Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled--and Knuckleheaded--Quest for the Rocky Mountain High
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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 Weekly) 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.
greyhound imitation. It’s an hour before sunrise, and these guys are practically sprinting up the dark timber. I try to catch them; my Hershey bar makes a return visit. Luckily, I’m so far behind that no one hears the hurl. “You OK back there?” Shad calls. I assure him that I’m just a slow starter. Shad and KirkT are nice enough to wait for me, but peel off at the same blistering pace as soon as they hear my gasps subside. The pattern repeats: They go, I gasp. One winter of spin class and the
feathered sarcophagus—but fail to fall back asleep. I count sheep, then elk, and finally bear. My mind, however, keeps wandering back to one overwhelming question: Why in the hell am I here? The simple answer, I suppose, is because I was driving everyone nuts at home. Though I was justifiably proud of our son for toughing it up to 13,900 feet on Torreys Peak, I couldn’t shake my focus on the final, but unclimbed, 375 feet. I had surprised myself that day by climbing so high with a body so over
1864, the Mexican owners sold the land to William Gilpin, first territorial governor of Colorado, with this requirement: “All the inhabitants shall have the use of pasture, wood, water, and timber.” For nearly a century, the inhabitants of the town of San Luis, Colorado’s oldest, came to rely on the tract they called La Sierra for firewood for their stoves and irrigation water for their hay and vegetables. By the time Taylor bought in, San Luis was overwhelmingly Hispanic and overwhelmingly
arrested. The sheriff, with only a nine-person jail, pleaded for reinforcements. Zack Taylor tried to buy peace by offering to give away 2,500 acres for recreational use, but the deal was good only if locals would back out of the continuing land-use lawsuit. That offer went nowhere. Ground down and exhausted, Taylor finally gave up. In a series of transactions that finished in 1999, the Taylor family sold the ranch for a reported $23 million. Locals and climbers were thrilled. Would this
fearsome one of his own. Several years back he and his wife were hiking Mount Sneffels, near Telluride, when a storm swept in just as they approached timberline. The first lightning bolt made them duck and cover; the second made David scream. The third had David telling his wife how much he loved her. When a bolt exploded a nearby tree, David went berserk. His wife, however, remained serene. He believes she was resigned to death. He was convinced of it, too, but he certainly wasn’t calm about