My aunt and uncle live at the base of the Superstition Mountains, just outside Phoenix, Arizona. We recently went to visit and arrived in the dark, so I was happily surprised by the awesome view they have when I stepped out onto the back patio in the morning.
“There’s our mountain!” my uncle said, then added casually, “About 8 or 9 people die out there every year.”
“These mountains?” They are beautiful, but certainly not the tallest mountains we saw on our trip. In the case of these mountains, however, size is not the problem.
“Every year people go hiking up there and they don’t bring enough water. Some make it back, some don’t. Recently a couple walked off a plane and came out here first thing. Only one came back.”
Unfortunately, many climbing expeditions end that way. Mount Everest has captured the imaginations of people from around the globe, and many have tried to climb to the highest peak in the world. Over 250 people have died trying to reach the top. Reporter Jon Krakauer details the story of his personal tragedy on Mount Everest in his book Into Thin Air: a Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster. Krakauer made it to the top with his team, but not all of them made it back down. The story is gripping and powerful, but don’t expect a happy ending.
Not quite as tall, but four times as deadly, Mount K2 spears up out of northern Pakistan. Ed Viesturs, a world-renowned mountaineer, details the story of this deadly mountain’s history, including his own near-miss event in which a single ice pick kept him and his climbing partner from sliding away in an avalanche. You’ll find it in K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain.
These things happen in our own backyard also. The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan tells the story of two men who survived a cave-in that took them deep into a glacial crevasse while climbing Mount Rainier in Washington State.
Wondering why climb mountains at all? Check out To the Summit: Fifty Mountains that Lure, Inspire and Challenge by Joseph Poindexter. This book is a visual tour of 50 of the world’s great mountains, with full-page photographs to draw you in. A book can’t substitute for the real thing, but this one tries its best to tempt you.
If you’re not ready to tackle Mount Everest, I’d recommend hiking the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. It can be done, I will attest.
Just bring plenty of water.