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END OF THE ROPE by Jan Redford


Mountains, Marriage, and Motherhood

by Jan Redford

Pub Date: May 8th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-64009-030-9
Publisher: Counterpoint

A memoir of mountaineering and life by a Canadian alpinist.

In 1972, 14-year-old Redford moved from the Yukon to Ontario with her family. It wasn’t a happy time, she writes, with an overworked mother and a father who retreated into a bottle; she sublimated by climbing such heights as she could find to “blow off some of this fuck you! anger.” The confused teenager morphed into an adult with a yen for fellow climbing fools who live dangerously and sometimes pay the price. A tragedy, major or minor, comes along every couple of dozen pages, peppered with plenty of near misses (“I’d chopped my rope and I’d almost killed my friend”) that, in the way of mountaineers, get shrugged off (“I’m still here, aren’t I?”). The author’s firsthand look into the mores of the climbing tribe is occasionally overheated but seldom digs deep; it’s a matter of cold beers, righteous peaks, and free-wheeling clichés (“I’d never get sucked into a middle-class existence again…it was a thinly disguised form of enslavement”). Her reckoning with the conflicting demands of marriage and motherhood is often superficial: “If the boys came back with the second ascent of the Rupal Face and, on top of that, Everest, they’d be heroes. I’d be just another woman who’d popped out a baby.” However, Redford hits true-sounding notes when she contemplates how mountaineering women who had scaled Everest and other big peaks and then had children and retired from the sport were at least alive to tell the tale. Better, and worth the price of admission, are Redford’s up-close encounters with the rock itself: “Ropey tendons popped up on the backs of my hands, white with chalk as I clamped down on each hold like a vise. There was no noise in my head, no voices telling me what I could or could not do.”

Fails to scale the literary heights of Arlene Blum’s Annapurna: A Woman’s Place (1982) in the canon of women’s mountaineering books but still worthy for aspiring climbers