Sunday, January 20, 2013

Postcards from the Ledge, by Greg Child

Greg Child presents an anthology of his works in Postcards from the Ledge: Collected Mountaineering Writings of Greg Child. The articles and essays are from his work at Climbing and Outside, with several short entertaining works from his serial column, "Postcards from the Edge." The collection is a mix of essays about his own climbs as well as essays on other climbers (much like his Mixed Emotions), of an overall (good) quality rarely seen in mountaineering writing. The topics range from his struggles as a beginning climber ("The Invention of the Chin Hook") and the unbelievably dirty lives of climbers ("The Disgusting Mountains"), to his devotion to Trango Tower ("I Was a Trango Love Slave") and many of the climbing controversies of his time ("Burden of Proof," "Death and Faxes," etc.). His mix of wit and wisdom with some serious climbing know-how thrown in entertains while it instructs; I feel like you'd have to be pretty foolhardy to argue against this guy. When there's a side worth taking, such as in the Allison Hargreaves controversy, he picks up on the true enemy (slimy media), while showing empathy for the human tragedy; where details are a little more prickly, like the Tomo Cesen controversy, he presents the best facts he can find and keeps a journalistic distance. The narratives of his own climbs often serve as a platform for commentary on great personal qualities or climbing talents of his ropemates (It pays to climb with Greg Child.), as well as some humor related to his own efforts, such as in "Dawn to Dawn on Russian Tower with Lynn Hill" or "Mortals on Combatant." I love that he not only writes well and climbs well, but that he seems to love what he does and make the most of the company.

There is quite a bit about Everest and its climbers in this book, including a couple essays on his own ascent, via the North Ridge, pre-monsoon 1995. He's always been a bit jaded about Everest, including during and after his climb ("just because it's the biggest shitpile, doesn't mean it's the best shitpile"), but he agrees to accompany Tom Whittaker on his second attempt to be the first disabled person to climb Everest (see Whittaker's Higher Purpose). Along the way to the summit, he also manages to rescue Bob Hempstead (see Noland's Travels Along the Edge). He makes the most of an unsavory experience, as he helps rescue several ungrateful climbers, even helping a climber that he did not realize has stolen his ice ax. He writes a commentary about the 1996 Everest controversy, and rightly predicts that there will only be more climbers on Everest in the future. (As an observer, I find it quite astonishing how many later Everest writers were inspired to climb, rather than avoid, Everest after they read Krakauer's Into Thin Air.) He also interviews Lydia Bradey several years after her "illegal" climb, without supplementary oxygen, via the Southeast Ridge in 1988, documenting the controversy around her climb and stating that he has little doubt that she actually made the summit. He discusses Alison Hargreaves, mainly in the context of her K2 climb, but brings up her unsupported, non-supplemental-oxygen climb of Everest as well. Everest also makes cameos in "Masters of Understatement" and "Gunning for Second Best."

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