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In the Shadow of Denali: Life And Death On Alaska's Mt. Mckinley Paperback – December 8, 2009
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From the Back Cover
“Stratospherically the finest in the genre. With this book, Waterman has earned a place alongside such great modern American mountain writers as David Roberts and Jon Krakauer.”
―Greg Child, author of Thin Air, from the Foreword
―Ann Zwinger, author of Run, River, Run
“Tales from the mean side of Denali. . . . Arresting. . . . A pleasure to read.”
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Waterman defends the Alaskan way of life, the traditional name for the mountain and preservation of natural areas large enough for bears and other wildlife to thrive away from human settlement. The main stories, however, paint pictures of various colorful and tragic characters as they deal with Denali in their own ways. These characters fall into one of two camps. At their best, Denali is an obsession. This includes Waterman, many of the talented climbers and lovers of the mountain for its own sake. In the other camp, Denali is just a trophy. For these people, Waterman quotes longtime Alaska guide Brian Okonek as saying, it's not about climbing, but having climbed, "then moving on to something else."
For the longtime lovers of the peak, death may come as a fitting end to a life spent haunting the peak and its surrounding landscape. For those less noble, who seek only to experience the mountain before going home, death may come much more quickly (unless it is prevented by needless and costly rescues). Either way, life spent around Denali is full of death, and Waterman seems resigned to that fact.
Waterman is a very experienced mountaineer, ranger, alpinist, outdoorsman etc. It was great to read about his personal experience on Denali and in Denali national park.
The narrative as story telling is mostly compelling but the point of the book is not to convey an action line but rather to ponder the limits at which the human organism functions in uninhabitable conditions.
At first, when Watermen is very young and sassy, he gets away with flaunting the possibility of death as he undertakes feats that beg for physical retribution . But when he matures and sets his sights on Alaska's rugged mountain terrain, he allows the forces of nature to rub reality into his every pore until he realises he has tempted fate beyond his own capacity to process the consequences.
Waterman is a phenomenolgist of death. He is also a keen observer and a talented reporter with the integrity, passion and grit to inform those interested in that domain with great cogency and wit. I found myself grateful for the opportunity to immerse myself in this world of extreme psychological states and to share via Waterman's writing in the elation, or more acurately perhaps, the ecstasy of survival in the very heart of the abyss.