Thursday, September 13, 2012

Leading Out, edited by Rachel da Silva

Rachel da Silva pulls together an essay collection regarding women's climbing in Leading Out: Women Climbers Reaching for the Top. The book has an exciting variety of subjects, from climbing narratives, to women's climbing histories, to essays on the issues that most effect women climbers. There are few harrowing tales here, but rather grown-up reflections on the serious matter of climbing, from motivation and mortality to family and rope mates. Da Silva acknowledges the long history of women climbing and the near disappearance of women's climbing literature in the 1960s through the 1980s. The book, released in 1992, documents the struggle of women for equality on the mountain, and the beginning of some women to meet and exceed the climbs of men. Though it includes essays from several countries, the collection has a Pacific Northwest focus, with essays by the editor, Kathy Phibbs, Nancy Kerrebrock, Kristen Laine, and other well-known western climbers.

The book includes two Everest-related essays: the first an autobiography by Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest, and the other about an early cleanup expedition to the north side by Lorraine G. Bonney. Pal's essay is a much-needed supplement to Khullar's self-absorbed The Call of Everest, the expedition leader's narrative of her climb. Though he praises her often, Khullar has little to say about Pal until it is her turn to try for the summit, other than she was expected to do well and that she was relatively inexperienced. Pal discusses her rough upbringing in the central Himalayan lowlands and her singled-minded search for better, and adventurous life. She does exceedingly well in her climbing courses, trains hard, and performs quite well at the Everest selection climbs. She is one of six women on the expedition, and the third sent high for a summit attempt. She climbs direct from the South Col, even though her team has a summit camp set up on the Southeast Ridge, making the climb and return journey in very quick time. Lorraine Bonney describes the trashing of Everest by the "pigs" of its history and her team's effort to remove as much human and artificial waste as they can. She discusses the several methods used by teams to dispose of trash on site and their drawbacks, as well as the imperfect solution of her team's shipping the trash to a landfill in Shegar. The level of waste at the time of their cleanup is disturbing, and I'm grateful that hers and other cleanup expeditions have had a positive impact on the mountain. Also of Everest interest is Nancy Kerrebrock's discussing briefly in her essay the death of her brother, Chris, who was climbing on a remote part of Denali with Jim Wickwire as a shakedown for a later attempt on the Great Couloir on Everest.

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