To conquer Colorado’s formidable fourteeners, you need stamina, strength, patience, respect, know-how, guts, and really good shoes. What you don’t need? All your toes.
That’s what Brad McQueen, a 41-year-old accountant-slash-mountaineer will tell you. His autobiographical adventure novel Exposed: Tragedy & Triumph in Mountain Climbing (hitting bookstores this week) relays various mountaineering stories helmed from 14 years of climbing with his courageous wife, Melissa, starting with a heart-pumping, cringe-worthy trek up Colorado’s famed Mt. Evans.
On a (deceptively) warm, sunny day in 2001, the McQueens, their canine companion, Malcolm, and Brad’s father, Rich, were hiking the 14,264-foot peak when the ever-wayward Rocky Mountain weather unexpectedly unleashed a devastating blizzard, leaving them stranded. Many freezing, painful, nearly hopeless hours later, the Alpine Rescue Team found them. Miraculously, everyone was in relatively good health, except for Melissa, whose battle with frostbite later left her with only two toes.
But that didn’t stop her from hitting the trail again. And again. And again. As it turns out, toes aren’t as crucial as, say, a cat’s tail, for walking and balancing. “If you saw my wife walking down the street you would never know she has anything wrong with her,” Brad says. “She’s a better rock climber than I am!”
The book follows the couple’s journey in the wake of Melissa’s recovery, where they braved even more epic climbs, including Mt. Kilimanjaro. This time, Brad says, as “safer, stronger climbers.”
With cameo excerpts from Melissa, Exposed takes on an added depth of feeling (something, Brad admits, accountants are not known for sharing), letting readers see the story through the lens of a woman and mother. “I want other people to know how tough Melissa is,” he says. “How amazing she is, how strong.”
Exposed is written for mountaineers, outdoor enthusiasts, couples, mothers, men, women—anyone who wants to see the human spirit prevail. More than anything, Brad says, it’s a love story: showcasing love for his dad, for the mountains, and for his wife.
The McQueens could have let the Mt. Evans incident destroy their young marriage. Melissa could have accepted the fate of an adventure-less future. They could have let fear warp their love of nature. But they hope that by sharing their example of perseverance—of using tragedy to strengthen their relationship—others can learn from their mistakes. It’s about overcoming adversity and remembering to “appreciate the beauty of what we have right here in our backyard.” Whether you have 10 toes, or two.
MEET THE AUTHOR: Saturday, March 21 at 6 p.m., Ute & Yeti, 21 N. Nevada Ave., Colorado Springs (also benefits local outdoor non-profit, UpaDowna); Saturday, April 4 at 6 p.m., The American Mountaineering Museum, 710 10th St., Golden; 6 p.m. Register here; Wednesday, April 8 at 6:30 p.m., REI, 1789 28th St., Boulder; Register here.
All profits from the above book-signing events go to these outdoor nonprofits: Alpine Rescue Team (the search-and-rescue team that aided the McQueens), Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, and Big City Mountaineers.