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Within Reach: My Everest Story

August 17, 2012

Within Reach: My Everest Story By Mark Pfetzer & Jack Galvin     Lexile Level 970

Book review of one young man’s unforgettable journey to be the youngest person to climb Mt Everest

There are so many things I liked about this autobiography of Mark Pfetzer, and a few things I wouldn’t have missed if they had been left out (see Flags). Within Reach, written in 1999, tells the story of a teenager who dreams of climbing Mt. Everest. His motivation is not to break a record, although that comes into the picture, his goal is simply to accomplish a difficult goal.

Mark is an intelligent high school student who prefers solitary activities in nature over team sports. For that simple fact alone, I think many young men would be interested in his story. Mark provides a roll model for boys who perhaps don’t fit the usual school athlete mold. Mark’s interests and athleticism is focused on activities like canoeing, hunting, camping, and rock climbing. At the age of twelve he is taking advanced rock climbing courses with much older kids.

Another thing I like about this book is the incredible initiative the author shows at a young age. As a teenager he has figured out that if he wants to pursue a goal, it will take hard work and commitment. He doesn’t expect his parents to do the work or hand him success. Mark gets the ‘bug’ to climb big mountains at the age of twelve. His parents support his pursuits as long as he shows the initiative to get professional instruction and earns the money to buy good equipment.

At thirteen Mark reads a book about ascending Mt. Everest and sets upon a journey to do the same. Once again his parents say they will support him, but he must do the work to raise money, get expert training, and get permission from his principal to miss three weeks of school.

If you are at all familiar with the scope of climbing Mt. Everest, you understand that the best training is climbing smaller peaks, so Mark’s quest for Everest begins with two years of climbing peaks such as Mount Pisco, Huascaran, Cotopaxi, and Aconcagua.  Each of these climbs is part of the progression to Mt Everest. The associated travel experiences teach Mark how to navigate, and appreciate, other cultures.

There is good amount of detail in this book for readers who are interested in the world of mountain climbing. Enough technical information is shared about gear, climbing techniques, and the travel logistics involved in getting to and summiting major peaks to satisfy readers who want to learn more about mountaineering.

Mark Pfizer’s second attempt at Everest happened to be in the fateful year of 1996 when eight Everest climbers are stranded in a storm and die. While no gory details are related, the heart wrenching story of Rob Hall‘s last words to his wife via satellite phone is told. It is also during this attempt that Mark learns his father has cancer. In a self sacrificial decision, Mark aborts his attempt on Everest to return home to his father.

Overall, the teenage Mark is a good role model for teen readers, however, the same cannot be said for all of his climbing partners. Petty arguments and irresponsible behavior is discussed.

Flags: For an explanation of flags, see my ‘About’ page

  • Occasional use of “hell”
  • Discussion of Buddhism, how the Buddhist priests seem very content with their life of prayer and how the Buddhist temple is close to God
  • Climbers are often given nicknames as their personalities are revealed to the climbing team. One such climber earns the nick name “Butthead” due to his lack of manners and inconsiderate behavior.
  • One example of juvenile humor involving the Spanish term for a certain part of the male anatomy (Chapter 5, pg51)
  • The author witnesses multiple deaths and/or sees bodies of deceased mountaineers which are left in the mountains. Photo of one case in the photo inserts of the paperback version
  • One team member is an OBGYN and is called home due to an emergency. It is noted that he specialized in sex change operations (Chapter 7, pg 67)
2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 21, 2012 8:25 PM

    Wow. This young man certainly sounds like an inspiration! How did he manage to raise so much money? Traveling to these locales couldn’t have been cheap!

    • August 24, 2012 11:54 AM

      He really did put a lot of effort into it. The book goes into some detail about the hours he spent on the phone and writing letters to potential sponsors.

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