Friday, November 2, 2012

Voices from the Summit, edited by McDonald & Amatt

Bernadette McDonald and John Amatt pull together a collection of original essays from some of the greatest living climbers (as of 2000) in celebration of 25 years of the Banff Mountain Film Festival in Voices from the Summit: The World's Great Mountaineers on the Future of Climbing. The contributors (32 in all) have each participated in the Banff Mountain Film Festival, and range from Anderl Heckmair (who in 1938 climbed the North Face of the Eiger) to a teenage Leo Houlding, from world icons like Sir Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner to specialist masters, such as Will Gadd and Lynn Hill. Though Hillary and Messner get the freedom to write about climbing as a whole, the rest focus on a single aspect or specialization of climbing, such as Himalayan climbing, climbing ethics, rock climbing, exploration, or ice climbing. Additionally, there is an extensive history of the Banff Mountain Film Festival, including some bylines on famous participants and films. Though the essays are ostensibly billed as divinations of the future, many of the contributors seem to agree with Royal Robbins, when he paraphrases Shakespeare by writing, "I would rather talk about the past, for what's past is prologue." Some, such as Hillary and Wielicki, summarize their own careers, others (Diemberger, Bonington) relate a recent adventure related to their topic, but there are a few (Messner, Croft) who focus on the task at hand and write mostly about the future of climbing. Most of the writing is well-executed, entertaining, and thoughtful, however, even if the writers could be accused of wandering off topic. I was particularly impressed by Hornbein's essay on heroes (I had similar difficulties with the definition of the word "hero" in my review of Bonington and Salkeld's Heroic Climbs.), Royal Robbins' look at his role models, Fowler's defense of minimal equipment, and Heckmair's grumpy, but nostalgic essay on climbing in the Alps.

Everest is all over this book, especially as the 1996 debacle is fairly fresh in the memory of many of the writers and seems to be a grave testament to one possible future of climbing. Messner says that commercial climbing on Everest is not a problem, but calls it stupid and then complains about it for quite a while. Greg Child compares the popularity of Into Thin Air with the fascination of Formula One racing. Hillary is not a fan of how things are going on Everest. Junko Tabei bemoans the mountains of trash on the world's highest mountain. (She even calculates the amount of urine left on Everest each year!) Breashears drew inspiration from the image of Tenzing standing on the summit and frames his narrative around his IMAX experience. Audrey Salkeld writes about the troubles of being a researcher rather than a dreamer, showing the complexities of the possibilities of the Mallory & Irvine story, and the future of the history of Everest. Viesturs, Wielicki, and remind us of their climbs of Everest, and there are several short references in other works.

In case you're paying attention, the 37th annual Banff Mountain Film Festival (now the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival) is currently happening. Wish I was there!

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