Thursday, March 22, 2012

Savage Summit, by Jennifer Jordan

Jennifer Jordan writes about Wanda Rutkiewicz, Lillian Barrard, Julie Tullis, Chantal Mauduit, and Alison Hargreaves in her Savage Summit: The True Stories of the First Five Women Who Climbed K2. Jordan points out that all of these women climbed in the shadows of their male counterparts, some fighting to make their own path, and some grateful for the company. She brings together a difficult collection, with little to tie them together besides the gender, their climbing, and K2. Rutkiewicz (see Reinisch's A Caravan of Dreams), a fighter in spirit, consistently pushes people away who come between her and her goals. Barrard is a shy woman who will follow her love, Maurice, anywhere, including to the top of K2. Tullis (see her autobiography, Between the Clouds) uses her trips with Kurt Diemberger as an escape from domestic life and becomes entranced by the "mountain of [her] destiny." Mauduit (see her autobiography, J'habite au Paradis) uses both tenacity and feminine wiles to get her way, including up some of the world's highest mountains. Hargreaves (see Rose and Douglas' Regions of the Heart) finds herself trying to live up to the standards of her husband's hard promotions of her skills, though she enjoys the climbing.

I appreciated Jordan's original journalism in this book. There is very little written about Lillian Barrard, and she generally only appears in books about the 1986 K2 tragedy. She seems more a person to me now, rather than an accomplice. Jordan chose to have Ewa Matuszewska's (a longtime friend of Rutkiewicz's) biography translated rather than rely on Reinisch's A Caravan of Dreams, who admittedly met Rutkiewicz late in her career. I didn't feel like Jordan's Rutkiewicz was too different than Reinisch's, but her thoroughness and effort impressed me. I thought it was great to read about Mauduit from a feminine perspective, because she gets a lot of flack in men's books. I hope Jordan is right that the person Mauduit projects is someone other than her true self! I felt that Jordan's analysis on Hargreaves was a helpful addition to Regions of the Heart, as I felt Rose and Douglas' work lacked a little heart. I don't think I should comment yet on Tullis, because I have not read her autobiography, though I plan to soon!

Though a book about K2, each of these women have Everest in their stories. Rutkiewicz was famously the first European woman to climb Everest, in 1978 as deputy climbing leader of Herrligkoffer's European expedition under Pierre Mazeaud (see Mazeaud's Everest '78 or Herrlikoffer's Mount Everest ohne Sauerstoff). Lillian Barrard and her husband Maurice planned to climb Everest's Kangshung Face (post-monsoon---yikes!) after their ascent of K2. Julie Tullis participated in 1985 attempt of the Northeast Ridge as Diemberger's sound engineer, as chronicled in Andrew Grieg's Kingdoms of Experience. Chantal Mauduit famously made seven attempts on Everest, making it as far as the South Summit, always without supplemental oxygen. Alison Hargreaves, of course, headed to K2 in 1995 two weeks after returning from climbing the North Col route of Everest without support or supplemental oxygen. I love the great contrasts between the climbing stories on the world's two highest peaks. In the later accounts, climbers seem to always focus on the dangers of K2 and their own internal demons, whereas Everest seems to evoke lofty ideals and a sense of striving. I wonder how much of this is seeded by earlier literature and how much is the nature of the mountains.

1 comment:

  1. Grant,
    Many thanks for your thorough and reasoned review. Best to you,
    Jennifer Jordan