Review: Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow : The Dark Side of Extreme Adventure

Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow : The Dark Side of Extreme Adventure

by Maria Coffey

As you get deeper and deeper into the Seven Summits Quest, eventually it will hit you. People die doing this. People with spouses, children, parents, siblings. They leave behind families and friends, some of whom never ever recover from the loss. Death in the mountains just is.

And we know it. In the group adventures I’ve been on so far it’s typical for us to sit around the first dinner on the mountain, eating by headlamp, when the discussion turns to “if I die out here, just push me into a crevasse and kick my stuff in after me.” Really. Quite common.

Practically though, it would cost a huge fortune to haul a body and gear out of any of these remote corners of the world, and speaking as a mountaineer who’s been there, I know I’d much rather have any insurance money spent on helping my family get set up in a new life, not on hauling a corpse back – even if it does equal closure for the left-behind.

And I do speak from experience, having nearly died in a storm on Rainier. All but one of my team were pinned down by the wind, unable to move. As I laid there in the hollow the wind carved out around my supine body, my eventual coffin, staring into the white abyss, the thought flickered through my mind “this is it then”.

This book is a series of stories glued loosely together based on the author’s long association with the mountaineering world (she was the girlfriend of Joe Tasker, who died on Everest, and for whom her torch obviously flickers however strongly throughout the book). She has stories of death and disaster, and the permanent scars on the climbers and their loved ones.

It’s painful to read at times, and if there isn’t a single second in which you question your own desire to climb, your own motivation, your own goals, you’re in total denial. She does explore a few stories as examples of that too 😉

Her own obviously unresolved issues with all climbing in general litter nearly every page, so I’m not sure if I recommend this book to the spouses of climbers – I’d hate to be responsible for any possible marital discord.

Because of my experience, I read this book with a special, perhaps warped insight. I do highly recommend it for anyone who embarks on this quest. Please, read this, ponder, and decide for yourself, before you get so far into it that it’s impossible to back out. “This is my final summit” are literally famous last words.

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