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The Limits of Adventure

Written by Peter StarkAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Peter Stark


List Price: $11.99


On Sale: February 05, 2002
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-345-44952-8
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group

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“Forget the edge of your seat. Last Breath takes you to the edge of your life, for a pulse-pounding glimpse into the Great Beyond. There are many ways to risk your life in the out-of-doors, and Stark has captured them in exquisite and harrowing detail.”
Author of A Symphony in the Brain

An enthralling blend of adventure and science, Last Breath re-creates in heart-stopping detail what happens to our bodies and our minds in the perilous last moments of life when an extreme adventure goes awry.

Combining the adrenaline high of extreme sports with the startling facts of physiological reality, veteran travel and outdoor sports writer Peter Stark narrates a series of adventure stories in which thrill can cross the line to mortal peril. Each death or brush with death is at once a suspense story, a cautionary tale, and a medical thriller. Will they survive, or will they succumb? Readers will shiver with a man lost in the snowy woods, suffering from hypothermia and tearsing off his clothes as he’s burning up from the cold; they will hallucinate with a young woman stranded at the top of Annapurna as she experiences a cerebral edema; and while a kayaker tumbles helplessly underwater for two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes, readers, too, will gasp for their last breath.


As Freezing Persons Recollect the Snow:


When your Jeep spins lazily off the mountain road and slams backward into a snowbank, you don’t worry immediately about the cold. Your first thought is that you’ve just dented your bumper. Your second is that you’ve failed to bring a shovel. Your third is that you’ll be late for dinner. Friends are expecting you at their cabin around eight for a moonlight ski, a late dinner, a sauna. Nothing can keep you from that.

Driving out of town, defroster roaring, you barely noted the bank thermometer on the town square: –27 degrees at 6:36. The radio weather report warned of a deep mass of arctic air settling over the region. The man who took your money at the Conoco station shook his head at the register and said he wouldn’t be going anywhere tonight if he were you. You smiled. A little chill never hurt anybody with enough fleece and a good four-wheel drive.

But now you’re stuck. Jamming the gearshift into low, you try to muscle out of the drift. The tires whine on ice-slicked snow as headlights dance on the curtain of frosted firs across the road. Shoving the lever back into park, you shoulder open the door and step from your heated capsule. Cold slaps your naked face, squeezes tears from your eyes. You check your watch: 7:18. You consult your map: A thin, switchbacking line snakes up the mountain to the penciled square that marks the cabin.

Breath rolls from you in short frosted puffs. The Jeep lies cocked sideways in the snowbank like an empty turtle shell. You think of firelight and saunas and warm food and wine. You look again at the map. It’s maybe 5 or 6 miles more to that penciled square. You run that far every day before breakfast. You’ll just put on your skis. No problem.

There is no precise core temperature at which the human body perishes from cold. At Dachau’s cold-water immersion baths, Nazi doctors calculated death to arrive at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The lowest recorded core temperature in a surviving adult is 60.8 degrees. For a child it’s lower. In 1994, a two-year-old girl in Saskatchewan wandered out of her house into a –40 night. She was found near her doorstep the next morning, limbs frozen solid, her core temperature 57 degrees. She lived.

Others are less fortunate, even in much milder conditions. One of Europe’s worst weather disasters occurred during a 1964 competitive walk on a windy, rainy English moor; three of the racers died from hypothermia, though temperatures never fell below freezing and ranged as high as 45.

But for all scientists and statisticians now know of freezing and its physiology, no one can yet predict exactly how quickly and in whom hypothermia will strike—and whether it will kill when it does. The cold remains a mystery, more prone to fell men than women, more lethal to the thin and well muscled than to those with avoirdupois, and least forgiving to the arrogant and the unaware.

The process begins even before you leave the car, when you remove your gloves to squeeze a loose bail back into one of your ski bindings. The freezing metal bites your flesh. Your skin temperature drops.

Within a few seconds, the palms of your hands are a chilly, painful 60 degrees. Instinctively, the web of surface capillaries on your hands constrict, sending blood coursing away from your skin and deeper into your torso. Your body is allowing your fingers to chill in order to keep its vital organs warm.

You replace your gloves, noticing only that your fingers have numbed slightly. Then you kick boots into bindings and start up the road.

