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Forever on the Mountain: The Truth Behind One of Mountaineering's Most Controversial and Mysterious Disasters Paperback – June 17, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 84 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Tabor's exhaustive look at the doomed 1967 expedition to scale Alaska's Mt. McKinley is an often gripping, detailed account of the infamous climb that remains controversial. Only five of the 12-man team survived the ascent to the 20,320-foot summit, making it one of the deadliest mountaineering disasters in North America. The journey was fraught with tension from the beginning: the National Park Service (NPS) required a group of nine men, led by Joe Wilcox, to merge with a three-member party of Coloradoans, led by Howard Snyder. Wilcox and Snyder clashed almost immediately. Both men survived and went on to retell the trip in books: Snyder in his 1973 version that mostly blamed Wilcox's leadership; Wilcox's account in 1981 cited an overpowering storm as the culprit in the deaths. Tabor (who hosted PBS's Great Outdoors) shows that the NPS was very slow to react and might have saved the climbers with quicker response. His writing about the brutal difficulties of climbing Mt. McKinley in subfreezing temperatures with hurricane-like wind in blizzard conditions is breathtaking, although he lapses into minutiae and repeats details, particularly regarding the accident's investigation. His profiles of the expedition's survivors 40 years later make for a strong conclusion to the book. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"Grips even non-climbers..." Washington Post "Tabor analyzes this debacle with the doggedness of an investigative reporter and the technical knowledge of an experienced climber." Wall Street Journal"
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (June 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393331962
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393331967
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #635,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By P. Schlichter on August 28, 2007
Color: No Color
As one of the survivors of the climb described in Forever on the Mountain, I believe the book to be very well researched and well written-- of interest to almost all involved in climbing.

To me there is no great mystery. A vicious storm resulted in the deaths of seven climbers. Delays and bureaucratic bungling in declaring an emergency and in launching an all-out rescue may have frustrated all but changes would not have resulted in saving the seven lives.

One weakness in the book results from the author "imagining" what occurred and by doing so leading readers to think the summit team dug snow caves and survuved for severeal days in those caves. I don't believe that happened.

The book by Howard Snyder, The Hall of the Mountain King, about the same climb is a precise description of the climb although it highlights some biases against the Wilcox faction.

Overall- well done but readers must separate fact from authors guesses as to what happened.
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The seven who died on Denali were likely doomed at the moment the five on top decided to go for the summit. They couldn't have known that, because they had no idea about the weather headed their way. Neither did anyone else, apparently. (Even if someone had hinted at a storm, the storm that hit was extraordinary.)

I had a hard time understanding why Wilcox was the target of blame for the tragedy. Even if all of the criticisms of the expedition are accepted, they seem to have little causal relation to the deaths on the mountain. His decisionmaking should be judged based on the situation as it unfolded, not as we now know it ultimately would unfold. Only his failure to call for a full rescue effort at the first opportunity may have made a difference, yet that gets little play. The failure of Park Service officials to appreciate the emergency and act promptly is troubling, yet there remains a serious question as to whether that would have ultimately made a difference.

I knew nothing about the 1967 disaster before I read this book, so all of my views are formed by its contents. My primary criticism is the effort to reconstruct conversations for which there is no living witness. Tabor would have been better to describe his conjectures without the level of false precision implicit in his faux dialogue or description of their actions during the storm. Even though a reasonably careful reader would not be misled, it puts the reader needlessly on guard, even during the eyewitness accounts.
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By CherylC on September 3, 2007
Color: No Color
As a person who had close ties to the expedition, both in the planning and the aftermath, I found this book to be an accurate account of the tragic events that occurred. The book brought back 40 years worth of memories, just like they had happened yesterday.
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While browsing my local bookstore, I saw a book with a title that left no question in my mind about the subject: an event that happened 40 years ago and I could now read about the truth surrounding that tragedy on Mt. McKinley: Forever on the Mountain, by James Tabor. In the summer of 1967 I was full of dreams and anticipation as to what my second season at Mt. McKinley National Park might bring: new adventures, amazing sights, the trill of just the chance to view that magical mountain, Mt. McKinley. At the same time I was living my dreams, another group of young men were about to begin their own adventures and dreams, and attempt to summit the great mountain. As I read on, I realized sometimes in life no matter how well we plan and organize, things happen; attitudes and egos do not mix; politics and bureaucracy diminish the chance for success. In this book, these problems are brought forth and analyzed with a very straight forward approach, giving the public an unbiased solution of what happened and didn't happen in the most tragic disaster in North American climbing history. I thought it was a great read, especially having lived at McKinley during the event, and is important for anyone who has preconceived opinions about what actually took place on the mountain.

Gary Smith
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Format: Paperback
I just read Tabor's book, "Forever On The Mountain", and then read Wilcox's 1981 book, "White Winds", and 1973 Snyder's book, "In The Hall Of The Mountain King". Wilcox and Snyder are two of the five survivors of the twelve-man expedition up the Muldrow Glacier route on Denali in 1967. Both of their books were written years after the event and express different biases. Snyder's book suffers from a clear bias against Wilcox, and Wilcox's book suffers from a different sort of bias, essentially pinning the entire tragedy on the storm that caught the seven who died, and ignoring the culpability of the National Park Service and the intra-group tensions created when the NPS forced two mismatched teams (Wilcox's nine-man team and Snyder's three-man team) to climb together. No one from the second group of men summiting the mountain survived and they left behind no journals or other writings, so anyone writing about what happened has to try to base his or her conclusions on the objective data that did survive. For that, Tabor's book does an excellent job of marshaling and analyzing the existing evidence, consulting experts, and interviewing surviving participants in this drama. His writing is crisp and clear, and tells a gripping story. His descriptions of what happens in high-altitude alpine expeditions, from pee bottles to spending the night with your backs to the wall of your tent trying to keep it from collapsing in 100-mph winds, are spot on for anyone who has been there. Tabor takes the available evidence and then, like a courtroom attorney, draws reasonable inferences to try to reconstruct what likely happened to the seven who died high on the mountain.Read more ›
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