Without risk, say mountaineers, there would be none of the self-knowledge that comes from pushing life to its extremes. For them, perhaps, it is worth the cost. But when tragedy strikes, what happens to the people left behind? Why would anyone choose to invest in a future with a high-altitude risk-taker? What is life like in the shadow of the mountain? Such questions have long been taboo in the world of mountaineering. Now, the spouses, parents and children of internationally renowned climbers finally break their silence, speaking out about the dark side of adventure.
Maria Coffey confronted one of the harshest realities of mountaineering when her partner Joe Tasker disappeared on the Northeast Ridge of Everest in 1982. In Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow, Coffey offers an intimate portrait of adventure and the conflicting beauty, passion, and devastation of this alluring obsession. Through interviews with the world's top climbers, or their widows and families-Jim Wickwire, Conrad Anker, Lynn Hill, Joe Simpson, Chris Bonington, Ed Viesturs, Anatoli Boukreev, Alex Lowe, and many others-she explores what compels men and women to give their lives to the high mountains. She asks why, despite the countless tragedies, the world continues to laud their exploits. With an insider's understanding, Coffey reveals the consequences of loving people who pursue such risk-the exhilarating highs and inevitable lows, the stress of long separations, the constant threat of bereavement, and the lives shattered in the wake of climbing accidents.
Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow is a powerful, affecting and important book that exposes the far reaching personal costs of extreme adventure.
Coffey, whose previous book, Fragile Edge, detailed the death of the man she loved on Mt. Everest, here examines the psychological and emotional side of extreme adventurers and that of their family members. For these profiles, Coffey draws on her own experience as well as that of other climbers and their spouses. A common theme emerges, of the powerful appeal of the next challenge, even when climbers have suffered severe injuries and are leaving spouses and young children at home. Although Coffey doesn't offer conclusive reasons as to why partners tolerate such behavior, she deftly examines the unique bond between an explorer and his or her family. She recounts the surprise of a climber who learns the author has married a non-climber: "I laughed at his presumption that I'd seek out another mountaineer, yet I understood the reasoning behind it. The mountaineering tribe is a comforting place for the partner of a climber. Its protective circle shuts out the questioning eyes of the outside world. There's no need to explain why someone would chose, again and again, to put himself in danger it is understood, accepted as normal, seen as admirable." Climbers repeatedly put themselves at risk, says Coffey, and return to climb after suffering serious injuries, even amputations. According to Coffey, competition among climbers (and a sense of self-definition through climbing) is simply an essential part of their lives. Coffey's interviews brim with rugged honesty, and some of the accident details are gruesome and potentially disturbing, yet her book's combination of memoir and psychological overview is unique. should make this popular among the mountaineering crowd.