Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mixed Emotions, by Greg Child

Delve deeper into the absurd world faced by climbers in Mixed Emotions: Mountaineering Writings of Greg Child. This, his second collection of essays, after Thin Air, showcases a larger variety of climbing objectives, from an epic ascent out of his teenage years, to a career's climbs on El Capitan, to the adventures surrounding his Himalayan climbs. Also, he profiles several famous climbers and meditates on death and near-death. His wit makes the book well worth reading, and I found that sections of it even appeal to my anonymous test subject (er...wife), who would rather read the phone book than a mountaineering narrative. Great comedy tells truth, and Child is expert at twisting an audience from absurdity to enlightenment, making profound statements that mix easily with laughter. His coming-of-age story, "Taking the Plunge," is perhaps the single greatest narrative of a climber's youth, with a literary form sure to please the academics, humor to appease the masses, and a great bit of heedless danger to draw in the armchair mountaineer.

I love this book (This is my third time reading it.), both because Child is a great climber and writer, and because he is a great climber and writer who climbs with and writes about a number of other great climbers. Doug Scott's personality and climbing style make more sense here than either Scott's own Himalayan Climber or any of the writings of Chris Bonington. Don Whillans' late climbs (Shivling, Broad Peak) and his legacy have a superb interpreter and witness in Child, more positive than Perrin's The Villain, and (wishful thinking here) perhaps more acute. Voytek Kurtyka gets some early recognition in the English-language media here, with a profile that rivals Bernadette McDonald's, in Freedom Climbers. Others, such as Rick Allen, Tom Whittaker (Higher Purpose), Steve Swenson, Pete Thexton, Michael Kennedy, and John Roskelley (Stories Off the Wall) manage to come off as great people in Child's writing, especially in trying moments.

Though this book predates Child's Everest climb (See his Postcards from the Ledge for that bit.), there's certainly some Everest material here. Both in Doug Scott's and Don Whillans' profiles, Child brings up their Southwest Face climbs. Roskelley's thwarted attempts on technical routes on Everest are provided as an explanation of his angst at so many climbing the standard routes during his and Child's attempt on Menlungtse. Several Everest climbs are brought up in "The Other Presence," which discusses unexplained companions high on mountains during trying circumstances, long before Maria Coffey ever got around to writing Explorers of the Infinite. Did I mention that this is a great book? Please read it. Please?

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