To the Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes
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“When a Georgetown physics professor saw his existence becoming mundane, he actually did something about it. This exciting, moving memoir documents his quest to climb the highest mountains and surf every ocean on earth” (Entertainment Weekly “Must List”).
In 1997, a Georgetown University physics professor set out to scale the highest peak of every continent and surf every ocean. Over the next 12 years, every escape from death brought him closer to life.
and achieve my goals. But there was Robert Scott to consider. Those qualities had delivered him a death in silence and despair. So I had an epiphany of sorts. I decided that I had enough. It was time I left my cave. It was a quiet epiphany. I heard no voice. Clouds didn’t part. Instead, I came to my realization after days of being confined in a tent, thinking about my mother and the past, feeling the desolation of Antarctica in the present, and reliving so much that had happened in between. I
the shovel back into the hole. Another load over the shoulder, another plunge back into the hole. How could anyone ever enjoy doing this? Toss. Plunge. I’m pissed off at this hole. Toss. Plunge. “Bring it, Slake.” Evidently, I had been saying those thoughts out loud, and Pax was now joining in. “Get angry, amigos. Channel it. We can use it.” Toss. Plunge. We were all in a rhythm now. Toss. Plunge. All angry. All digging ferociously. All with a shared purpose. In just minutes we had dug
revealed the sketchiness of the operation. With that one call, we might have recognized that they were unreliable, looked for another option, and then the climb—and the next seven years of my life—would have unfolded much differently. Downtown Jakarta looks as if a collection of modern glass and steel buildings were air-dropped into the middle of a shantytown. The transition from modern to ramshackle, from rich to poor, happens in just a few paces down a block. Within one hundred feet, you can
the mine was standing in our headlights, surrounded by a half dozen armed soldiers. He knew at least five words of English: “Get out of the jeep.” I’ve thought about that moment many times, particularly in light of what would unfold over the next decade. For so much of my life I had thrived on dramatic moments of consequential decision making. Years earlier, Pax and I went to the Ruth Glacier in Alaska to climb one of the signature mountains in North America. We were two thirds of the way to
posing as one of the good guys. Touching the barrel would have resolved so much of the confusion and accusations that were to follow, but she never got the chance. Four soldiers stepped up, pulled back the perforated rear door, and lifted out Patsy’s nearly lifeless body. She called out weakly, barely audible, for her husband. There was no answer. She knew there would never be a reply from him again. It was too rainy and foggy to land a helicopter on the narrow road, so the survivors were