Banner In The Sky Summary

James Ramsey Ullman

Banner In The Sky

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Banner In The Sky Summary

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Banner in the Sky is a novel by American author and mountaineer James Ramsey Ullman. Based on the true story of the ascent of the Matterhorn, it centers around Rudi Matt, a sixteen-year-old boy who desperately wants to climb the Citadel, the mountain that claimed his father’s life fifteen years earlier. His father’s story is well known in the village, and his mother and uncle want him to stay far away from the mountain. However, when Rudy saves the life of a famous climber, he gains an ally in his quest to become a great climber. He begins a quest to conquer both the mountain and his own inner demons. Exploring themes of courage, man versus nature, and the complex legacy of one’s family, Banner in the Sky was popular both in the United States and abroad, winning the 1955 Newbery Honor award and was adapted by Walt Disney Pictures as the movie Third Man on the Mountain. That movie became the basis for the wildly popular Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction in Disneyland.

As Banner in the Sky begins, Rudi Matt works in the local hotel kitchen, but frequently sneaks out to climb the base of the Citadel, a dangerous mountain that looms over his village. His father died on that mountain fifteen years earlier. Although Rudi’s mother gets angry when her son goes near the mountain, Rudi has a passion for climbing. As he approaches the base camp by the Citadel, mostly unused since his father’s death, he hears a voice coming from the glacier. Trapped in a fissure is a man lying on a ledge. Although the man asks Rudi to go for help, Rudi knows it would take too long and the man would freeze to death. Instead, Rudi makes a rope out of his clothes and pulls the man out himself. The man, who introduces himself as Captain Winter, is shocked that a sixteen-year-old boy managed to rescue him. Winter is a world-famous climber and has heard the story of Josef Matt, the man who died on the Citadel. As they hike back towards the village of Kurtal, Rudi asks Winter not to tell his mother about his rescue, since he wasn’t supposed to be on the mountain at all. However, at the hotel, Rudi is caught in his lie, and his mother and Uncle Franz are furious. Winter steps in and tells them that Rudi saved his life. Winter convinces Franz to let Rudi accompany him on a smaller, safer climb called the Wunderhorn. He buys an excited Rudi new equipment for the climb, as well.

Winter, Rudi, and Franz climb to base camp, and Rudi is excited for his first real climb. Winter reveals the true purpose of their climb – to get a better view of the upper slopes of the Citadel from the Wunderhorn. They discuss the climb, and Rudi is desperate to impress Winter. He tries to find a faster way down and walks across a narrow rock path, which collapses. He is stranded and has to be rescued by Winter and a furious Franz. Humiliated, he’s sure he’ll never be allowed to climb again. At work, Rudi’s boss Teo tries to lift the boy’s spirits. Teo walks with a limp due to injuries suffered on the same climb that killed Rudi’s father, but he still can train Rudi in secret. He shows Rudi how to be a proper mountaineer and guide, and they climb a small mountain on their day off. As Teo is slow and needs some assistance, Rudi learns patience and how to support another climber. Meanwhile, Winter tries to enlist Franz as a guide for a climb of the Citadel, but Franz refuses. Winter travels to Broli and hires the arrogant Emil Saxo as his guide. Rudi, seeing that the cabin on the slopes is occupied, climbs to join them and tells Winter he has Franz’s permission to join them. He joins the group, and they climb until they’re caught in an avalanche. Rudi and Saxo dig themselves out. They find Winter trapped with a bloodied head, but otherwise unharmed. They dig him out.

Franz hears about the climb and realizes Rudi is missing. He gathers a group of guides, including Teo, and they head for the cabin. Winter, Saxo, and Rudi reach the cabin, and Rudi heads back to Kurtal for supplies. But on his way, he decides to climb for the Fortress, instead. He finds a hidden route to the left and makes his way to the top, but it’s getting late and he’s caught in a storm before he can make his way down. He finds shelter in a small cave and soon realizes that it’s the same cave his father died in. He has a panic attack, but calms himself and begins to climb down at dawn. At the cabin, there’s a confrontation between Winter and Saxo and the Kurtal guides. Winter thinks they took Rudi, and tells Franz he sent the boy to town. This is when Rudi walks in, and tells them he climbed above the Fortress. He details his climb, and the men start to argue over who conquered the mountain. Winter convinces Saxo and Franz to work together, and Teo argues that Rudi deserves to climb the Citadel. Winter, Saxo, Franz, and Rudi will begin the full climb.

As they make their way up the base of the mountain, Rudi is asked to lead the group past the Fortress. Even the skeptical Franz is proud. They switch up leadership as they make their way into unfamiliar territory, and all the men have their chance to shine as they encounter difficult and perilous stretches. They pitch tents for the night, and in the morning, encounter a challenging obstacle called the Needle. The older men become exhausted, with Winter collapsing, and Rudi finds a small cave to crawl through. They rest there for the night, as Winter is too weak to continue. However, in the morning, Rudi discovers that Saxo has left without them, scheming to be the first to conquer the mountain. Rudi follows him, catching up with him on a narrow ledge. Saxo becomes violent, pushing Rudi to protect his claim to the summit. However, Saxo loses his balance and falls, hurting his arm. Rudi rescues Saxo and takes him back to camp, giving up his hope of reaching the summit. Winter and Franz follow them to the summit and see Rudi’s pack along the way. They fear for him, but press on. They reach the summit and climb down, meeting Rudi and Saxo back at their last camp. When they return home, Rudi learns that Captain Winter placed Josef’s shirt on the peak as a banner. Winter tells the town that Rudi climbed the summit with them, and everyone, even Rudi’s mother, celebrates his accomplishment.

James Ramsey Ullman was an American writer and mountaineer. Although he was not a high-end climber, he wrote many books about the field and was celebrated as part of that circle. His most notable works include Banner in the Sky and The White Tower, both of which were adapted into major motion pictures. He worked with the first Everest climber Tenzing Norgay on his autobiography and joined the American Mount Everest Expedition in 1963 as an official historian, writing a book about the experience.