The Horizontal Everest is first and foremost an autobiographical account of one man's love affair with a very special place on Earth. Others have been seduced by Ellesmere's siren song; Jerry Kobalenko's is arguably the extreme case. "I wanted to embrace every inch of Ellesmere's 76,600 square miles." [roughly the combined area of England and Scotland]
It is also a wonderful smorgasbord of arctic history, exploration, culture, and wildlife as well as accounts of fascinating and often harrowing journeys. Indeed, many the folk you'll meet in this book don't get out alive. There are homicides, suicides, deaths by starvation and exposure, and some unsolved mysteries of explorers who simply vanished.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves adventure. In addition, arctic history buffs will find much to chew on. For the dedicated, the book also includes an excellent annotated bibliography.
While a serious book, the author occasionally treats us to his brand of earthy humor. For example, he describes the challenge of eating enough to stay warm..."I simply could not hoover in more than 7,000 calories a day. My jaw ached from chewing, I got hemorrhoids from all the activity of a supercharged metabolism, and I ran out of things I wanted to eat. Even a whole strawberry shortcake every day palls after a while."
Kobalenko educates the reader on adaptations necessary for arctic. "Of all arctic skills, learning to relinquish expectations is the most important." "Every journey throws unnerving twists in the traveler's path. Some of us thrive on this insecurity, or at least accept it. Others crack."
Now and then Kobalenko treats us to his philosophy of living. "...hard wilderness travel...simplifies your own character, so that if you are basically good, the effort can make you purer and better..."
Although toughened by the harsh environment he frequents, Kobalenko remains awed by the sheer beauty of the land. Gazing on the ice caps of western Ellesmere, he waxes lyrically "...everything just looked incredibly pure. The perfect curves of white against an intense blue sky could have been drawn by the hand of God." On one occasion, while soaking up the spectacular beauty of Alexandra Fjord, he listened to Beethoven; "'Ode to Joy' seemed particularly appropriate" he notes.
Jerry Kobalenko is a true original; such folk come across our path only rarely but when they do, they help make this a life worth living. This book makes such an encounter available to all.
In the Epilogue, the author talks about amateurs seduced by Ellesmere. "...they proudly hump sixty-pound packs in a place where it snows in July" while their "social circle vacations in Hawaii..." He emphasizes his point by noting that one such crazy "who lost part of his big toe to frostbite considers it a badge of honor that connects him to the old explorers." Jerry Kobalenko suggested that I so regard my toe. I have had the pleasure of meeting him and listening to his tales first hand on two serendipitous occasions; both were on Ellesmere Island. Where else?