Were you a Norwegian fisherman or Inuit hunter, both of whom frequently work gloveless in the cold, your chilled hands would open their surface capillaries periodically to allow surges of warm blood to pass into them and maintain their flexibility. This phenomenon, known as the hunter’s response, can elevate a 35-degree skin temperature to 50 degrees within seven or eight minutes.

Other human adaptations to the cold are more mysterious. Tibetan Buddhist monks can raise the skin temperature of their hands and feet by 15 degrees through meditation. Australian Aborigines, who once slept on the ground, unclothed, on near-freezing nights, would slip into a light hypothermic state, suppressing shivering until the rising sun rewarmed them.

You have no such defenses, having spent your days at a keyboard in a climate-controlled office. Only after about ten minutes of hard climbing, as your body temperature rises, does blood start seeping back into your fingers. Sweat trickles down your sternum and spine.

By now you’ve left the road and decided to take a shortcut up the forested mountainside to the road’s next switchback. Treading slowly through deep, soft snow as the full moon hefts over a spiny ridge top, throwing silvery bands of moonlight and shadow, you think your friends were right: It’s a beautiful night for skiing—though you admit, feeling the –30 degree air bite at your face, it’s also cold.

After an hour, there’s still no sign of the switchback, and you’ve begun to worry. You pause to check the map. At this moment, your core temperature reaches its high: 100.8. Climbing in deep snow, you’ve generated nearly ten times as much body heat as you do when you are resting.

As you step around to orient map to forest, you hear a metallic pop. You look down. The loose bail has disappeared from your binding. You lift your foot and your ski falls from your boot.

You twist on your flashlight, and its cold-weakened batteries throw a yellowish circle in the snow. It’s right around here somewhere, you think, as you sift the snow through gloved fingers. Focused so intently on finding the bail, you hardly notice the frigid air pressing against your tired body and sweat-soaked clothes.

The exertion that warmed you on the way uphill now works against you: Your exercise-dilated capillaries carry the excess heat of your core to your skin, and your wet clothing dispels it rapidly into the night. The lack of insulating fat over your muscles allows the cold to creep that much closer to your warm blood.

Your temperature begins to plummet. Within seventeen minutes it reaches the normal 98.6. Then it slips below.

At 97 degrees, hunched over in your slow search, the muscles along your neck and shoulders tighten in what’s known as pre- shivering muscle tone. Sensors have signaled the temperature control center in your hypothalamus, which in turn has ordered the constriction of the entire web of surface capillaries. Your hands and feet begin to ache with cold. Ignoring the pain, you dig carefully through the snow; another ten minutes pass. You know that without the bail, you’re in deep trouble.

Finally, nearly forty-five minutes later, you find the bail. You even manage to pop it back into its socket and clamp your boot into the binding. But the clammy chill that started around your skin has now wrapped deep into your body’s core.

At 95, you’ve entered the zone of mild hypothermia. You’re now trembling violently as your body attains its maximum shivering response, an involuntary condition in which your muscles contract rapidly to generate additional body heat.

It was a mistake, you realize, to come out on a night this cold. You should turn back. Fishing into the front pocket of your shell parka, you fumble out the map. You consulted it to get here; it should be able to guide you back to the warm car. Your core temperature starts to slip below 95; it doesn’t occur to you in your increasingly clouded and panicky mental state that you could simply follow your tracks down the way you came.

And after this long stop, the skiing itself has become more difficult. By the time you push off downhill, your muscles have cooled and tightened so dramatically that they no longer contract easily, and once contracted, they won’t relax. You’re locked into an ungainly, spread-armed, weak-kneed snowplow.

Still, you manage to maneuver between stands of fir, swishing down through silvery light and pools of shadow. You’re too cold to think of the beautiful night or of the friends you had meant to see. You think only of the warm Jeep that waits for you somewhere at the bottom of the hill. Its gleaming shell is centered in your mind’s eye as you come over the crest of a small knoll. You hear the sudden whistle of wind in your ears as you gain speed. Then, before your mind can quite process what the sight means, you notice a lump in the snow ahead.

Recognizing, slowly, the danger that you are in, you try to jam your skis to a stop. But in your panic, your balance and judgment are poor. Moments later, your ski tips plow into the buried log and you sail headfirst through the air and bellyflop into the snow.

You lie still. There’s a dead silence in the forest, broken by the pumping of blood in your ears. Your ankle is throbbing with pain, and you’ve hit your head. You’ve also lost your hat and a glove. Scratchy snow is packed down your shirt. Meltwater trickles down your neck and spine.

