AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Lost in the Valley of Death: A Story of Obsession and Danger in the Himalayas by Harley Rustad


Publication Date: January 11, 2022
Format: Audio
Genre:  True Crime, Adventurer
Narrators: Harley Rustad

Publisher: Harper Audio 
10 hours 41 min
Buy: Kindle | Audio


For centuries, India has enthralled westerners looking for an exotic getaway, a brief immersion in yoga and meditation, or in rare cases, a true pilgrimage to find spiritual revelation. Justin Alexander Shetler, an inveterate traveler trained in wilderness survival, was one such seeker.

In his early thirties Justin Alexander Shetler, quit his job at a tech startup and set out on a global journey: across the United States by motorcycle, then down to South America, and on to the Philippines, Thailand, and Nepal, in search of authentic experiences and meaningful encounters, while also documenting his travels on Instagram. His enigmatic character and magnetic personality gained him a devoted following who lived vicariously through his adventures. But the ever restless explorer was driven to pursue ever greater challenges, and greater risks, in what had become a personal quest—his own hero’s journey.

In 2016, he made his way to the Parvati Valley, a remote and rugged corner of the Indian Himalayas steeped in mystical tradition yet shrouded in darkness and danger. There, he spent weeks studying under the guidance of a sadhu, an Indian holy man, living and meditating in a cave. At the end of August, accompanied by the sadhu, he set off on a “spiritual journey” to a holy lake—a journey from which he would never return.

Lost in the Valley of Death is about one man’s search to find himself, in a country where for many westerners the path to spiritual enlightenment can prove fraught, even treacherous. But it is also a story about all of us and the ways, sometimes extreme, we seek fulfillment in life.


For everyone who loved Krakauer's book Into the Wild this is another book about a man with wanderlust. Justin Shetler lived an incredible life before he went missing but I'm not sure he really appreciated it since he was continually searching for something else.  He found himself the frontman for a popular band, leading a tech start up and traveling the world exploring different cultures and countries with the locals instead of as a tourist. Every time his life seemed to be going well he would ditch it for a nomadic lifestyle. Hitting the road with only a backpack. And even this life worked for him! Justin became one of Instagram's first social media influencers as his account became more and more popular. But which was the real Justin? The one portrayed in the photos of the compassionate, adventurer or the lost soul constantly seeking the next challenge, the next adventure and the next risky exploration? I'm not sure even he knew. Several of his friends even commented that they weren't sure if he really could figure out which was the persona he showed the world and which was the one experiencing all these amazing sights and teachings. 

He always seemed to have an adventurous streak but after a horrible car accident I think something changed in him. He went from mostly happy to someone who couldn't find something he lost. I'm not sure he ever found it and so far he remains among the many who have disappeared along the Parvati trail - maybe one day we will have some answers like we finally did with McCandless, or maybe we will never know. 

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