Friday, July 5, 2013

Beyond Risk, by Nicholas O'Connell

Nicholas O'Connell interviews seventeen famous climbers about their careers and motivations in Beyond Risk: Conversations with Climbers. His subjects, Walter Bonatti, Chris Bonington, Riccardo Cassin, Tomo Cesen, Peter Croft, Catherine Destivelle, Kurt Diemberger, Jean-Claude Droyer, Wolfgang Gullich, Warren Harding, Lynn Hill, Edmund Hillary, Voytek Kurtyka, Jeff Lowe, Reinhold Messner, Royal Robbins, and Doug Scott, come from a variety of Western countries and showcase a range of climbing styles. O'Connell does a good job of covering the history and styles of climbing, though I would have been fascinated to read an interview or two with Asian climbers to get a full range of cultural perspectives (Kohli, Ang Rita, Fuzhou, or similar), since much of the subject matter is similar. Regardless, O'Connell picks a great set of highly-motivated and dedicated individuals, with a range of personalities. They are ultimately more similar than I'm sure most of them would like to admit, in areas such as risk-assessment, creativity, vision, and the rewards of climbing. However, O'Connell also picks questions that show what makes each climber who they are (or perhaps who we expect them to be), such as asking Bonington about the organization of large groups, or Lowe about ice climbing and gear design. Since I was already familiar with the careers of these great climbers, I was personally drawn to the questions about the inner game of climbing and felt like I could have spent all day reading about what makes these people tick. Whereas personalities such as Messner and Bonatti are already pretty open in their writing, it was nice to get into the heads of some of the more reserved climbers such as (surprisingly) Chris Bonington or Jeff Lowe.

Everest makes a number of appearances in the book, especially in the interviews of Edmund Hillary, Reinhold Messner, and Chris Bonington. I found it interesting that though Diemberger had climbed it, Everest ultimately took backstage to his relationship with K2, the mountain of his destiny. There's not really any unique Everest stuff here, but O'Connell does cover some interesting interior motivation material in addition to the frequently asked questions for these climbers. Also of note is that Tomo Cesen is interviewed before the full fury of the Lhotse South Face controversy erupted, and he is relatively comfortable in relating his ascent.

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