This situation, you realize with an immediate sense of panic, is serious. Scrambling to rise, you collapse in pain, your ankle crumpling beneath you.

As you sink back into the snow, shaken, your heat begins to drain away at an alarming rate, your head alone accounting for 50 percent of the loss. The pain of the cold soon pierces your ears so sharply that you root about in the snow until you find your hat and mash it back onto your head.

But even that little activity has been exhausting. You know you should find your glove as well, and yet you’re becoming too weary to feel any urgency. You decide to have a short rest before going on.

An hour passes. At one point, a stray thought says you should start being scared, but fear is a concept that floats somewhere beyond your immediate reach, like that numb hand lying naked in the snow. You’ve slid into the temperature range at which cold renders the enzymes in your brain less efficient. With every 1-degree drop in body temperature below 95, your cerebral metabolic rate falls off by 3 to 5 percent. When your core temperature reaches 93, amnesia nibbles at your consciousness. You check your watch: 12:58. Maybe someone will come looking for you soon. Moments later, you check again. You can’t keep the numbers in your head. You’ll remember little of what happens next.

Your head drops back. The snow crunches softly in your ear. In the –35 degree air, your core temperature falls about 1 degree every thirty to forty minutes, your body heat leaching out into the soft, enveloping snow. Apathy at 91 degrees. Stupor at 90.

You’ve now crossed the boundary into profound hypothermia. By the time your core temperature has fallen to 88 degrees, your body has abandoned the urge to warm itself by shivering. Your blood is thickening like crankcase oil in a cold engine. Your oxygen consumption, a measure of your metabolic rate, has fallen by more than a quarter. Your kidneys, however, work overtime to process the fluid overload that occurred when the blood vessels in your extremities constricted and squeezed fluids toward your center. You feel a powerful urge to urinate, the only thing you feel at all.

By 87 degrees you’ve lost the ability to recognize a familiar face, should one suddenly appear from the woods.

At 86 degrees, your heart, its electrical impulses hampered by chilled nerve tissues, becomes arrhythmic. It now pumps less than two-thirds the normal amount of blood. The lack of oxygen and the slowing metabolism of your brain, meanwhile, begin to trigger visual and auditory hallucinations.

You hear jingle bells. Lifting your face from your snow pillow, you realize with a surge of gladness that they’re not sleigh bells; they’re welcoming bells hanging from the door of your friends’ cabin. You knew it had to be close by. The jingling is the sound of the cabin door opening, just through the fir trees.

Attempting to stand, you collapse in a tangle of skis and poles. That’s okay. You can crawl. It’s so close.

Hours later, or maybe it’s minutes, you realize the cabin still sits beyond the grove of trees. You’ve crawled only a few feet. The light on your wristwatch pulses in the darkness: 5:20. Exhausted, you decide to rest your head for a moment.

When you lift it again, you’re inside, lying on the floor before the woodstove. The fire throws off a red glow. First it’s warm; then it’s hot; then it’s searing your flesh. Your clothing has caught fire.

At 85 degrees, those freezing to death, in a strange, anguished paroxysm, often rip off their clothes. This phenomenon, known as paradoxical undressing, is common enough that urban hypothermia victims are sometimes initially diagnosed as victims of sexual assault. Though researchers are uncertain of the cause, the most logical explanation is that shortly before loss of consciousness, the constricted blood vessels near the body’s surface suddenly dilate and produce a sensation of extreme heat against the skin.

All you know is that you’re burning. You claw off your shell and pile sweater and fling them away.

But then, in a final moment of clarity, you realize there’s no stove, no cabin, no friends. You’re lying alone in the bitter cold, naked from the waist up. You grasp your terrible misunderstanding, a whole series of misunderstandings, like a dream ratcheting into wrongness. You’ve shed your clothes, your car, your oil-heated house in town. Without this ingenious technology, you’re simply a delicate, tropical organism whose range is restricted to a narrow sunlit band that girds the earth at the equator.

And you’ve now ventured way beyond it.

From the Hardcover edition.
Peter Stark|Author Q&A

About Peter Stark

Peter Stark - Last Breath

Photo © Amy Ragsdale

Peter Stark is the author of Last Breath and At the Mercy of the River. He is a freelance writer, a correspondent for Outside, and has written for Smithsonian and The New Yorker. He has been nominated for a National Magazine Award and has written a collection of essays, Driving to Greenland. He is the editor of an anthology of writing about the Arctic titled Ring of Ice.

