Every avalanche death is tragic; but some are more newsworthy than others.

When Jim Haberl was killed in a slab avalanche in the University Range of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska, on April 29, 1999, the news sent shock waves through Canadian climbing community, as Susan Oakey-Baker recalls in her memoir Finding Jim (Rocky Mountain Books $25).

Haberl, renowned as the first Canadian to summit the most difficult mountain in the world, K2, was Oakey-Baker's husband. For fifteen years they had spent time adventuring together: skiing the Himalaya, rafting in Nepal and mountaineering in North America. They were planning on starting a family in Whistler, British Columbia, when tragedy struck.

Jim Haberl and his climbing partners, Keith Reid and Grame Alan Taylor, from B.C., were hiking a 20-to-30 degree slope on an unnamed peak in the Range and were not roped when the accident occurred. He fell more than 1,000 feet.

Finding Jim (Rocky Mountain 2013) recalls Oakey-Baker's obsessive attempt to hold onto memories of Haberl. She visited the place in Alaska where Jim had died; she returned to the Queen Charlotte Islands where they had met when she was sixteen; and she trekked to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro where they had journeyed the year before his death.

According to her publisher, Finding Jim is in spirit of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and Maria Coffey's Fragile Edge, also the story of a woman who lost her mountain-climbing soulmate [See abcbookworld.com for info on Maria Coffey's book].

According to Sharon Wood, first Canadian woman to summit Mount Everest, "Sue Oakey's story of love, loss, struggle and growth is more like an experience than a read. It is as if Sue took me by the hand and gently guided me through her journey."

Susan Oakey-Baker is now living in Whistler, B.C. with her husband, Joe, and their 6-year-old son, Sam. She has more than twenty years of outdoor experience that includes ski touring, mountaineering, rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking, whitewater rafting and hiking all over the world. She has worked as a nationally certified backpacking guide in Africa, Nepal and North America and has guided more than 100 people, ranging in age from 16 to 85, to the top of Africa's highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, for the Alzheimer Society of British Columbia. Her photographs and writing have been published in Pique magazine, the Alpine Club of Canada Gazette and the Canadian Alpine Journal.

"The sudden loss of a loved one can cause love and sadness to weld. In this courageous, heart-true story, Sue Oakey charts her brave journey into and out of the labyrinth of grief." -Fred Stenson, author of The Great Karoo

"In this emotionally intense memoir, Sue Oakey explores the psychology of risk and paints a moving portrait of those called by the mountain as well as those left behind. Finding Jim is a thoughtful and intelligent meditation on risk, grief, memory, pain, and love. It left me with wet eyes and a full heart. I commend Sue Oakey for her bravery, her honesty, her strength, and her insight." -Angie Abdou, author of The Bone Cage and The Canterbury Trail

"In this touching memoir, Sue Oakey-Baker charts her harrowing journey through grief after the death of her husband in a mountaineering accident. Writing from the heart, she recounts her struggle to rebuild a new life around his loss, and how she slowly found her way back to love." -Maria Coffey, author of Explorers of the Infinite and Where the Mountain Casts its Shadow

Finding Jim is more about love than about mountaineering, but clearly great risks are taken with both.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Finding Jim


Finding Jim (RMB 2013) $25.00 978-1-927330-70-8

[BCBW 2013]