Monday, October 3, 2011

The Summit, by Eric Alexander

If you want to get away with some adventure reading while gaining some brownie points with God, try Eric Alexander's The Summit. Alexander is the first (that I know of) author to climb Mount Everest and write about it from a religious Christian perspective (unlike Roger Hart, who bumped his head while ascending the North Col and invented his own religion in The Phaselock Code). The author climbed along with Erik Weihenmayer (author of Touching the Top of the World), Brad & Sherman Bull, Charlie Mace, and many others under the sponsorship of the National Federation for the Blind via the South Col in the pre-monsoon season of 2001. Throughout the book, he writes about his faith and how climbing and his journey relates to his beliefs, and he structures the chapters to loosely focus on specific concepts important to both Christianity and climbing. His team gets a lot of flack for blind climber Erik Weihenmayer's presence on the mountain, but Alexander shows that team work and attitude are far more important for success than one climber's seeing where the next foot placement lies.

For me, the book came off as a bit of an uncomfortable mix. It was hard for me to read a quote of Bible scripture on one page that admonished the taking of revenge, and then on another to read about his leading Wiehenmayer into a pile of yak poo in retaliation for a snide comment. I appreciated his honesty in storytelling, but I found his laughing about little things like this difficult to get over, considering his pedagogic focus. (I will admit that I am the sort of person who is often bothered more by a several smaller things than one bigger problem.) I believe the sincerity of his faith, and I think he makes a strong argument for risk-taking such as mountaineering while a Christian. I respect his self-imposed distance from the local rituals, but I find it sad that he seemed threatened or uncomfortable around them. I'm not sure if I like this book or not, but I think it would be a great read for a select audience. I'd recommend reading a couple pages before bringing it home.

PS - Alexander's claim of his team's record of heaviest movie equipment on the summit is unsubstantiated. David Breashears (or should I say two Sherpa) actually carried his significantly heavier IMAX camera and tripod to the summit in 1996 for 90 seconds of panoramic footage (see High Exposure).

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