Author Q&A

Q: Why did you choose Last Breath as the title of this book?

A: The stories in the book are all essentially about the final moment just before one dies. I chose “Last Breath” because it implies a certain kind of desperation at that moment yet at the same time a certain possibility of understanding. The story that perhaps best exemplifies this is the one about a group of women climbers who get stuck in a snowstorm while ascending Annapurna in the Himalayas near the Tibetan border. One of the women in the group has been showing symptoms of mountain sickness. As they weather the storm in a hastily constructed snow-cave the health of the stricken climber continues to deteriorate and she succumbs from a High Altitude Cerebral Edema. Like many of the stories in the book this one has a strong spiritual component, in this case a Tibetan Buddhist theme. According to the beliefs of Tibetan Buddhists, the “art of dying” is as important as “the art of living” and it is in the final moment of death–that moment of the last breath–that one can achieve enlightenment.

Q: And why do you call these stories “Cautionary Tales”?

A: For some of the characters in the book it is their own fatal flaw that brings them to the brink of death, but for most of the others it is an accumulation of small misjudgments or even, in some cases, circumstances beyond their control that conspire to put them in dire situations. I used “Cautionary Tales” to underscore the notion that when you’re in wilderness situations you’re constantly calculating how far you can go; how far you should go. It’s also meant to be a warning sign that says, “You’re on your own here. You’re making your own judgments.” In the wilderness the line between safety and life- threatening danger is often a fine one, and it shifts all the time depending on the circumstances, the individual, and the extent of that person’s confidence level.

Q: Is this book purely about death?

A: In a way this is a book about life as much as it is about death because the people who put themselves in extreme wilderness situations are embracing the outdoor world, and the extreme outdoor experience, for its intensity. The outdoor activities described in Last Breath, such as free-solo rock climbing (without ropes, anchors, belays, or any other form of protection), or kayaking in a raging river’s cascade of foam and noise and spray, make one feel so alive and focused and in the moment. They make you appreciate the fact of simply living and breathing and being there–particularly if you find yourself caught in a desperate situation and then manage to extract yourself. Afterwards every beam of sunlight, every breath of air, every step taken, seems a gift.

Q: How did this book originate?

A: I’ve been drawn to outdoor activities since I was four years old when my grandfather and father took me on my first wilderness canoe trip. As an avid outdoorsman I’ve always been interested in determining just how far I can go. When I’m actually out in wilderness situations I ask myself what’s too far? At what point do I get scared? How can I die out here? What would happen if it all went wrong? What mistakes could I make that might lead to a fatal mistake? What would my chances be of escaping from the situation? And, if I were about to die, what exactly would be happening to my body? And what would I be thinking about?

I’ve also always been particularly intrigued by snow and ice and cold, perhaps because I was born in January in Wisconsin and always considered winter “my” season. After traveling to and writing about the Arctic in my previous book, and seeing how amazingly adaptable the Inuit people are to the brutal cold of their climate, I proposed a story to Outside magazine in the winter of 1996 about the physiology of the human body in extreme cold. My editor at Outside suggested I make it a story about a fictional character who freezes. I immediately liked the idea and saw what great possibilities it would open up, both in terms of devising a compelling plot and in terms of illuminating the physiology of the human body in the extreme cold. It also tapped into my interest in the question of how far is too far? In this case, how far can you go in the cold before you’ve gone too far?

The article I wrote–about a cross-country skier who gets caught in the woods in thirty- below-zero temperatures–became the seed of Last Breath and now, slightly altered, serves as its first chapter. When it ran in Outside in 1997 it immediately struck a nerve with readers. It was widely reprinted in other magazines, anthologized in a college textbook on writing, and later cited as one of the “Notable Essays of 1997” in Best American Essays 1998. This all got me thinking it might be interesting to explore the psychological and physiological changes other characters might experience in a wider range of extreme outdoor situations.

Q: What sort of research did you do for this book?

