Tabor, James M.
Tabor, James M.
Journalist. Former contributing editor to Outside and SKI; writer and host, The Great Outdoors (PBS series); cocreator, writer, and executive producer, Journeys to the Center of the World.
Forever on the Mountain: The Truth behind One of Mountaineering's Most Controversial and Mysterious Disasters, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to magazines and newspapers, including Time, U.S. News, Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, Reader's Digest, American Heritage,Barron's, Washington Post, and UltraSport.
In Forever on the Mountain: The Truth behind One of Mountaineering's Most Controversial and Mysterious Disasters, James M. Tabor attempts to explain what really happened in the 1967 ascent of Mt. McKinley that claimed the lives of seven young climbers. Because National Park Service (NPS) regulations required that mountaineering expeditions had to include a minimum of four members, a three-man team from Colorado, led by Howard Snyder, had to join a nine-man team led by Joe Wilcox. From the start the two leaders clashed; bad weather and poor communication added to the expedition's troubles. Snyder and his team reached the 20,320-foot summit—the highest in North America—on July 15th and then began their descent; five men from Wilcox's group summited three days later, but by then a raging blizzard had trapped seven men on the mountain who were camped in two locations above 17,000 feet. Ten days passed before the NPS launched a rescue attempt; the climbers froze to death and their bodies were never recovered. Though this expedition was one of the worst disasters in the history of American mountaineering, no official investigation of the climb was conducted.
While Snyder and his men survived, Wilcox was one of only two members of his group to make it off the mountain alive. Both men later published accounts of the disaster, with Snyder laying most of the blame on errors made by Wilcox while Wilcox blamed the catastrophic storm. Relying on these first-person accounts as well as on unpublished correspondence, diaries, documents, and interviews with the survivors, Tabor reconstructs the events of the expedition and points out where mistakes were made. He aims harsh criticism at the NPS bureaucracy that was fatally slow to respond, and provides glimpses into the characters of the victims and of the two leaders. In an interview posted on his home page, Tabor admitted that writing about the seven men who died was a difficult experience. "I got to know them very, very well," he said. "The better I knew them, the harder it became. You hear novelists talk about their characters as though they were real people. Well, these were real people. One afternoon, about a year into the research, with their pictures spread out on a table, I just started crying." Tabor also noted that Wilcox and Snyder "are both very good men, honest and brave and admirable, who suffered an ordeal that marked them for life."
While a writer for Kirkus Reviews felt that the book does not provide sufficient answers as to what went wrong on the climb, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly described Forever on the Mountain as an "often gripping" account of the expedition, adding that Tabor's descriptions of the brutal conditions on the mountain are "breathtaking" and that his profiles of the survivors, four decades later, provide effective closure.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2007, review of Forever on the Mountain: The Truth behind One of Mountaineering's Most Controversial and Mysterious Disasters.
Publishers Weekly, May 7, 2007, review of Forever on the Mountain, p. 52.
Reference & Research Book News, November 1, 2007, review of Forever on the Mountain.
Washington Post Book World, August 12, 2007, "Travel and Adventure: From a Land Teeming with Kangaroos to Villagers Who Speak with Their Hands," p. 11.
James M. Tabor Home Page,http://jamesmtabor.com/ (February 24, 2008).