Climbing High

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Climbing High: A Woman’s Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy gives a woman’s view not only from the top of Everest but all along the way. While recounting common feelings and doubts, Lene Gammelgaard’s treatment is punctuated with peculiarly feminine issues: potential motherhood, attitudes of her fellow climbers, and what appears to be a gentle crush on a fellow climber. Interestingly, the author maintains that one must ultimately rely on oneself if one is to endure and conquer Everest. Yet the account portrays all the members of the expedition as very interdependent, as well as profoundly affected when some of their members do not return.

Some of the technical, psychological, and particularly the medical effects of high altitude climbing are well researched and reported. The book reveals the fragility of the human person against the relentless mountain. Light-hearted touches, such as an account of food preferences, the oddity of toilet facilities in a mountain camp, and the almost childlike competition with her peers add a fresh dimension to this well-told story. It is helpful to have read other accounts of the disaster, however, since Gammelgaard omits details that provide a context.

The overall effect of the work is that of a series of snapshots—word pictures from a journal. The “camera” focuses as often on the author’s visage as on that of the others, an affectation which readers will find either endearing or frankly annoying. Gammelgaard’s sum of the trip to the top ends with a quote from Scot Fisher, who died in the ascent: “Let’s make it happen and have fun.” The reader, however, is left with a feeling of emptiness rather than “fun.” Perhaps the price of fun in the coin of human life is too dear.