Only one person believed Jane Parnell when she reported being raped at twenty-one: the mountain man who first led her up one peak after another in the Colorado Rockies and who then became her husband. Parnell took to mountaineering in the Rocky Mountains as a means to overcome her family’s history of mental illness and the trauma of the rape. By age thirty she became the first woman to climb the 100 highest peaks of the state. But regaining her footing could not save her by-now-failing marriage. Unprepared emotionally and financially for singlehood, she kept climbing—the 200 highest peaks, then nearly all of the 300 highest. The mountains were the one anchor in her life that held.

Finding few contemporary role models to validate her ambition, Parnell looked to the past for inspiration—to English travel writer Isabella Bird, who also sought refuge and transformation in the Colorado Rockies, notably by climbing Longs Peak in 1873 with the notorious mountain man Rocky Mountain Jim. Reading Bird’s now-classic A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains emboldened Parnell to keep moving forward. She was not alone in her drive for independence.

Parnell’s memoir spans half a century. Her personal journey dramatizes evolving gender roles from the 1950s to the present. As a child, she witnessed the first ascent of the Diamond on Longs Peak, the “Holy Grail” of alpine climbing in the Rockies. In 2002, she saw firsthand the catastrophic Colorado wildfires of climate change, and five years later, she nearly lost her leg in a climbing accident.

In the tradition of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Tracy Ross’s The Source of All Things, Parnell’s mountaineering memoir shows us how, by pushing ourselves to the limits of our physical endurance and by confronting our deepest fears, we can become whole again.

About The Author
Jane Parnell is a freelance writer and independent scholar. She has taught journalism at Utah State University and writing at Colorado Mountain College, and her articles, editorials, and essays with the byline Jane Koerner have been published in High Country News, Mountain Gazette, and Outdoor Adventure.

Reviews & Praise
“In a sport where ‘conquering mountains’ and ‘bagging summits’ are part of the language used to describe the relationship between the self and the land, it is no surprise that women have had a hard time securing a foothold. Jane Parnell’s luminous and brave memoir describes her own struggle to reach those summits, while placing her experience within the larger context of the American West and gender. Off Trail is both an imaginative contribution to literature and, more important, a necessary one.”—Jennifer Sinor, author of Letters Like the Day: On Reading Georgia O’Keeffe and Ordinary Trauma: A Memoir

“A skillful weave of western history, high mountaineering, and the author's own harrowing personal tale, Off Trail is an intense read I won't soon forget.”—Ruth McLaughlin, author of Bound like Grass

Book Information
1 map
144 Pages
Paperback 978-0-8061-5900-3
Kindle 978-0-8061-6078-8
e-pub 978-0-8061-6079-5
Published January 2018
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