Sunday, February 10, 2013

Review of "Below Another Sky" by Rick Ridgeway

The name Rick Ridegway will not be known to many.  Amongst mountain climbers and environmental enthusiasts, however, it is.  Part of the first American team to climb K2, he has gone on to be one of television’s leading producers of environmental documentaries and the author of several books, all generally focused on mountaineering.  Despite having an interesting personal history, his 1998 Below Another Sky: A Mountain Adventure in Search of a Lost Father has other aims: to kindle an appreciation of mountain wildernesses in a daughter who lost a father climbing.

In the early 80s, Ridgeway was climbing with a group of friends, among them Jonathan Wright.  Descending, they decided to have a little fun by sliding down a snowfall.  Something they’d done often, an avalanche nevertheless ensued, and Wright died in Ridgeway’s arms minutes later.  Asia, Wright’s daughter, was just a baby when the incident occurred.  At the age of 20, however, she desired to see her father’s beloved mountains and the place he died. Asking Ridgeway to be her guide, Below Another Sky is that journey.

Describing the trek through Tibet to reach Wright’s grave is just part of the book, however.  Highly reflective, the experience of retracing the fated route brings back numerous memories to Ridgeway.  Running from his early days pounding pegs as a novice climber on the Peruvian Andes to kayaking the travails of Tierra del Fuego, the author ponders the events and people of his life.  Written when Ridgeway was roughly 50 years old and the majority of his climbing experience behind him, there is a very nostalgic feel to his memoires.  The daring of friends lost, the excitement of Everest, and the camaraderie he feels to the mountain climbing world feature strongly alongside Asia’s story.

More than inspirational, Ridgeway’s account of connecting a young woman to a father she never had the chance to grow up with, combined with his personal recollection of a lifetime of climbing and adventuring, tears at the soul, especially those like myself with a love of the outdoors and nature.  The descriptions are vivid and bring to life places, conditions, and tests of the human body 99% of people will never personally experience.  Bear Grylls may have the sensationalist side of the extreme-survival market sewed up for the moment, Ridgeway’s book, however, is more human-centered.  Personal story and memoire rolled up into one, the book comes highly recommended for anyone with an interest in climbing, nature, and the joys of life in extreme places.

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