Reading: The Last Season

Cover of The Last Season by Eric BlehmI happened upon The Last Season when I was browsing the bookstore for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The words on the cover immediately drew me to it:

Randy Morgenson was legendary for finding people missing in the High Sierra … Then one day he went missing himself.

Written by Eric Blehm, this book is the story of a man who spent his entire life with the National Park Service. Raised in Yosemite National Park, Morgenson grew up in the shadow of El Capitan and along the well-trod path of the John Muir Trail. He explored the world as a Peace Corps volunteer but was ultimately drawn back to the High Sierra, where he worked as for the NPS for 28 years, most of them as a backcountry ranger in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

In Morgenson’s last season, he headed into the wilderness and simply disappeared. The Last Season vividly explains the search operation launched in order to find this well-seasoned ranger while weaving in the troubling circumstances leading up to the season and a disturbing picture of how the NPS treats its seasonal employees.

Blehm does an excellent job of telling a story that could be cut and dry—a step-by-step process of a backcountry search operation—but this compelling book pushes readers deeper and deeper into the puzzling details of Morgenson’s disappearance by posing theories and situational questions that arise due to the complex nature of the ranger’s past and the bureaucratic and often unfair policies of the agency for which Morgenson worked. Would the ranger have just walked out of the mountains? Did Morgenson plan or know of his disappearance in advance? Was Randy a victim of nature, or was he so selfish that he made the choice to put his fellow rangers at risk looking for him? Was faulty equipment given to rangers to blame? Were there holes in the search-and-rescue operation that could have resulted in a different outcome?

The Last Season read a bit like Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air in that it set up the present, dangerous situation around which the book revolves, and then it pulled back to reveal the bigger picture and the events that led up to the current problem. Along the way, readers are forced to ask “what if?” and “what about?” Morgenson’s disappearance is maddening and confusing, sad and curious, and The Last Season does an excellent job of humanizing a story that could just as easily be a statistic. Anyone interested in real adventure stories or the national parks of the United States will find The Last Season a good read.

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