Summary and book reviews of Halfway to Heaven by Mark Obmascik

Halfway to Heaven

My White-knuckled - and Knuckleheaded - Quest for the Rocky Mountain High

By Mark Obmascik

Halfway to Heaven
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  • Hardcover: May 2009,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: May 2010,
    288 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

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, addled by the thin air, Obmascik decides to keep his head in the clouds and try scaling all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot mountains, known as the Fourteeners -- and to do them in less than one year.

The result is Halfway to Heaven, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Obmascik's rollicking, witty, sometimes harrowing, often poignant chronicle of an outrageous midlife adventure that is no walk in the park, although sometimes it's A Walk in the Woods -- but with more sweat and less oxygen. Half a million people try climbing a Colorado Fourteener every year, but only twelve hundred have reported summiting them all. Can an overweight, stay-at-home dad become No. 1,201?

With his ebullient personality and sparkling prose, Obmascik brings us inside the quirky, colorful subculture of mountaineering obsessives who summit these mountains year after year. Honoring his concerned wife's orders not to climb alone, Obmascik drags old friends up the slopes, some of them lifelong flatlanders tasting thin air for the first time, and lures seasoned Rockies junkies into taking on a huffing, puffing newbie by bribing them with free beer, lunches, and car washes. Among the new friends he makes are an ex-drag racer trying to perform a headstand on every summit, the lead oboe player in a Hebrew salsa band, and a climber with the counterproductive pre-climb ritual of gulping down four beers and a burrito. Along the way, Obmascik experiences the raw, rowdy, and rarely seen intimacy of male friendship, braced by the double intoxicants of adrenaline and altitude.

Though danger is always present -- the Colorado Fourteeners have killed more climbers than Mount Everest -- Mark knows his aging scalp can't afford the hair-raising adventures of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, and his quest becomes a story of family, friendship, and fraternity. In Obmascik's summer of climbing, he loses fifteen pounds, finds a few dozen man-dates, and gains respect for the history of these storied mountains (home to cannibalism, gold rushes, shoot-outs, and one of the nation's most famed religious shrines). As much about midlife and male bonding as it is about mountains, Halfway to Heaven tells how weekend warriors can survive them all as they reach for those most distant things -- the summits of mountains and a teenage son. And as one man exceeds the physical achievements of his youth, he discovers that age -- like summit height -- is just a number.

Introduction

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, ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Halfway to Heaven is a different kind of mountain climbing book. Unlike Into Thin Air or Touching the Void, which feature well-trained individuals obsessed with the sport, Halfway to Heaven relates the exploits of forty-four year old "everyman" and novice climber, Mark Obmascik. The result is an entertaining look at a challenging activity from a viewpoint to which many of us can relate. This is a book for the weekend warrior, for all of us who watch mountaineering movies from the safety of our couches, and for those who dream of attempting feats of athleticism - maybe tomorrow.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (1053 words).

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Obmascik's saga revels in off-color jokes and humiliating pratfalls; the result feels like a raucous bowling night, with moderate oxygen deprivation, on the brink of an abyss.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. His story and those of many of the free spirits he meets along the way vividly demonstrate the thrill of taking the road less traveled. Highly readable, entertaining and educational.

Author Blurb Dean King, author of Skeletons on the Zahara
As Obmascik chases the meaning of life across the haute peaks of the Rockies, he touches something in your heart even while he knocks on your funny bone. Halfway to Heaven is deft and delightful. Always minding his wife's admonition never to hike alone, Obmascik proves once again that it's the journey - and the characters met - not the summits that really matter the most.

Author Blurb Gerry Roach, author of Colorado's Fourteeners
Halfway to Heaven goes all the way in explaining what it feels like to climb all of Colorado's fabled Fourteeners. Obmascik's excellent writing follows more than the twists of the trails; Mark generously laces his quest for the heights with insights, history, humor, politics, personalities, record runs, friends, family, flora and fauna. Halfway to Heaven is a fortune cache for everyone.

Author Blurb Jeffrey Zaslow, coauthor of The Last Lecture
The mountains of Colorado reach great heights, and so does this book. It's funny, smart, fascinating, poignant - and well worth scaling!

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Beyond the Book

A Beginner's Guide to Mountaineering

Mountain climbing, or mountaineering, is the sport of attaining or attempting to attain high points in mountainous regions, mainly for the pleasure of the climb. Before the 18th century, climbing for sport was rare. Humans did ascend high peaks, but generally only out of necessity or for religious reasons (many ancient religions such as the Mayans and Greeks built mountaintop shrines, and it is believed that pilgrims have been journeying to the foot of Mount Kailash in Tibet since well before recorded history).

The birth of contemporary mountain climbing came in 1760, when Horace Benedict de Saussure offered prize money for the first summit of Mont Blanc, the tallest peak in ...

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