New York, 2005, 1st edition. 298 pp. Hardcover with dust jacket. Fine.
SIGNED by Jeff Long.
A climbing novel from the acclaimed author of Angels of Light and the award winning Ascent. A widowed geologist makes one final, perilous attempt to scale Yosemite's El Cap and winds up running for his life in Long's atmospheric, aggressive thriller (after The Reckoning). Hugh Glass and his climbing buddy Lewis Cole revisit the mountain where 35 years earlier, they shared glory on the 3,600-foot-high monolith and met the women they would marry. Now, years later, Hugh's wife has vanished and Lewis's is divorcing him.
Ascending El Cap, Hugh and Lewis yearn for their wives and are humbled by nature's rapture. Their last-ditch adventure is marred by the discovery of a body—one of three fallen climbers—and an encounter with Joshua, a malevolent old 'caveman' who steals the corpse. Long casts the dramatic natural setting as a major player in the story and imparts fascinating facts about the art of rock-climbing. Joshua's reappearance and a forest fire complicate the climbers' trek, before a search and rescue guide who seeks his missing fiancé joins them.
Lewis abandons the expedition, but increasingly paranoid Hugh continues on, joining the shifty guide to find the other lost climbers just as a violent storm heads their way. The surprise ending is a true shocker in this hurtling, gripping read.
About Jeff Long
The Short Version
Jeff Long's writing career has been diverse: novelist, historian, journalist, and screenwriter. His book awards include the Texas Literary Award, the Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Novel, the British Boardman-Tasker Award for Mountain Literature, and the American Alpine Club's Literary Award. Several of his books have been made into films. His revisionist study of the Alamo, Duel of Eagles, sparked intense controversy and acclaim. His novel The Descent was a New York Times bestseller.
As a veteran climber and traveler in the Himalayas, he has climbed on Everest and Makalu several times, and guided tour groups in Tibet. He first visited the Himalayas thirty-five years ago. In 1977, he served three months in Nepalese jails on smuggling charges. That experience led to articles about the CIA/Tibetan guerrilla movement and the 1990 democratic revolution in Nepal. His 1992 novel The Ascent described both an Everest disaster and the larger tragedy of genocide in Tibet.
In 1996, he served as an OSCE elections supervisor in Bosnia's first democratic elections, during which time he interviewed Bosnians and American troops for the human rights and foreign aid group, Witness, Inc. , which he founded. He currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.
About Jeff Long
The Long Version
I was an oil rig brat, born in Texas and bounced through Louisiana to New Mexico and Oklahoma and, finally, thank god to Colorado. The roughnecks taught me how to shoot beer bottles when I was seven. They made belts out of rattlesnake skins. I saw ghosts in the desert at night.
One dusty afternoon my dad picked up a rock and gave it a crack with his hammer. Like magic, a fossil fell open on his palm, a world hidden inside the world. That was the start of my story telling.
In high school, the Christian Brothers taught me Dante, H.G. Wells, and even a bit of Borges. They encouraged my bad poetry as if it had potential, which it didn’t. In college I took up climbing and tried my hand at short stories, and the climbing magazines were kind – or starved – enough to publish a few. At 19 I quit school to find a job and fly to Nepal, somehow convinced you could walk on to an Everest expedition like it was a game of pick-up. I ended up in a remote monastery just long enough to get a bellyful of worms, then retreated again to the comforts of college.
I skipped my graduation to join grown men on an international expedition to Makalu, next to Everest. We missed the summit by a few hundred feet, but I didn’t care. I came home with a notebook full of raw times and far places. I was never much of a climber. I just loved the company and landscape. At my own level of the game, I took huge risks and chased some real monsters, went blind (a few times) from the altitude, got frostbit, lost friends to lightning and avalanches, and now and then actually felt God’s face in the stone.
But for me the climbing and expeditions, and the detours through revolution and jails and landmine - ridden zones, were more about the pen than the adrenaline. No matter how full my pack or how heavy the haul bag, I always made room for the extra notebooks that fed my writing. In that sense, mountaineering was just a sort of radical tourism. It was also my entrée to publication.
My first getting published was in a Sierra Club imprint called Ascent, edited by Steck and Roper, two brilliant, quirky climbers out of Berkeley. I had written a novella about three young men trapped on an infinite wall. It was literary, psychedelic, arcane, and a novella, too long for magazines, too short for a book… a total misfit. Not that I was showing it to anyone. I was shy and twenty and nobody. But then a friend walked it into the magazine without my knowing, and it was accepted. I was exhilarated and thankful and terrified.
When the anthology came out a year later, I just about fainted. There is nothing like that first time when your innermost thoughts get set loose in public. Suddenly this paper child of yours must fend for itself, no longer yours to shape and nurture, but now the property of readers. The best you can do is walk on. Write more. Try and do better next time.
With adventure came misadventure. I got arrested through a ninth-story window while climbing the TransAmerica Building in San Francisco. My partner wanted to make a political statement. I just wanted to tie a rubber chicken to the summit antennae.
A month after that I led another futile siege of Makalu. Afterward I stayed in Kathmandu and landed a job teaching mountaineering to the Nepalese army. My plan was to stay a year, join an expedition to another mountain, and learn Nepali. Instead, within a month, I was arrested on smuggling charges and sentenced to five years in prison.
