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Alan RyanTwenty years ago, it was big news. A team of 13 American women had successfully climbed Annapurna I in Nepal, reaching the peak (at 26,504 feet above sea level) on October 15, 1978. They were the first women ever to do such a thing.
Today, when women are climbing heavenward everywhere, acquiring Olympic medals like they were costume jewelry, and routinely winning Alaska's Iditarod dogsled race, the news from Annapurna seems a little quaint. But it was big news then, and historically, it's still big news today.
Arlene Blum was team leader on that expedition, and her Annapurna slyly subtitled A Woman's Place, chronicles the team's battles with the mountain and with the mountain of prejudice they had to overcome. In addition to ice, snow, rock, wind, and altitude, they had to sell 15,000 T-shirts just to raise the money to get there in the first place. And there was tragedy as well as triumph. Two of the 13 fell to their deaths on the mountain.
For the Sierra Club's 20th anniversary edition of the book, Blum has added a preface and afterword. The latter is particularly moving. Blum brings readers up-to-date on the lives of the climbers and asks them what the experience meant. One of them, quoting a sign in a casino, observes about the mountain, about climbing, and about life itself, "You must be present to win." The legacy of Blum and her team's triumph lives on. You'll see it looming in the background of Pamela Logan's recent Among Warriors : A Woman Martial Artist in Tibet. Logan has a doctorate in aerospace science and a third-degree black belt in Shotokan karate. A few years ago she had a powerful urge to go trekking among the wild places and often wilder peoples of eastern Tibet and to seek out the Khampas, "Tibet's infamous race of warriors." While she moved on and upward and dreamed of forbidden Lhasa, she learned a lot about strange peoples, about Buddhism (though not from the monk who wanted to know how much her boots cost), and about herself. The personal tales of travel in Lucy McCauley's excellent anthology, A Women in the Wild, may be a little tamer, but they are no less vivid. Included are Annie Dillard in Ecuador, Jane Goodall in the Congo, Robyn Davidson in India, and McCauley's own account of climbing a volcano in Guatemala, plus experiences in Iceland and Israel, Kenya and Borneo and Bolivia, and everywhere in between.
I like this book. The selections are good, the writing is bright, and there's local color galore.
— Alan Ryan, bn.com