The title of Jean Muenchrath's book, If I Live Until Morning and the book's moody cover of high mountains provide more than a hint of what story awaits readers. Something tragic is going to happen that will leave the author near death. And that is exactly how the tale unfolds. Caught in a storm high on Mount Whitney in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the author slips and falls. She comes close to death before she and her cross-country skiing companion painfully make it down the mountain five days later.
Muenchrath's book, however, is much more than this. It's about going forward, afterward. It's about finding ways to overcome pain and fear so the author can continue hiking her beloved mountains, including those in the Himalayas. It's about doing what she promised herself she would do—if she lived until morning.
As a reader who has her own love affair with mountains, I was especially appreciative of Muenchrath's vivid descriptions of the high landscapes she set foot upon. Of standing in the shadow of the mighty Mount Everest, she writes:
Heavy frost covered the ground. The moonlight had transformed it into a field of shimmering diamonds. The highest peaks on Earth glowed like silver-white goddesses reaching for the sky. With steam coming from my breath, I walked to the hilltop to maximize the view. The soundscape was equally enchanting; glacial rivers rushed in the distance, yak bells chimed in the pastures below, and occasionally an avalanche rumbled down a mountainside.
On reading these words, I was able to experience a world I will never visit, which is the best of what reading is all about.
The path forward for Muenchrath, after trekking in the Himalayas, continues to be filled with potholes and painful obstacles—different perhaps, but not that unlike the ones faced by those of us with questioning minds. Muenchrath's search for answers, adventure and fulfilment, which is the heart of her book, includes over 30 years as a national park ranger, student of Eastern philosophy and heartfelt friendships with Tibetan lamas.
Muenchrath doesn't claim to be a heroine in her own book, one that some might call an action thriller. Instead, she is simply a woman who wants the kind of answers most of want. She won't give up or let her past rule her future. Even when she falls down, you know she's going to get right back up.
This is an inspiring book, and well written. Highly recommended for all who love mountains, nature—and life.
Jean Muenchrath has been a national park ranger for over 30 years, and has led tours in Nepal and Thailand, and worked in Bhutan with the World Wildlife Fund. As a park ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park, she transforms into the Wizard of Winter as she leads the snowshoe ecology walk around Bear Lake.
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