Friday, May 6, 2011

Mountaineering Women, edited by David Mazel

David Mazel uses the writings of women mountaineers to illustrate 100 years of the history and development of the cordee feminine from 1850 to 1950 in his Mountaineering Women. Mazel pulls together a variety of writings from the most influential female climbers, including Freshfield, Mummery, Bell, Workman, Peck, Moffat, and others. He chooses works and excerpts that best illustrate what it is to be a woman climber, rather than focusing on summits. Also, Mazel writes a lengthy introduction that presents a short but analytical history of women's climbing from the first woman to climb Mont Blanc to the modern climbs of Lynn Hill.

In the introduction, Mazel brings up the Everest ascents of Junko Tabei and Wanda Rutkiewicz, as well as Everest climber Arlene Blum. Though Blum had trouble being taken seriously during her participation in the 1976 American Bicentennial Expedition (see Ridgeway's The Boldest Dream), she led her own all-women expedition to Annapurna to show the boys how its done. Mazel uses her Annapurna expedition of an example of how successful women often climb differently than successful men, citing the democratic and empathetic style of leadership that worked so well for her on this expedition that would usually cause a men's expedition to fall apart (think 1971 Everest International or Doug Scott's Shishipangma expedition). Mazel claims Tabei's women's expedition to Everest as the natural progression of the early women's expeditions to shorter Himalayan peaks. I think he oversimplifies here a bit, for I imagine that Japanese women's mountaineering had its own influences in addition to what was happening in the west. He mentions Rutkiewicz's 1978 ascent of Everest and subsequent ascents of other 8000-meter peaks as evidence that women can perform at the same standard as men on the big peaks. I'd like to add that, based on Kukuczka's My Vertical World, Rutkiewicz went through potentially greater hardship at home overcoming gender discrimination in her efforts to get to the Himalaya than she did on her difficult climbs.

I was somewhat sad that he ended his anthology just as women's mountaineering was getting interesting. I imagine it had more to do with publication costs than lack of interest, since it generally takes the sway of a major publisher to get the printing rights to a variety of modern books. Of some Everest interest, Mazel does include an article on the ascent of the Bietschhorn in 1871 by Meta Brevoort, the first woman (or person?) known to have given climbing Everest some serious thought. She is accompanied by her nephew, two guides, a couple porters, and of course her dog, Tschingel to the foot of the mountain. With a smaller party, she ascends the north ridge and traverses the mountain to descend the west ridge, making it back to their camp just as night falls.

1 comment:

  1. For the researcher, Mazel includes an extensive bibliography in this book.