Thursday, December 16, 2010

Regions of the Heart, by Rose & Douglas

David Rose and Ed Douglas write a biography of Alison Hargreaves, the first British woman to climb Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen, in their Regions of the Heart. Their account, largely based on her daily diaries, tells of her passion for climbing, her rocky relationship with Jim Ballard, and her many climbs, including her ascent of Everest and her disappearance on K2.

Rose and Douglas tell us that Hargreaves was a high-performing rock climber who only too late got the recognition she deserved for her talent and drive. They paint a complex picture of her motivations, contrasting her desire for independence with her dependence on her husband and how this balancing act allowed her the freedom to climb but also hindered her climbing career. It seems as if her entire personal and professional life was a harder climb for her than any rock face the world over!

After a bust in the rock climbing media for six difficult Alpine classic routes she climbs solo at breakneck speed, Hargreaves turns to the Himalayas to get some attention with her power and stamina. She vies to be the first British woman to ascend Everest, but is trumped by Rebecca Stephens. (You can read about Stephens ascent in her On Top of the World.) Hargreaves heads to Everest anyway in 1994 to climb the Southeast Ridge without supplemental oxygen, but comes up shy. In 1995, she ups the ante, and climbs to the top, both without bottled oxygen and unsupported, via the North Col. She comes home to a three-week media circus before heading out to K2. She climbs to the top, and never returns.

After reading this book, I'm still not sure what to think of Alison Hargreaves. She's a controversial figure in the climbing community, and I've only read a single perspective on her so far. There are a couple other books about her, including James Ballard's One and Two Halves to K2, and Jennifer Jordan's Savage Summit, and I know she'll make some cameos in the 1994 and 1995 Everest season books, such as Tom Whittaker's Higher Purpose and Greg Child's Postcards from the Ledge. Her Everest climb is a phenomenal achievement, and according to this book, she did it in style. Currently, I'm going to remember her for that!

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