Fri 18 Jan 2008
I feel about extreme mountain climbing the way I feel about the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. It’s fascinating as a spectator, but there’s no way I’m climbing into that steel cage with a bucket of chum.
One of my favorite books is Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air,” an account of a disastrous 1996 Everest expedition. When I was browsing through an airport bookstore and saw that Ed Viesturs had been on Everest at the same time, I bought this to hear a different side of the story.
“No Shortcuts to the Top” is Viesturs’ memoir about climbing all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks. It’s an incredible (and incredibly dangerous) feat which has been equaled by fewer than 20 other people.
I haven’t read a lot of memoirs, so maybe this is standard fare. But he came across as kind of a jerk in some places, like when he dishes about a booty call with a French climber. Dude, don’t kiss and tell, particularly when the woman was killed while climbing and can’t contradict you.
There was also a passive-aggressive section about calling his wife on a satellite phone while in the Himalayas. She was six months pregnant with their second child, and he didn’t call her for four days while on Annapurna, the deadliest mountain on earth.
A sat phone can be a blessing, but it’s also a pain. Paula and I never had an explicit agreement about how often I should call. But sometimes she expected that I would call more often than I did. When I’m on a mountain, I need to be focused, in the moment. There are times when the last thing I want to think is, Oh, I’ve got to make a call back to the States. Yet once you have a family and kids, the importance of staying connected increases.
Some people might have thought Paula was being unreasonable, but I took full blame for not calling. It’s just my nature. When other people get upset, I feel as if it’s my fault.
Jerk. “Some people might have though Paula was being unreasonable…” I hope she writes her own book someday.
But aside from those moments of douchery, it was an informative and interesting book. I still prefer “Into Thin Air” because of Krakauer’s journalistic style of writing. I don’t think that memoirs are my thing.
The lasting impression I’ll take away from this book is the same one I take away from Shark Week: Those guys are crazy. In the acknowledgments, Viesturs names nine friends who have died while climbing. Nine. I’m staying at sea level, thank you very much.
Verdict: 6.5 out of 10. It gets an extra half point because it has a very thorough index, which I think is an absolute must for non-fiction books.