Tag: book review

Thank You Tomaz Humar

I’ve been reading this excellent book about a historic, tragic, and controversial modern climbing legend Tomaz Humar.

Last week I did a great toprope solo ice climb near home. The next day I fell down a flight of stairs in my own house, descending from my bedroom heading toward my training room. I was totally shocked and incapacitated laying in a huddle at the bottom of the stairs. I was dizzy for a day, and couldn’t bend or reach or pull anything. Even putting my socks on hurt.

I finally got in to see my doctor, who diagnosed at least one cracked rib in the rear, with some peripheral damage to my obliques and serratus, maybe some deep bruising in my intercostals. Could have been a lot worse I suppose. He did say that due my relative “youngness” compared to my age, and my excellent health, I had a great prognosis. But he did warn me about beginning training too soon, and recommended 4-6 weeks before returning to my current activity level.

This overlapped with my planned trip to Aconcagua, and after some heartfelt soul-searching, I cancelled Aconcagua 2012. I went into a little funk for a few days, and have started very slow treadmill walking and Ski Erg training just to flush blood and chemicals through my muscles and joints to aid in my recovery. But overall, yeah. Down.

I have spent some extra time reading my book, and got to the chapter about Tomaz’s 3 meter fall into the basement of the house he was building. I was struck by the relative similarity. An alpinist struck down in his own house in a simple easily avoided fall. Wow.

“When you are ill you have one problem. When you are healthy you have many problems” – Tomaz Humar

I read about the severe damage and the pain he endured for months, his struggle to recover and rehabilitate, to get back into the mountains, not knowing if it was all over and the wheelchair, his “red Ferrari”, would be his constant companion for life. He was mis-diagnosed by his local surgeons, then referred to a clinic in Germany, where he was operated on repeatedly, and given a painful and strict training and rehab program. Almost exactly two years after his accident he summited Shishipangma, an “easy” climb, to test himself, and while he would never fully “recover”, he was back in action.

My little cracked ribs seemed so small in comparison. So I won’t be doing Aconcagua this spring, I will have to cancel a few other events and things. Have to take a month off training. It won’t be the first time. It won’t be the last. Time to plan new goals, new summits, new objectives.

I can make it happen, and be patient.

Book Review: Die Trying

Die Trying: One Man’s Quest to Conquer the Seven Summits

By Bo Parfet with Richard Buskin

Bo Parfet “retired” as an investment banker at a pretty young age, and managing his savings carefully by taking shortcuts and going somewhat around the system, managed to complete the 7 summits (actually 8, hedging his bets on the Messner vs. Bass list) in a mere 4 years.

He began as an out-of-shape wanna-be mountaineer, and it’s fun to read about his growth as a human being, and the miserable failures he achieves along the way. His adventures are great reading, from his tryst with a Russian official to being smuggled into Carstenz past a blockade, one thing leads to another, and while at first I didn’t really like him, or his style, I eventually began rooting for him.

I highly recommend anyone interested in doing the 7 summits first read this, just to make sure. Especially if you’re doing the Messner list (includes Carstenz which until the recent activity near Elbrus was considered the least stable political environment for a 7 summit peak). The misadventures and mistakes alone are worth getting this book, if only to be sure that you don’t fall into the same traps.

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.