Able exploration of mountaineering’s personal costs, placed in context among the pleasures of climbing high and hard.
Why do people climb? asks Coffey. And why would anyone love someone who repeatedly risks his or her life in the mountains? For the climbers, some suggest that their thirst for the mountains is an addiction; others, like Reinhold Messner, believe that “endurance, fear, suffering cold, and the state between survival and death are such strong experiences that we want them again and again.” For those who experience the loss of a loved one while climbing—like Coffey, who wrote about her partner Joe Tasker’s death on Everest in Fragile Edge (not reviewed)—it is vital to understand what drives the climber: engagement in the throes of an exciting experience, being in the presence of the divine, the fire of ambition, the chemistry of adrenaline and endorphins. Most climbers are willing to admit the pure selfishness of their enterprise; “no one was putting a gun to our heads and forcing us to do it. And we weren't doing it for the good of anyone else,” says American alpinist Mark Twight. Being attracted to such an individual isn’t insane, writes Coffey. They often possess an energy that is deeply engaging, but when love sinks in its hooks, the consequences can be hard. Coffey’s friend told her that climbers “pursued a passion above their responsibility for and love for their family and that took precedence.” It is worse still for those who had no choice, the children and parents of those who died or were gravely injured. The costs for them include a sense of abandonment for the child and “the lingering shadow grief” when the natural order of life is violated for the parent. Even so, Coffey notes of her own case, death jolts some to life.
A fair summation of what impels a climber and an equally fair summation of the potentially brutal consequences.