Monday, April 30, 2012

Addicted to Danger, by Wickwire & Bullitt

Jim Wickwire and Dorothy Bullitt document Wickwire's life of high-altitude mountaineering in Addicted to Danger: A Memoir about Affirming Life in the Face of Death. He happened to participate in four of the five major expeditions of the Whittaker twins (1975 and 1978 to K2, 1982 and 1984 to Everest) and through his determined climbing played a major role in American Himalayan mountaineering. Wickwire seems to have a knack for being on tragic expeditions, and I think I would be a bit too superstitious to rope up with him. He sees Marty Hoey fall to her death, stands by helplessly as Chris Kerrebrock dies of exposure in a crevasse, and loses Dusan Jagersky and Al Givler on Peak 8440 while training for K2. I'm not sure this book is quite as life-affirming as the title suggests, but it is certainly exciting. I had hoped to read more about his first alpine ascent of McKinley, but it was relegated to a couple paragraphs at the end of a chapter. Overall, though, the book gives a measured telling of his climbing career. I appreciated his fair telling of the K2 controversy, since reading the Whittakers' versions, or Galen Rowell's / Rick Ridgeway's you get mostly one side of the climb.

On Everest, Wickwire relates his two attempts under Lou Whittaker to climb the Great Couloir on the North Face of the mountain, in 1982 direct and 1984 via the North Col. The book opens with Wickwire and Kerrebrock (who originally secured the permit) on a training climb to a remote side of Mount McKinley, in which Kerrebrock dies, and Wickwire survives an epic. He climbs in memory of Kerrebrock and becomes attached to Marty Hoey on another training climb to Aconcagua (with Bass and Wells, see their Seven Summits) and during the trip to the mountain. Hoey, unfortunately, didn't double-over her harness during their summit climb and dies in a very long fall down the couloir. The 1984 climb suffers a little more from politics, but at least Phil Ershler makes it to the top this time, with Wickwire and John Roskelley (see his Stories Off the Wall) turning back on the expedition's third summit attempt. You can read about both climbs also in Lou Whittaker's Memoirs of a Mountain Guide.

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