Book Review – Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled–and Knuckleheaded–Quest for the Rocky Mountain High

6262620Mark Obmascik is something of a middle class suburban everyman: family, desk job, hair loss, bills, flab, minor case of midlife crisis. He gets a taste of altitude on one of Colorado’s “14ers” or mountains with summits over 14,000 feet. Liking the experience, he sets a goal of climbing all 54 in the state. His understanding wife’s stipulation: he must always have a partner as a safety measure.

Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled–and Knuckleheaded–Quest for the Rocky Mountain High combines history and geology with Obmascik’s summer of 14ers for a vastly entertaining read. He’s able to give each peak an interesting profile, highlighting its unique features, difficulties, popularity, routes, and more. His ascents range from “I could do that too!” to “dude is nuts to try that.”

The rollicking part of the book is the whirlwind succession of climbing partners. He meets most online, setting up what he terms “man-dates” to hit the peak. The personalities, goals, and climbing styles of his many partners, mostly from online climbing boards, give some real liveliness to the book.

Even when the tale of scaling 50+ peaks gets a bit repetitive, Obmascik’s wit keeps the narrative moving. He’s got a pleasant, self-deprecating sense of humor (with a trend towards the faux machismo of those who wish they were hardcore but are too aware of reality), keeping the foibles and follies squarely on his shoulders. There’s no real sense of the ego that pervades much of mountaineering literature, and I got the sense that he enjoyed his climbs for the challenge more than the checklist.

Halfway to Heaven is a humorous look at middle age life, human nature, and the spirit of outdoor adventure. I blew through it in a couple of days, enjoying Obmascik’s memoir with chuckles, thrills, and a sense of middle-aged, out of shape kinship.

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