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Lock details triumph and tragedy of climbing in ‘Thin Air’

September 8, 2015

“Master of Thin Air: Life and Death on the World’s Highest Peaks” (Arcade Publishing), by Andrew Lock

After watching a slide show of Mount Everest in a small room in the back of a pub 30 years ago, Andrew Lock made a decision to climb the world’s tallest peak. Thus launched a 24-year journey ascending and descending the world’s most dangerous mountains, all recorded in “Master of Thin Air.”

Not long after attempting Everest, Lock, always desperate for a new goal, decides to attempt summiting all 14 of the world’s “8000ers” (mountains rising above 8,000 meters) and to do it without supplemental oxygen. It is this conquest that takes up a majority of the pages. Flights into Katmandu and subsequent puja ceremonies where climbers request favor from the mountain gods precede long treks into base camps and periods of acclimatization followed by grueling, near fatal summit attempts with a rotating cast of fellow adventure-seekers.

However, this mountaineer isn’t simply a thrill-seeker. He is a student of his passion and passes along his knowledge of the craft to readers, breaking down everything from the geographical characteristics of each mountain to what he carries in his pack. This detail combined with an explanation of the logistics of climbing enables those who stay planted at sea level to follow the narrative.

Lock is matter-of-fact in his accounts and openly admits to a lack of introspection. With that, the book is about his often successful, always dangerous climbs and little else. A scant few sentences early on chronicle a marriage and divorce, and another handful of paragraphs detail his life while not in nature. Aside from these brief detours, each new chapter introduces a new peak to summit, beginning often with a brief history of the mountain and wrapping up with a return to Australia.

At times, Lock is sarcastic in his details concerning the ethics of fellow climbers and freely exposes the moral faults in those around him. To balance this, he also gives praise where due. No matter his intention, Lock’s intensity remains constant throughout the book as he relies on a combination of experience, strength, grit, determination and intuition to get him up and down the Himalayas and beyond.

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