Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow

A few days ago I finally finished reading one of my summer books, “Where the mountain casts its shadow” by Maria Coffey.  On a side note, I’ve noticed I have a habit of taking winter themed books with me to sunny locations.  The aforementioned book came on a climbing trip out west to Skaha in summer.  Earlier this year I took a book on avalanches (“Snowstruck: In the grip of avalanches” by Jill Fredston) with me to Florida.

When I was browsing through the library what caught my eye as I read the summary was that it delved into what is rarely mentioned in other climbing books: how death in the mountains affects those left behind.  I’ve read Ed Viesturs’ books and a few others and often wondered how the wives cope with having partners who take off for months at a time for high-altitude mountaineering.  The book is essentially a long interview with the wives/parents/friends/children/significant others of climbers who have died in the mountains.

Although I finished the book a few days ago, I’d been holding off writing about it because I felt hesitant to commit to words my opinion.   Reading the intimate details of the relationships between the climber, families and their climbing community really made me feel uncomfortable about passing judgement.  Obviously I have my own personal opinion about how I would feel if my husband decided to “up and have it” in the Himalayas, but to each his own right?  Who am I to judge the climbers who go out and explore new frontiers or the family members who stick by them?

I find it interesting the double standard that exists within society in regards to high altitude mountaineering.  We praise the very risky activities that can cause death.  Except that when someone dies, it will be said that they risked too much especially if they left behind a family.  I suppose some people would say that there is no point in putting up new routes on mountains or pushing physical boundaries.  We could sanitize climbing and turn it into a relatively risk-free past time.  No one dies, everyone is happy right?  Unfortunately I think that this world would be a sad place without those people who willingly venture off to explore.  A quote I heard somewhere comes to mind, “without the darkness there can be no light, without sadness there can be no joy”.

If anyone has read any of the more popular mountaineering books out there, I’d suggest this one as it presents an interesting perspective some of their stories (one of the women interviewed was the girlfriend of Anatoli Boukreev who was involved in the 1996 Everest disaster).   Maybe save it for after you’ve gone on any climbing trips though :)