(Last Updated On: November 17, 2010)
Title: Halfway to Heaven
Author: Mark Obmascik
This summer, on my way to Newfoundland, I had a layover in Newark. To bide the time, I stopped in an airport book store, more out of curiosity and the need to entertain myself rather than the intention of buying something. I immediately headed toward the “sports” books and from there was amazed to find a few mountaineering novels such as Into Thin Air and Touching the Void. Next to it was a book called, Halfway to Heaven. I found it ironic that I would find a book about climbing Colorado’s fourteeners in the Newark airport and I knew then that I simply had to buy it. It’s a good thing I did too. It kept me entertained as my flight was delayed, both at the gate and on the runway, for about three hours. The day turned to night and night turned to very late. But, I was still reading Obmascik’s book. Entertaining, fun, and easy to read, I simply couldn’t put it down.
Halfway to Heaven is written in first person, with Obmascik as the narrator. The father of three sons, happily married, Obmascik was living in the Denver area during the summer of 2006. The story begins when his 12-yr old son returned from summer camp, wanting to climb more fourteeners after having climbed Pike’s Peak. Obmascik then agreed to climb Torrey’s with his son, but his son grew weary and they fell short of the summit. On the drive home, Obmascik wondered if he could have reached the summit. Though he climbed a few fourteeners in his younger years, he was older now, and several pounds heavier. But, he still wondered if he could do it.
So, Obmascik decided to try for Holy Cross. He was successful and when he returned home he raved about his experience to his family. Obmascik’s wife Merrill then encouraged him to try another fourteener. So, he did. This time it was Huron. Before he knew it, Obmascik was on his way to climbing all the fourteeners in just a year. His book highlights the stories of his fourteener climbs, the people he brought with him and the people he met along the way. It’s a story about his adventures, his failures and his successes.
But, Halfway To Heaven is also a story of the fourteeners themselves. Throughout the book, Obmascik interjects stories about the history of specific fourteeners, such as the discovery of the famed Holy Cross, and the history of the fourteeners themselves. Obmascik highlights stories of how climbing the fourteeners first began, the first people to actually do it, and then on to the speed records. He also includes stories of the surrounding areas, such as Baby Doe and Tabor and the Matchless Mine. And a story like this could not be complete without a detailed account of Alfred Packer. Obmascik even made sure to write about the recent skiing of the fourteeners by Lou Dawson and Chris Davenport.
As Obmascik began climbing more fourteeners, his wife Merrill asked him to not climb them solo. “What if something happened?” Afterall, he was a husband and the father of three. He needed to be responsible. Obmascik continually scrambled for partners. He searched far and wide- from his wife’s coworkers to neighbors to old college friends and guides. He even searched the internet and connected with several of the personalities from 14ers.com. Each one had a story and Obmascik told it. Obmascik climbed South Maroon with our friend Jordan White, and told Jordan’s story in detail. When Jordan was only 19 he was climbing on the Bells with his father Kip. As weather worsened, they decided to rappel down. But, their anchor failed, leaving Kip dead and Jordan severely injured. Both very experienced climbers, an event like this is hard for anyone involved- especially to Jordan. But, Jordan continued to climb and eventually skied all of Colorado’s fourteeners, and was in the middle of his goal when he made his climb with Obmascik.
Cleverly written, Obmascik is quick to say he’s not a true mountaineer. Still, he set a goal for himself- a huge one at that. Like any goal, he struggled, especially with finding reliable partners. But, through it all, Obmascik prevailed. Halfway to Heaven is educational, genuine, and inspirational. Even those who haven’t climbed a single fourteener their whole lives will find it to be an excellent read.
If this interests you, please check out some other books we recommend in our Ski Mountaineer’s Library.