In 1989, while attempting a new route on a difficult overhanging rock face, climber Dan Osman fell. Again and again, protected by the rope, he fell. He decided then that it would not be in climbing but in falling that he would embrace his fear--bathe in it, as he says, and move beyond it.
A captivating exploration of the daredevil world of rock climbing, as well as a thoughtful meditation on the role of risk and fear in the author's own life.
In the tradition of the wildly popular man-versus-nature genre that has launched several bestsellers, Andrew Todhunter follows the lives of world-class climber Dan Osman and his coterie of friends as he explores the extremes of risk on the unyielding surface of the rock.
Climbing sheer rock faces of hundreds or thousands of feet is more a religion than a sport, demanding dedication, patience, mental and physical strength, grace, and a kind of obsession with detail that is crucial just to survive. Its artists are modern-day ascetics who often sacrifice nine-to-five jobs, material goods, and the safety of everyday life to pit themselves and their moral resoluteness against an utterly unforgiving opponent.
In the course of the two years chronicled in Fall of the Phantom Lord, the author also undertakes a journey of his own as he begins to weigh the relative value of extreme sports and the risk of sudden death. By the end of the book, as he ponders joining Osman on a dangerous fall from a high bridge to feel what Osman experiences, Todhunter comes to a new understanding of risk taking and the role it has in his life, and in the lives of these climbers.
Beautifully written, Fall of the Phantom Lord offers a fascinating look at a world few people know. It will surely take its place alongside Into Thin Air and The Perfect Storm as a classic of adventure literature.
A "fledgling alpinist" who writes on extreme sports for the Atlantic Monthly and other magazines, Todhunter set out in the mid 1990s to explore a tiny culture of rock climbers who choreograph free falls from dangerously high places. At its center was Dan Osman, a world-class climber who holds the record for free-falling and whose personality yields few handholds. Todhunter nevertheless manages to weave a complex story around this elusive subject, blending accounts of climbing with Osman in varied terrain with other travel and high-altitude memories while giving vent to his own conflicted feelings about the danger of such activities. When Todhunter undertakes a free fall from a 100-foot cliff supported only by climbing gear, he finds that "a part of me had not survived the jump, as if something small and shameful had remained behind... for a short while I had a glimpse of what it meant to be free." But as he and his wife contemplate having a child, he asks himself: "At what point... do statistically hazardous, entirely elective pastimes become unethical?" Although Todhunter's determination to get to the heart of his subjects' passion is well articulated, it is not contagious. At times, the book is redeemed by its crisp reportage and the author's empathetic self-questioning. But in too many moments--as when he explains the entire climbing rating system or aborts an attempt at the summit of California's Mount Shasta--Todhunter's narrative loses so much velocity that, ultimately, it may fail to hook even the armchair mountaineer.