckleheaded--Quest for the Rocky Mountain High 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Misubri More than 1 year ago
Hard to put down. This is a "How To" book but not about climbing but instead how to accomplish a goal and have an interesting time doing it. This book is also filled with interesting facts. I plan on reading other books of his.
TigerLMS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Outstanding! Imagine Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, except the walk turns into climbing every mountain over 14,000 feet tall in Colorado. It's hilarious, informative, and inspirational. Obamascik's quest to climb every 14er as a self-proclaimed overweight 44 year old might seem unimaginable, yet having climbed half a dozen myself (as an overweight 40 year old) I know it's not impossible. No 14er is easy to summit. But some are just plain daunting. The stipulation the author's wife put on him was that he had to hike or climb with someone at all times, just in case. The result is a series of hilarious and colorful characters that we get to know through the course of the book. The author provides just enough backstory on the history of some of the mountains and those who have climbed before, and spends less time than you might imagine talking about the climbs themselves. With 54 peaks over 14,000 feet, some of the hikes are mentioned only by name. Some of the more difficult climbs that require ropes, like Little Bear and North Maroon, are described in fascinating detail. It is not necessary to have climbed mountains to enjoy this book; all you need is a sense of humor and a taste for the outdoors. Highly recommended.
nyiper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although I am still completely convinced that "I" am not a potential mountain climber, this book was a delightful description of one man's personal struggles with a rather huge goal. What might have seemed an odd subject for a book, climbing mountains became a description of all kinds of different people and their odd mixture of motivations for climbing mountains. Obmascik is a great story teller and he was able to relate the tales of all of the man-dates he had with fellow mountain climbers he convinced to go with him, a relative notice who became much better over time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was looking for some books on hiking the Colorado 14ers and this one looked like an interesting read. If you're new to the 14ers and want to learn a little more, the author does a great job of giving some historical background, trail info and fun aspects of hiking colorado's highest peaks. Highly recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a fun, quick read that never drags and never loses its personality and humanity. So often, authors of personal journeys will self-indulge and navel gaze to the point of making the reader hate him by the end of the book. In the case of Mark Obmascik, it's hard not to root for the guy throughout. He's decent and humble and entertaining. Anyone who's interested in hiking and climbing will love this book. I'd go so far as to say that it's even more satisfying than Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" - really good stuff.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great read about accomplishing your goals....i felt like i was on the mountain with him. I have climbed 14ers before and have never wanted to climb anywith exposure before...now who knows! Great read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Joe Roth More than 1 year ago
An excellent book, not only for those obsessed with climbing the 14,000 foot peaks of Colorado, but also to help others undetstand this obsession.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
NYM More than 1 year ago
What a fantastic book. Mark Obmascik has a wonderful sense of humor and some of the descriptions of his climbs made my heart race and my palms sweat. For those of you who enjoy the outdoors, this is one of the best I've read. Come join Mark on his quest to climb all the fourteeners.
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tippahdog More than 1 year ago
Entertaining read which focuses on the people Obmascik meets in his quest to climb all 54 fourteen thousand ft. mountains in Colorado. Would have preferred that he included more detail about the logistics of the hikes. Also a time line would have been nice.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very enjoyable, funny with some history of Colorado and the 14ers. You almost feel like you are there. Makes you want to get out and see all Colorado has to offer.
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