(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie MAR 22, 2006)
"In the universe of climbers, there was nothing more hallowed--or freighted--than the epic. Whymper's descent from Matterhorn, Herzog on Annapurna, Doug Scott crawling down the Ogre, Joe Simpson touching the void, Krakauer in thin air, the list ran long. An epic was the closest of close calls, often involving the death of partners, the loss of toes and fingers, madness, terrible privations, the whole nine yards. Summits come, summits go, and those were matters of record. An epic, though, that went into the hall of fame.
The irony was that, for all the shock and awe an epic inspired, no seasoned climber ever wanted to be part of one. No epics: that was the wise man's mantra."
Hugh Glass and Lewis Cole were legendary climbers back in the late 1960s. "They came from a bygone era. Vietnam, Camelot and Apollo had all been parts of their vocabulary." Together they made the 3,000-foot vertical climb to "El Cap," the largest rock face in the US and forged a new route in doing so. They were the fathers of the Anasazi Wall. Now, thirty-five years later, the two men have reunited to make the climb again - their climbing swan song, so to speak.
The two friends paths have diverged greatly. Hugh, a geologist, had taken a job with British Petroleum and has spent the last decades in the deserts of Arabia. He lost his love, his wife Annie, who had been his very own climbing groupie, when she wandered off in one of those deserts never to be heard from again. Lewis, ever the poet, stayed behind in Colorado and got his graduate degree in English lit.. He too married his hippie love, Rachel, although their relationship has waned considerably and they are now on the verge of divorce.
Before the guys get started, they find out a trio of women climbers looking to pioneer a new route has had a fatal accident. On day one, before hooking-up with Lewis, Hugh discovered the body of one of the women on the forest floor, where she had fallen no more than an hour or so before. He also met and was attacked by a seemingly psychotic hermit, Joshua, who dwelled in the caves of Yosemite. Joshua had apparently been struck by lightening and survived, only to haunt the forest thereafter. He stole the woman's corpse, calling back to Hugh, "Now all hell's loose because of you." And all hell is just about ready to break lose although our hapless climbers don't know it yet. They do feel jinxed by the bad omens, however.
There are still, hopefully, two surviving women on "the Captain," often hailed as the "American Everest" and "the last Eiger." And like Everest and Eiger, this rock has taken its toll in fatalities. Augustine, a park fire fighter and rescue worker, joins the two friends in a local bar the night before their climb. His fiancée is one of the stranded climbers and he is determined to get her off the rock alive - if she is still alive. Augustine and Hugh have something in common. They are both pursued by ghosts, demons who will haunt them throughout. There is much more baggage ascending "the Cap" than what is contained in the haul bags.
As Hugh and Lewis move into their third day on the wall, Augustine and Joe, his climbing partner, overtake them, climbing at an extraordinary speed. They were moving at a "near vertical run." Determined to save his lost love, Augustine persuades Hugh to join the rescue mission. Lewis decides to pack-it-in and descend.
What follows is a compelling, hair raising mix of the surreal, almost supernatural at times, along with a terrific action adventure and taut psychological thriller. The ending is a real shocker - most unsettling, to say the least.
I know nothing about climbing, but found myself enthralled by Jeff Long's descriptions. The author is a veteran climber who has traveled to Mount Everest. The Wall is real page turner - highly recommended!
- Amazon readers rating: from 15 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Wall at SimonSays.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Angels of Light (1990)
- The Ascent (1992)
- The Descent (1999)
- Year Zero (April 2002)
- The Reckoning (July 2004)
- The Wall (January 2006)
- Outlaw: The True Story of Claude Dallas (1984)
- Duel of the Eagles: The Mexican and U.S. Fight for the Alamo (1990)
- Empire of Bones: A Novel of Sam Houston and the Texas Revolution (1993)
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About the Author:
Jeff Long was born in Texas and lived in Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma and finally, Colorado.