Johanna Garton

Writer and Journalist

The following is an excerpt from Edge of the Map

Two months later, on May 25, 1997, Chris and Keith rested in a small, two-person tent on a ledge carved into the side of Lhotse. They’d spent weeks establishing camps at several levels up the mountain. The climb through each stage had been brutal, with strong winds following them constantly. They’d traversed the legendary Khumbu Icefall, going across waves of ice blocks with the help of aluminum ladders. They’d acclimatized properly and avoided frostbite. Now, what they’d hoped would be summit day looked unconvincing. Chris’s stomach churned; their food supply was down to a can of Pringles and a tub of cheese spread. 

Melting snow for tea, she felt Keith’s body warm against hers. Positioned in the center of the tent, her legs hung over the edge of the cliff. Safety ropes assured that she’d stay put, but her mind felt numb, depleted of oxygen as they lay in the death zone. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep. 

Lhotse rose to 8,516 meters and every step was earned. The peak had only been climbed by one other woman, Chantal Mauduit, just a year earlier. The day was spent stuck at 26,000 feet, sleeping restlessly until 2:00 a.m., when Chris’s altimeter watch sounded its alarm. The winds had died. A summit push was ahead. 

Waking Keith, Chris reached for her boot liners, aghast to realize they’d slipped to the part of the tent hanging over the cliff and were frozen.  She had no choice but to put them on, knowing they’d warm from her feet. Slipping on an oxygen mask, Chris messed with the gauges on her tank. She hadn’t used Os on her first two ascents, but Lhotse had other plans. 

Three hours later, the couple left their tent for the summit. Starting up a forty-five-degree snow face, Chris felt strong. She pulled ahead of Keith, few words exchanged between them. At this altitude, slowing to wait for her husband wasn’t a viable option. They both knew this. She looked ahead to a gully that weaved its way up the last bit of mountain. She moved upward, every breath borrowed in the thin air. Two hours ahead of Keith, she used hands, feet, and crampons to scale the last two hundred feet of rock face to the summit.

Alone she sat. The second woman ever and the first American woman to experience the peak of Lhotse under her boots. The view of Everest that she’d hoped for was obscured by incoming clouds. Fifteen minutes passed before it was time to descend.

An hour and a half into her descent, Chris met Keith, still heading up. “Keith, the weather’s turning. I don’t know how smart it is to keep going.”

“You made it,” Keith mumbled, pulling off his oxygen mask. “God, that’s incredible.”

“I did, but the views were crap. The storm is back.” She knew it was critical to not spend much time talking about his decision. She also knew the decision was his. 

“I hear you,” he said. “Let’s go down. I want to be with my kick-ass wife.”

A rush of relief carried her through the next few hours. The wind and the snow came as expected. By the time they’d reached Camp Three, it was a whiteout. Chris had slipped into the sliver of clear weather and the history books with her ascent. 

Lhotse, First American Female Ascent. It was reported that on May 26, Christine Feld Boskoff became the first American woman—and second woman ever—to climb Lhotse. She had climbed to Camp IV by her husband, Keith Boskoff. After waiting out a day of storms, Keith was not up to the ascent, so Christine continued on alone to the summit, which she reached at 12:30 p.m.

—Himalayan Historian Elizabeth Hawley, American Alpine Club Journal

*****

Geri’s phone rang in her San Francisco home in November 1997. The caller ID showed “Keith/Chris Boskoff.” The three had stayed in touch since their meeting in Seattle over a year ago for Scott Fischer’s memorial, but it had been a few weeks since they’d talked. Geri picked up, preparing to hear Keith talk about life since quitting their jobs. Or perhaps another ascent was planned for spring. 

“Geri,” said Keith, “you won’t believe what we just did.” 

“Oh boy, should I sit down for this one?” 

“Perhaps you should. Chris and I just bought Mountain Madness.”


 

It’s likely you either have to be naive or crazy to drag your family to live a year in China. Maybe both. Johanna Garton fits the bill perfectly, with a wonderful optimism and willingness to try that ends up putting her family of four well outside the familiar confines of Denver, Colorado, and even outside the relatively comfortable expat outposts of Beijing and Shanghai. Framed through the stories of their two adopted children, Garton and her husband return with them to the land of their birth and try to trace the stories of their earliest days while diving headlong into the crazy and complex challenges that come with living as expats in the Middle Kingdom. It’s a story filled with honesty and warmth, one well worth the time to read. 

- Greg Rhodes, Author, Expat in China: A Family Adventure and Expat in China: The Chengdu Blues