A: I talked to literally hundreds of outdoor adventurers who had been caught, and almost died, in situations similar to the ones described in Last Breath. I talked extensively with doctors who specialize in the kind of medicine that applies to those situations–for example, high altitude medicine. And I read tremendous numbers of medical journal articles and textbooks as well as survivor accounts. One way of doing this book would have been to tell the stories of actual survivors and trace what happened to them and their physiology as they hovered on the brink of death. That approach seemed very limiting so I choose instead to use composites of characters drawn from the many experts and survivors I spoke to.

Q: Which of the situations that you outline in Last Breath grew out of experiences you had while traveling to remote places with your wife and kids?

A: In the summer of 1996, while I was writing the hypothermia story, my family and I traveled to Bali. We then flew two thousand miles west to Irian Jaya to go trekking among the tribes of the Highlands. Some Western researchers had recently been kidnapped there by a guerilla group demanding independence from Indonesia, and had been held for four months until they were rescued, unharmed. This made me nervous, especially with Molly along, who was two years old, though I had the assurance from some reliable Irianese sources that there was no danger of our being kidnapped. Nevertheless, the threat of capture in some far-off land where you don’t know what’s happening or why helped inform the dehydration chapter where the character is left out in the desert with a single goatskin of water by nomad guerillas. An experience with what we thought might be malaria during that same trip is one of the reasons the book includes a malaria chapter.

The dehydration chapter was set in the Sahara Desert because we’d traveled there with children, too, when Molly was four and Skyler only five months. We were driving to an oasis about 50 miles into the desert when we got caught in a sandstorm. Though the road was good, the sand was blowing so hard it was like a haze that literally sandblasted the paint off the front of the car. I realized we had no water with us, other than a half-liter or so, and I kept thinking if we broke down now, or couldn’t drive due to the sand, or somehow got lost, how long would we last? It was spooky, and I realized how unprepared we were for the environment we were entering, even though we were really only on the edge of the desert with a comfortable hotel not far in front of us.

Q: Have you ever faced death yourself in the way your characters have?

A: Not to the degree they have but I’ve certainly been in situations where I’ve thought, “I could easily die right here.” I’ve stood at the top of countless avalanche slopes, like the snowboarders in chapter four, wondering whether I should ski the slope or leave it alone. One time, when I was much younger and didn’t know what I was doing, I was on such a slope with a buddy who was even more ignorant than I was. Fortunately I knew just enough to recognize the dangerous conditions. I stamped hard on the ground and a small avalanche began right below my feet. It was big enough to have buried us if it had started above us on the slope. I’ve also been caught in big holes in white water, like the kayaker in chapter two. And I know what it’s like to be really cold. For all the deadly scenarios in Last Breath, I have at least some feeling of how you get into it, how it starts. I could have easily come up with hundreds of strange ways to die, indoors or out, but I consciously chose situations that are fairly common in the outdoors so readers will have a better chance of understanding situations in which they might easily find themselves.

Q: How have our attitudes towards death, particularly in Western society, changed over the years?

A: A century ago death commonly visited the bedroom next door. It was here that a relative or grandparent would die of sickness or old age, in the midst of the household. Death then was a part of everyday life. Today we don’t see death in that day-to-day way. And we certainly don’t talk much about it. Instead it is whisked away to the sanitized environment of the hospital where advances in technology and medicine allow us to keep it even further at bay. In contrast to many societies that are less technologically developed than ours, we’ve removed death from our everyday lives. As a result we’re both frightened of it and curious about it. That might be one reason why there’s so much violence and killing in our movies and on television–because we’re obsessed with this thing that has been so far removed from us.

Q: Were any of the stories in Last Breath particularly hard to write?

A: Not really. Even though it’s about death, the book was fairly easy to write because I was so interested in what was happening to these characters, and the situations in which they found themselves. And of course some part of me is in every one of the characters and situations. The one thing that caused me difficulty, and that I consciously stayed away from, was the notion of bringing children into the stories. I made no attempt to place children in dangerous situations in the outdoors, nor did I create any characters who were parents of children. I have two small children of my own and that would have been too difficult for me.

Q: What do you think will most surprise readers of this book?

A: I think readers will be surprised to find that, despite the dying and the grisly descriptions of physiological processes, this is a life-affirming book, and that these situations are in many ways life-affirming situations. I also think readers might be amazed at how ingeniously the human body adapts to the constant changes in its external and internal environment–to changes in air pressure and oxygen, to food consumption and water intake, to increased physical workload, to heat, to cold, to fear and blood loss. Yet that resiliency can be misleading. The human body, in many ways, is as delicate as a hothouse flower, capable of existing in only an extremely narrow band of conditions.

