Tommy Caldwell, Beth Rodden, Jason Smith and John Dickey, four of America's best young rock climbers-the oldest of them only 25- were asleep in their portaledges before dawn on August 12, 2000, high on the Yellow Wall in the Pamir-Alai mountain range of Kyrgyzstan. Awoken by gunfire at daybreak, they were kidnapped by fanatical militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which operates out of secret bases in Tajikistan and Afghanistan and is linked to Al Qaeda.
The kidnappers, themselves barely out of their teens, intended to use their hostages as human shields and for ransom money as they moved across Kyrgyzstan. They hid the climbers by day and marched them by night through freezing, treacherous mountain terrain, with little food, no clean water, and the constant threat of execution. The four climbers would see a fellow hostage, a Kyrgz-soldier, executed before their eyes. And in a remarkable life-and-death crucible over six terrifying days, they would be forced to choose between saving their own lives and committing murder themselves.