In late 2006, accomplished American mountaineer (and owner of Seattle mountain guiding company Mountain Madness) Christine Boskoff went missing with her climbing partner in western China. (Her body was found in 2007 on the slopes of Genyen Peak in Sichuan province, China. The body of Charlie Fowler, her climbing partner, was found in late 2006.) Before her disappearance, Boskoff was one of the few women to summit six 8,000-meter peaks, including Mount Everest, Lhotse and Cho Oyu.
In “Edge of the Map: The Mountain Life of Christine Boskoff,” author Johanna Garton unfolds Boskoff’s life and accomplishments, illuminating the drive and humility that made her unique among mountaineers, and retraces the search efforts to bring her home. She recently caught up with The Seattle Times about the journey ahead of a virtual Town Hall conversation focusing on the book.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Seattle Times: When did you first learn about Christine Boskoff? And what made you want to write about her?
Johanna Garton: I was living in Denver and I received a call from my mom, who was in our hometown in Wisconsin, and she had read an article in the local newspaper about a woman named Christine Boskoff, an incredible mountaineer who had gone missing with her climbing partner Charlie Fowler. As I was talking to mom I said, “What’s so captivating about Christine Boskoff?” And she said: “You went to high school with her.”
My mom, who was a journalist, was so taken by Chris’ story that she decided to write a book on Chris. She worked on the book for about 10 years, getting to know lots of Chris’ family and friends who all were still living in our hometown. And during that time she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She realized she couldn’t continue and at that point she handed the project over to me.
ST: You weren’t able to speak with Christine or others in her life who feature heavily in the book. But you create really vivid scenes filled with thoughts and emotions. How did you gather the information necessary to do that?
JG: It was a process of talking to, probably by the time I finished the book, between 75 and 100 people who knew and loved Chris and Charlie and Keith [Boskoff, Christine’s first husband] and Scott Fischer [the original owner of Mountain Madness], all of whom were very anxious for this story to be told.
ST: It sounds like Boskoff’s journals were also a really big part of this. Can you talk about the process of going through the journals?
JG: Joyce [Feld, Christine Boskoff’s mother] and I became very good friends. During the time I was talking with her and researching and spending these hours with her, she offered me the journals. She just wanted me to have everything that I could to be able to capture the spirit of her daughter. So it was really powerful going through those journals and reading those deepest thoughts that [Chris] had.
I feel like it really added to the narrative because we hear Chris speaking in her own words in several different sections. And that really helps the reader become so connected to her and also relate to her as just a regular human with insecurities like the rest of us.
ST: What kind of decisions did you have to make about what felt appropriate for the book and whether there were secrets Christine had the right to keep?
JG: There were at least a half-dozen things that I came across in the course of my research, many that came directly out of those journals, that I felt were too personal. I was running it through my own lens as a mother and a woman and as someone who journals, thinking about myself and what I’d want my legacy to be. Because ultimately that’s what I was doing. I was carrying the mantle of creating this legacy for someone who has gone onto another world, which was, I found, quite a responsibility.
ST: Were there any parts of Christine’s story that you were surprised the journals didn’t cover?
JG: I would say there were one or two experiences in her life which were deeply tragic and she did not talk a lot about those in her journals. I wish she would have, because it would have helped me understand her more in those deepest darkest moments. That was a little bit of a surprise. But it also spoke to who she was and how private she was in the fact that even those deepest darkest moments she didn’t want to share, even in [a journal].
ST: One of the themes of the book is women being in traditionally male spaces and how the expectations are different for them, particularly around motherhood. How much of that came from your own experience and research versus the primary source materials you found for Christine?
JG: Chris did not have children, so she never had to make that choice. But for sure in my research, I came across lots of incidents and experiences that women who were mothers faced where they were pulled between those two universes and how they navigated [that]. That was something I wanted to integrate into the story.
I did read one interview in which she was asked about that and she said, straight up, “I can’t even take even care of a plant at this point in my life, so I can’t imagine being a mother.” So she was very conscious of not being in a place where she’d be able to take that on.
ST: In the author’s note at the end of the book, you talk about traveling to visit one of the mountains Christine had gone to climb. What was that trip like and why did it feel necessary to you?
JG: It was in western Sichuan province. I was able to travel to the mountain where Chris and Charlie died. I was able to retrace those steps that they took. It was transformative. I feel like it helped me understand that world, and why she sought this life off the grid and to go to these really unexplored places, which are so far away and can be quite dangerous. It was just a place of beauty, that mountain valley where they perished. That really helped me understand as a human what it was that she was seeking.