McCulloch’s book “The Ascension”: In the Death Zone of Killer Mountain

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McCulloch’s book “The Rise”
In the death zone of Murder Mountain

By Thomas Badke

Climbing an eight-thousander with just a few weeks of preparation? An absurdity. But Cecily dares. She has to dare, because only after she has conquered the top can she get an exclusive interview with the greatest mountaineer of all time. But a warning catches her attention.

“Breathe Cecily!” Icy air rushed into her lungs, and when she imagined what it would be like to breathe up here, she’d assumed it would feel like suffocation, like her throat tightened, maybe still like drowning, but it wasn’t. .. Actually it was very simple: there was not enough oxygen in the air, barely a third of what her body was used to, according to the altimeter on her wrist she was still more than 8,000 meters – in the death zone. Cecily fights for sheer survival in the death zone of Manaslu, one of the 14 eight-thousanders peaks on Earth.


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This idea was unthinkable for only a few months. The British travel reporter wrote her reports as a freelancer, made ends meet and was happily linked to her colleague James. It was he who brought her into mountaineering. It was he who inspired her to do “Three Peaks”, climbing the three highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales in 24 hours. It was he who had left her, alone in sneakers and unprepared, to the last of these three mountains, Snowden. And it was James who later celebrated her as a heroine in an article—because Cecily, cold and exhausted, had waited for mountain rescue to rescue a fallen climber. Cecily a heroine? She herself had a very different opinion, after all, the woman was dead.

But it was this tragic episode that would change her life in an instant: Charles McVeigh noticed her. He is the mountaineering icon of the present, an artist on the mountain, an exceptional talent. McVeigh has nearly completed his current project to climb all 14 of the world’s eight-thousanders without assistance. Only Manaslu is missing, the “Killer Mountain”. And for this final act of his record-breaking tour, he’s promised Cecily his first-ever exclusive interview. It would be her breakthrough as a travel journalist, after which she could choose her job. But the deal has a catch: Cecily must go to the top of Manaslu. If she manages to storm the top, she’ll get her scoop.

A death is just the beginning

This is, as it were, the base camp from which Amy McCullochs launches the protagonists of her thriller “The Ascent – Death Waits in Icy Heights”. But a thriller also contains a few deaths, a few twists, moments of goosebumps. And spoiler alert: yes, it’s all there. And much more. Already in the base camp the first person dies. Cecily is an experienced climber and knows it because she was the last person to see him alive. He was on a mission, wanting to pay his last respects to a friend who had died in a storm at the summit – and to clarify his mysterious death. He suspects a murder. But he can no longer follow suspicious tracks.

A dead already in base camp? Not a good omen for her ascent of Manaslu, Cecily thinks. Then she finds a warning on her equipment: “There is a killer on the mountain, get to safety!” But she can’t just stop. Without a story, she could quit her job – and besides, she’d be broke. So together with a small group – a tech investor, an influencer, a filmmaker and an experienced but previously fired mountain guide – Cecily starts the ascent. There are four camps to the summit, going from one camp to another and back several times so that the climbers’ bodies get used to the altitude and air conditions.


Amy McCulloch is of Asian descent, grew up in Canada and lives in London. She likes going to the mountains herself.

(Photo: Charlotte Knee Photography)

Cecily, initially plagued with self-doubt because no one thought her capable of climbing Manaslu, learned something new, fought her way into mountaineering and gained mental strength. But there are more deaths: from another group, an experienced Russian mountaineer dies on the “hanging wall”, strangled in a rope. The mission is still going on. Apparently, death is part of projects like this: when people push their limits, accidents cannot be ruled out. Only that Cecily is increasingly doubting whether it was an accident.

In the few hours she has to recover from the rigors of acclimation, she begins to examine herself, ask questions, bring light to the darkness. But that doesn’t sit well with everyone. Is there really a killer on the mountain or is the mountain the killer? The nickname “Killer Mountain” is no coincidence, is it?

A climb that makes you shiver

McCulloch’s “The Rise” invites you to be part of a human borderline experience. Many people would like to climb an eight-thousander, but very few fulfill this dream. “The Rise” helps everyone to almost be there live. To experience what it really means to survive in the death zone – a zone where human cells die every second, where hallucinations are the rule rather than the exception, where body and mind can wander. As a reader of “The Climb” you can experience how much preparation goes into such a trek before you can even climb the top. How quickly everything can be over: the wrong weather, a misstep, a lack of concentration, a faulty device.

With her thriller, McCulloch succeeds impressively because as a layman you are immediately drawn to the subject. The author gently takes her readers by the hand without neglecting the plot. In a sense, she becomes a mountain guide and briefly passes on her own experiences and knowledge.

It remains to be seen if Cecily will eventually manage to capture the Manaslu and return safely to base camp – more climbers die on the descent than on the ascent. Also whether it is possible to successfully master such a tour with only a few months of preparation. But as a reader, after reading it, you certainly feel like exploring your own limits again.

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