At the age of 44, when his life had hit a low point that left him feeling like he had little to lose, David Mauro was offered a chance to join his brother-in-law on an expedition to the top of Denali, the highest peak in North America. He was welcomed as one of two newbies to join a team of experienced climbers, and with training and support from his teammates, achieved the summit. The experience awoke a sense of purpose within him, and upon his return he began to rebuild his life, soon meeting his soulmate. Though he did not consider himself a true climber, he felt the pull of the next peak calling to him, and went on to answer the call of each of the so-called Seven Summits, over the course of the next seven years.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is that each mountain seems to have a unique and memorable personality. Though the dangers of altitude sickness, frostbite, hypothermia and the general threat of death or serious injury are universal elements on the climbs, each mountain has different lessons to impart on the climber as well as the reader. The author details the learning experience that occurred on the actual climb, as well as the emotional revelations that he processed upon his return. The mountains themselves are a metaphor for his personal demons, though he is clear that one of the initial lessons he came to understand is that the act of climbing cannot simply amount to the pursuit of the next goal. Rather, through the act of conquering the summits he learns that one must confront and overcome the problems in one’s life, and that those accomplishments are among the few things that cannot be taken away from a person.
Despite the levity of the themes mentioned above, Mauro also finds the space to include amusing anecdotes of his rookie climbing mistakes and lessons learned. Some of the humorous moments include stories of melting cheese in his armpits and learning to pee into a bottle while lying down in a crowded tent. This sense of humor adds to the charm and general vulnerability of the account, and balances out the sections of white-knuckle excitement.
One of the final lessons Mr. Mauro learns during his adventures is that vulnerability is essential to life, and that (just like one lays his life on the line when choosing to conquer the tallest peaks) one must put his or her heart on the line in order to fully experience love. His vulnerability is what makes this such an intriguing story. Though readers who have experience with high-altitude expeditions may find quite a bit with which to relate in the stories of his achievements, the common reader is more likely to relate to the descriptions of his struggles. The author’s willingness to show all of the aspects of the experience – the difficulties, the fears, the frustrations – result in a reading experience that is simultaneously impressive and relatable.
The writing itself is immediately effective in grabbing the reader’s attention. The details are succinct, yet vivid, and the lively pace flows smoothly through the most interesting elements of the climb, as well as the days leading up to it. The author seems to have an excellent feel for the type of information to include, and what to leave out, and at no point throughout the narrative did I feel like I was forced to make an effort to continue reading. Rather, as I progressed through each page, I was eager to learn what would happen next. I rate this memoir 4 out of 4 stars, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys stories of travel, adventure, mountain climbing, as well as readers looking for an uplifting and energizing experience