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The Price of Adventure
After K2, Tom Brokaw, who was then host of The Today Show, invited the climbers on the program. Ridgeway's face and toes were blistered and blackened from frostbite after five months in the Himalaya, and he wore the only garments he'd carried home: flip-flops, an aloha shirt, and a pair of linen pajama pants from a Pakistan bazaar. As he shuffled onto the stage looking like a cross between a hobo and a clown, Brokaw stared at him slack-jawed and, as Ridgeway remembers, said, "In all my years of television, I've never had anyone on the show who looked anything like you." The two have been friends ever since.

Ridgeway's next book, The Last Step, came out a year later. Unlike many previous mountaineering tomes filled with platitudes about camaraderie and grand vistas, Ridgeway's account of the K2 climb was startlingly frank. He depicted the pettiness, envy, bickering, and betrayals that had dominated and almost derailed the expedition. He judged himself and Chandler harshly for their inability to make amends.

"He was one of the first mountaineering writers to adapt a tell-all style for expedition narratives—the style that's so in vogue today," says Adventure contributing editor David Roberts. Ridgeway was learning that the telling was in some ways as important as the doing.

But there was a rub: His cottage industry of adventure tales required a continuous inflow of dangerous adventures. And the risks were catching up. In 1980 he, Chouinard, and a photographer named Jonathan Wright were attempting an ascent of China's 24,790-foot Minya Konka, now called Gongga Shan, when they kicked loose an avalanche. "We tried to self-arrest out of it, but the wet, heavy snow was too much," Ridgeway said later. "The avalanche sucked us down into it. In just a couple of seconds we were in the middle of an exploding sea of ice. All I remember is looking around and seeing the guys with me: arms, legs, and then only ice boiling all around."

The snow swept them gasping for air for 1,500 vertical feet, during which Ridgeway had time to realize that this was it—he was going to die at the age of 31. But after they tumbled to a stop, the climbers were still alive, though Wright was barely conscious. Ridgeway started rescue breathing, feeling a pulse. Then his friend's heart stopped. Jonathan Wright died in Ridgeway's arms, leaving behind a wife and a baby girl.

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