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Finding Jim describes Susan Oakey-Bakers struggle to confront the realities of life after the death of her husband, renowned mountain guide Jim Haberl, the first Canadian to summit the most difficult mountain in the world: K2. For fifteen years they had spent time adventuring together around the world: skiing the Himalaya, rafting in Nepal and mountaineering in North America. In time, they got married, solidified a home for themselves in Whistler, British Columbia, and planned on starting a family. But the future Susan had imagined was not meant to be, and when Jim was killed in an avalanche in the University Range of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska, she was faced with a loss greater than anything she ever could have expected.
After Jims death, Susan spent time retracing the adventures they took together, in a desperate and obsessive attempt to gather and hold on to as many memories of him as she could. She travelled to the place in Alaska where he lost his life; searched the Queen Charlotte Islands where they had first met; trekked to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro where they had journeyed the year before his death; and scoured the hills around their Whistler home for traces of the man she had expected to spend the rest of her life with.
In the spirit of books like Joan DidionsThe Year of Magical Thinking and Maria Coffeys Fragile Edge, Susan Oakey-Baker writes eloquently of her efforts to relive and reanalyze her husband's death, to defy the pain that such a loss causes and embrace the healing power of mountains, adventure and wilderness as she reimagines her new life.
gentle and inspiring. For the next five months, before Jim left for K2 at the end of May, we spent as much time together as possible between my teaching and his guiding jobs. Our letters and phone calls intensified with that free-fall abandon of young, threatened love. The day Jim left for Pakistan, he reassured my parents, “Don’t you worry, I’m coming back.” Dad hugged him and wished him luck. Jim turned to me, raised his eyebrows and exclaimed, “Wow, a hug from your dad!” Two K2 (May–July
line at less of an angle. As Keith joined Jim’s new route, the hard snow layer settled beneath them with a “whumph” sound. They froze. When Jim moved on, he walked as if doing giant tippy toes: one slow high step to clear the snow, then he gently placed his foot down, sank slowly to thigh level and used his plastic mountaineering boot to pat the snow down gingerly. He did this over and over, agonizingly slowly, for 15 minutes. No one spoke. Day T wo ¢ 1 0 9 As they reached the other side of
their success and not feeling sick myself, having strength to give them instead of being the weak one. One of the clients, who had been quite sick 1 90 ∫ Afte r on the way up, worried whether or not he could go on. I overheard him say, “I’d better check with my coach.” He approached me and asked, “What do you think, should I go on?” I stifled my immediate response and asked, “How do you feel?” “Fine. Better.” “I say you go for it.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him he had no choice. At this
Jim’s ashes on Mawenzi. I ask the rest of the group to continue down to camp, and I sit among the white papery everlastings and the rough volcanic rocks to light my candle and set up against a rock a teddy bear Mom Haberl gave me. I spread Jim’s ashes. 1 96 ∫ Afte r Hi, Sweetie. It’s a beautiful spot here. I thought of you as soon as I saw it. The needle-like ridges remind me of the Brooks Range. That was quite a trip. Seven days of torrential rain and the creek almost dragged our tent away
supposed to be leading this trip together. I believe you are with me; that your love will always be with me. I will be okay. I am so grateful for all that we shared. Frederick has lunch waiting for me when I get to camp. My body is limp. I have climbed my mountain. If I were on my own, I would go down. The next day, bundled in fleece and GORE-TEX, we head across the windy saddle and settle into high camp at 4700 metres. Up at 11 p.m., we dress and pack for the summit attempt. One foot in front of