Charles Martin

The Mountain Between Us

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The Mountain Between Us Summary

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The Mountain Between Us (2011), a survival novel by American author Charles Martin, concerns the event and aftermath of a plane crash which strands Ben Payne and Ashley Knox in the mountainous wilderness of the southwest United States. Wounded during the crash, they battle for survival under harsh conditions along with a dog that escaped from the rubble. The novel became widely popular for its focus on problems of connection in the modern world, and the relationship of humans to the wilderness. In 2017, the plot was loosely adapted to a film of the same name.

The novel begins in winter, as Ben waits for his flight home in an airport terminal. Near his gate, he runs into Ashley, who is waiting to fly home on the same flight. Ashley tells him that she is flying home to get married to her fiancé. Their flight is suddenly canceled, and Ashley worries about how it will affect her wedding itinerary. Ben is tired of being abroad and wants to get home as quickly as possible. Since he is wealthy, he decides to hire a private charter plane and a pilot to fly him and Ashley to their homes. Thinking it will be an interesting diversion from her anxiety about the wedding, she agrees.

They board the plane and begin their trip over the mountains towards home. Ashley and Ben learn a little about each other’s lives, but their trip is cut short when the pilot clutches his chest. He suffers a heart attack, leaving them to fend for themselves. Neither Ben nor Ashley knows how to pilot a plane; nevertheless, they attempt to reduce its diving speed, crashing it on a mountaintop in the middle of the wild. In the impact, the pilot dies, but Ashley, Ben, and the pilot’s dog survive. Ben awakes first, in an insulating cave of snow made by the force of the crash. Though mainly unscathed, Ashley suffers a broken leg and Ben several broken ribs. Ben rushes to set Ashley’s leg in a makeshift cast before she wakes up and is unable to tolerate the intense pain.

Ashley soon wakes, and, though coherent, is unable to move on her own. Ben quickly realizes that since their flight was unregistered, no one knows that they were passengers in the plane, and therefore, no one will come looking for them. As grave as their situation is, the two stranded passengers resist despair, quickly taking stock of their surroundings and tools. Deconstructing the plane as much as possible, Ben builds a pair of snowshoes and a sled to aid in escaping the mountain. He puts the injured Ashley on the sled, and they begin a grueling trek through the wild, hoping to eventually find civilization or even a road from which to signal for help. He also finds a recording device, and uses it to record messages for his wife, Rachel, should he die and his body is discovered.

Haggard and near death, they eventually find the cabin of a wilderness scout. Seeing that it has long been abandoned, they rest there as long as possible, but make the difficult choice to continue, since it is even more unlikely they will be saved if they stay. The sign they are waiting for finally comes to them in the form of a distant light with a trail of smoke above it, suggesting a man-made fire. They rush toward it, but accidentally start an avalanche of snow after trying to slide down a steep drop off. Ashley breaks her leg even worse than before and urges Ben to move on. Remorseful, he rushes off toward the fire, knowing that Ashley will not survive for long in the cold. He finds a camp, and the people there use their equipment to search for Ashley. They rescue her and take both to a hospital.

At the novel’s end, Ben reveals that, though he anticipated celebrating his fifteenth anniversary, and recorded numerous messages for his wife while in the wild, she has been dead for several years. His recordings were made out of a spiritual urge to create a bridge between life and death. Intensely bonded by their near-death experience, Ben and Ashley realize it is possible to overcome its trauma and decide to stay together. The Mountain Between Us is thus as much of a wilderness survival story as it is a validation of the deep human bonds that emerge out of our universal suffering.