Through three different jails I shared quarters with political prisoners who had been tortured, lepers who were dying, and Tibetan guerrillas who had been secretly trained by the CIA in Colorado. Nepal’s supreme court got involved with my case, and then the US State Department. After only three months I was freed, and promptly banished from the kingdom.
The prodigal son finally came home, broke, skinny, disgraced, and ready to write. Before I could lay into the pen, though, I had to pay the rent, which meant finding a job. With a degree in philosophy and anthropology, I was eminently qualified for manual labor. Over the next few summers I worked as a stonemason and taught climbing. Winters I hibernated, stretching my money, living in a chicken coop for $25 a month, and eating Campbell’s Chunky soup from the can. Slowly my typewriter began to bear fruit.
Jann Wenner, the Rolling Stone publisher, started up a regional publication called Rocky Mountain Magazine. This marked a huge step up for writers – in both venue and wages - throughout the West. The money was never enough to quit your day job, but it represented a chance to try for the big league.
Rocky Mountain Magazine published both my fiction and non-fiction. They commissioned me to track down the story of a self-styled mountain man who had killed two Idaho game wardens, and that turned out to be my big break. Rocky Mountain Magazine happened to be the in-flight magazine for Aspen Airlines. A New York agent on her way to Aspen saw my article.
Out of the blue I got a call asking if I’d be interested in writing a book about the incident.
I had the great fortune to get tapped by one of New York’s finest editors, Jim Landis, at William Morrow publishing house. Under him my Old-West-meets-New-West article about the Nevada buckaroo morphed into a true crime book, Outlaw, and a television movie.
An article about the hardcore climbing scene in Yosemite (commissioned by Playboy, and then killed) turned into my first novel, Angels of Light.
Circling back to my birthplace, I wrote Duel of Eagles, a non-fiction history of the Alamo battle, and a historical novel about Sam Houston, Empire of Bones. The books earned me both literary awards and death threats, the latter usually phoned in long distance from honkytonks with cowboy music in the background.
In 1990 I returned to Nepal with a BBC film crew going to Everest… just in time for a revolution to close down Kathmandu. (Strangely, and wonderfully, a number of the political prisoners I had met in jail thirteen years earlier were the leaders of the democracy movement.)
After weeks of blackouts, martial law, and a climactic bloodbath, the king stepped aside for the modern era. Our little expedition finally broke free of the city and drove north through the Himalayas to the Big White Whale. I turned the mountain into a novel, The Ascent, about a deadly storm near the summit and a little Tibetan monk, doomed like Tibet.
On my way to Tibet in 1992, I stopped off in Cambodia to visit a friend working with the United Nations. The first democratic election was unfolding, and the Khmer Rouge were actively trying to spoil it. When we paid a visit to Angkor Wat, the ruins were all ours, deserted except for a few monks, nuns and jungle children. As we explored the ruins, careful to stay on footpaths freshly cleared of landmines, the jungle echoed with gunfire. Road travel was banned for UN personnel, but unfortunately I wasn’t with the UN. On the longest ride in my life – from Sisophon to Siem Reap - my taxi driver ran two Khmer Rouge roadblocks at 100 kph, frantically pointing at me by way of explanation. Rifles and rocket grenades aimed at our windows, but the taxi was faster. It was the first time I wet my pants since first grade.
In 1996 Melissa invited me to serve as an election supervisor for Bosnia’s first democratic elections. Ordinarily, I would have jumped with both feet. But I had a daughter who was just starting to walk, and Bosnia was full of unknowns. In the end my wife Barbara and I decided that the principle was worth the risk, and I went.
Like Cambodia, Bosnia was a land filled with ghosts and landmines. Unlike Cambodia, which had been overseen by ineffective UN troops, Bosnia was locked down cold. The Bosnian-Serb mischief-makers dared not lift a finger. The elections came off without a hitch. At the end of six weeks I returned home, where my daughter expressed her displeasure with my absence by throwing her pasta wheels at me and following me everywhere for a month.
People ask where I get my ideas. Chaos theory may explain some of it. One morning I looked at the shelf and saw The Ascent upside down, which led me to The Descent, a novel that begins in Tibet and Bosnia, and follows an expedition as it plunges into a geological hell. In turn, that manhunt for the historical Satan led to Year Zero and a manhunt for the historical Jesus.
Then 9/11 struck, and with war in the air I wrote The Reckoning, a ghost story about the undead Vietnam War set in an ancient city in Cambodia. One ghost story led to another, and The Wall materialized, a tale about an aging climber revisiting old vertical haunts. (Not that I’m getting any older, of course.)
My next two novels are in the works. Best of all, my ten-year-old daughter is beginning to write books.
These days my office walls are papered with maps, old and new, familiar and alien (the ocean floor, the back of the moon.) I study them, less to find some city or island, or to chart the extremes, but to try and figure out whose stories the mapmakers were trying to tell. Every one of us contains worlds in search of a navigator. At one time or another, we all get lost and then go on to find our path. Some use maps, some use words, some their bare hands. In that way, I like to believe, we make ourselves from the wilderness.