Q: Which of the deaths you describe do you fear most?

A: The one that I found most unpleasant, from a physiological point of view, was the death through heat stroke. What happens with heat stroke is that your body literally cooks from within. One of the reassuring aspects of this book is that by the time you get to the point where you’re really on the brink of death–whether from heatstroke or hypothermia, drowning or mountain sickness–you’re totally out of it. If you survived you’d remember nothing. In this way the body provides its own protective mechanism. It protects your consciousness from being aware of what’s going on.

Q: Why do you include a cautionary paragraph at the beginning of the book?

A: I’ve made every attempt to insure the accuracy of the physiological processes and medical treatments portrayed in the scenarios here. But I wanted to underscore to readers that this book is to be read for fun, not as an instruction manual for diagnosis or treatment. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone using it to diagnose what’s wrong with their buddy sleeping in the tent next to theirs the next time they’re out on a camping trip. If that’s what readers think they might need, they should choose from among the many available instruction manuals and textbooks dealing with wilderness medical emergencies–several of which are listed in the sources section at the back of the book.

Q: How would you describe the characters you created? And how did you come up with them?

A: When I sat down to write the book I knew I wanted to create a variety of situations, characters, and voices. I didn’t want every character to be the same. Some are wholly sympathetic; others are flawed in some way that leads to them making mistakes. And of course there’s one character–the rock climber–who is a complete jerk. This was a character that sort of suggested itself. Not all rock climbers are hyper-competitive but there is a certain level of rock climbing that is extremely competitive. So I started thinking, if my character were a really competitive rock climber, what would his real life job be? The most cutthroat job I could think of was a corporate takeover artist. Then I tried to create a corporate takeover artist of the worst kind. This is a guy who’s constantly calculating the odds and thinking he’ll always be able to come out on top. Unfortunately he finds himself in a situation where the odds catch up with him.

Q: Which of these stories gets the biggest reaction?

A: The cerebral edema chapter, about the all-women climbing team, has gotten a lot of reaction from people who have read the book. I think one of the reasons is that there are six characters in the story (five of whom are responding to the sixth dying slowly in their midst). The interactions among them allowed me to explore how different people deal with death in different ways. And because there were so many characters, readers could find in at least one of them something with which they could identify. This was also a chapter that touched me emotionally as I wrote it. I wanted the characters, and the situation they found themselves in, to be as sympathetic as possible. I had this vision of them being five midwives around this dying woman. But instead of bringing a baby into life they’re helping her pass as peacefully as possible into death. That was the image I started with. I also made one of the characters, from whose point of view you see the story, a practicing Buddhist. This helped me explore the way different societies, cultures, and religions view death.

Q: How has working on this book changed you?

A: Writing this book has reinforced my sense of caution when I’m in remote places, and the sense that I can turn back whenever I want. I no longer feel like I have to keep charging on ahead when I get into difficult situations. It has also changed my attitude toward the outdoors and risk and death. You’d think the opposite would be true but there’s something about having a greater familiarity with death that is strangely reassuring. I think that’s something a lot of other cultures know but that we’ve largely forgotten. We do have religious-based rituals during times of death, but we also have a tendency to stay away from the kind of intimacy with death that other cultures display. For example, the Japanese calmly prepare for their demise with a centuries-old tradition of writing in their last days or moments what are known as “death poems.” In Tibet, those who are dying have read to them The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is an intimate portrayal of the process of death and the opportunity it presents for liberation.

Q: Some critics might suggest you’re somehow exploiting death. What’s your reaction?

A: Death is clearly a difficult, emotionally laden topic. I guess you could say I’m exploiting it but I’m exploiting it in the same way we exploit anything we experience: as a means of learning something new.

Q: What do you want readers to get out of this book?

A: I hope this book will, in some way, change their attitude toward death. I want to make it something less fearful. I also want readers to understand there are a lot of ways we can live our lives. We can put ourselves in situations of greater or lesser risk. We all make those choices. I want readers to see there’s something to be learned from making those choices and putting ourselves in those situations.


From the Hardcover edition.



"Un-put-downable stories of outdoor catastrophe and death, carefully and vividly told; they make us, unexpectedly, happy to be alive."
--Ian Frazier


–New York Daily News

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