Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blind Corners, by Geoff Tabin

Geoff Tabin tells about his life of adventure, from the invention of bungee jumping to scaling Everest, in his Blind Corners. His mountaineering takes him to all seven continents and to Everest three times, including both the 1981 and 1983 American Kangshung Face expeditions and his ascent via the South Col in 1988. He seeks to inspire his readers to follow their dreams, and shows how acting on both his aspirations and the opportunities he effected led to a life of adventure.

Tabin begins climbing in college and works his way quickly into a professional adventurer. While on a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford, he receives an Irvine Foundation grant for a trip to Mount Kenya, where he climbs several routes over the course of a week, including the first free ascent of a traditional aid route. After seeing a slide presentation by Peter Boardman about his trip to Carstenz Pyramid, Tabin makes the mountain's unclimbed South Face his next grand objective. Before he leaves, he joins friends at the Oxford Dangerous Sports Club for a televised bungee jump off the Royal Gorge Bridge, the highest bridge in the world. (The jumper in the center would come within 40 feet of the water.) To get to Carstenz, Tabin takes advantage of a pilot's willingness to make an illegal and frightening landing in Illaga for his team's trek among the Dani people to the mountain. They climb the mountain, and are arrested upon their return to civilization.

Everest is the focus of his adventure lifestyle next. He makes a late arrival to the 1981 climb as a replacement for a last-minute dropout from the team. Tabin is amazed by the stamina and drive of many of the climbers on the team, though the climbers don't get along well and several leave. He is especially impressed by Lou Reichardt and Dan Reid, who push themselves the hardest (both get chapters of biography at the end of this book as well). Given the snow conditions above the tall buttress they climb and the diminished team, Reichardt, the climbing leader, calls off the climb at 23,000 feet. Many of the climbers from the end of the 1981 expedition return in 1983 post-monsoon with some new faces for second try at their route. With improved logistics, technology (including a motorized winch), and teamwork, six climbers ultimately make it to the top. Tabin plays a strong supporting role on most of the climb, but his summit team, including Dave Cheesmond, is snowed off the mountain after the first two groups make it to the summit.

Tabin returns to Everest in 1988 post-monsoon, ascending the mountain and witnessing the highest circus on earth. In 1988, both China and Nepal opened Everest to multiple expeditions at the same time. His team, including Stacy Allison, the first American woman to climb Everest, gets several climbers to the top. Jean Marc Boivin climbs the mountain and flies off the top on a parapente, Mac Batard makes an ascent from Base Camp in under 24 hours, and another French team carries a camera with a satellite connection to the top to (unsuccessfully - camera broke) make the first live video broadcast from the summit. The American team pushes the lower route with a Korean team that climbs the South Pillar, and Tabin ropes up with Um Hong-Gil (who would go on the complete the 14 8000-meter peaks) for some of the Icefall work. Also on the Nepalese side of the mountain were a Czechoslovakian team that climbed the Southwest Face alpine-style and a New Zealand team led by Rob Hall that included Lydia Bradey, purportedly the first woman to climb Everest without supplemental oxygen (and illegally).

Tabin was the fourth person to climb the Carstenz Pyramid version of the Seven Summits, almost by accident. After Everest, he gives up his medical career to become a mountain guide and adventure travel planner, and through his career, he manages to climb Kilimanjaro, McKinley, Aconcagua, and Vinson. (On his Vinson climb, he guides Ken Kamler, author of Doctor on Everest, who would later be the emergency doctor during the 1996 Everest tragedy.) He plans a trip to Elbrus with friends to cap off the list, and during a long snow storm, he makes a last-ditch climb of the mountain in poor weather to bag the peak before they have to return home. At some point in his career, he also walks up Koskiuszko with a couple friends as a side trip to much more exciting adventures.

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