BookBrowse Reviews Halfway to Heaven by Mark Obmascik

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Halfway to Heaven

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

by Mark Obmascik

Halfway to Heaven by Mark Obmascik
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2009, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2010, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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As one man exceeds the physical achievements of his youth, he discovers that age - like summit height - is just a number

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.

There will be inevitable comparisons between Halfway to Heaven and Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, and for the most part, they're apt. Both feature middle-age men tackling nature in ways one wouldn't think possible for those in less than peak physical condition. Both authors also see the humor in what they're attempting, and are able to convey it to their readers. Unlike much of Bryson's book, though, Obmascik's writing isn't as laugh-out-loud funny; his style is to drop the occasional one-liner into his narrative, more likely resulting in a sympathetic smile or chuckle than a belly-laugh.

"On the way up the mountain I had donned crampons for the first time, mostly to practice with my new gear, but also for safety. Besides, they let me climb like Spider-Man. Slopes that Matt had to hop and peck and squirm around, I just sauntered straight up. The twelve sharp steel teeth strapped onto each hiking boot may as well have been superglue; they stuck to anything, and I beamed like a boy with his newest, favoritest Christmas toy. I felt safe. I felt strong. I even felt a little bit of an even rarer commodity – confidence."

Halfway to Heaven is also more compelling than Walk in the Woods. For one thing, mountaineering is a dangerous sport. Obmascik unquestionably risks injury or death every time he steps on the mountain. Humor aside, there are definitely sections of the narrative where his fear is evident. Adding interest to Halfway to Heaven is his depiction of the other people with whom he climbs. His wife's insistence that he never climb alone led him to ask, beg and bribe relatives and friends (some of whom he hadn't seen in decades) to join him. When that still left too many unattended climbs, he turned to friends of friends, and, ultimately, to strangers. Obmascik not only describes these people and their climbing abilities, but gives his readers some insight into what motivates them to undertake such a demanding sport. Finally, he depicts the mountains themselves as individuals. Each has its own unique character, making each climb different and unpredictable.

The Fourteeners

The author's humility about his undertaking is especially appealing. He relates his accomplishments with a quiet pride in himself, giving nearly all the credit to his supportive family and climbing partners; he never slips into boasting or bragging, and comes across as simply a very likable guy.

Halfway to Heaven is a fun book, likely to appeal to a wide range of people from outdoor enthusiasts to couch-potatoes. It's without doubt one of those books that readers will want to share with a friend or two.

Image: Aerial view of some of the the Fourteeners

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in May 2009, and has been updated for the May 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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