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

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Overview

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...

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

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Winner of the 2003 John Whyte Award for Mountain Literature and the 2004 National Outdoor Book Award

"Coffey begins where Jon Krakauer left off. His characters strive, suffer and vanish 'into thin air.' This compelling book offers voices from the other side of the mountaineering story - those left behind."

- Los Angeles Times

"...an important book...Coffey is an accomplished author with the specific expertise to make this book the great read that it is."

- Gripped Magazine

"This book is a page-turner: Coffey's writing style is direct and ferociously honest, while her use of emotionally gripping anecdotes infuses an engaging, novelistic feel...A gripping must-read."

- American Alpine Journal

Library Journal
Those who finish Rideout’s book and find themselves somewhat agreeing with the parents of both Mallory and Irvine—that the cost of going is not worth the price others will have to pay—will find much more to consider in Coffey’s wrenching adventure accounts and psychological inquiries. Gathering stories of disasters and the reflections of those who are left behind to worry and mourn, Coffey confronts the answer Mallory gave about his desire to climb Everest, stripping the glamor from the desire to risk and achieve. She is unfortunately in a great position to do so, having lost her lover to Everest. Coffey brilliantly balances a love for climbing and the reverberations of the endeavor into a compelling picture.

(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly
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. Agent, Susan Golomb. (Nov.) Forecast: A first serial in Outside magazine's September issue, Coffey's planned reading at Canada's Banff Mountain Festival and the success of Fragile Edge (it won the International Literary Mountain Prize) should make this popular among the mountaineering crowd. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Able exploration of mountaineering's personal costs, placed in context among the pleasures of climbing high and hard. Why do people climb? asks Coffey. And why would anyone love someone who repeatedly risks his or her life in the mountains? For the climbers, some suggest that their thirst for the mountains is an addiction; others, like Reinhold Messner, believe that "endurance, fear, suffering cold, and the state between survival and death are such strong experiences that we want them again and again." For those who experience the loss of a loved one while climbing—like Coffey, who wrote about her partner Joe Tasker's death on Everest in Fragile Edge (not reviewed)—it is vital to understand what drives the climber: engagement in the throes of an exciting experience, being in the presence of the divine, the fire of ambition, the chemistry of adrenaline and endorphins. Most climbers are willing to admit the pure selfishness of their enterprise; "no one was putting a gun to our heads and forcing us to do it. And we weren't doing it for the good of anyone else," says American alpinist Mark Twight. Being attracted to such an individual isn't insane, writes Coffey. They often possess an energy that is deeply engaging, but when love sinks in its hooks, the consequences can be hard. Coffey's friend told her that climbers "pursued a passion above their responsibility for and love for their family and that took precedence." It is worse still for those who had no choice, the children and parents of those who died or were gravely injured. The costs for them include a sense of abandonment for the child and "the lingering shadow grief" when the natural order of life is violated for theparent. Even so, Coffey notes of her own case, death jolts some to life. A fair summation of what impels a climber and an equally fair summation of the potentially brutal consequences.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312339012
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 677,521
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Maria Coffey is the author and co-author of ten books, including Fragile Edge, an account of her relationship with the mountaineer Joe Tasker and his death on Everest. She lives with her husband Dag Goering on Vancouver Island, Canada.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 12, 2013

    Where The Mountain Casts Its Shadow interested me from the very

    Where The Mountain Casts Its Shadow interested me from the very beginning. After reading a couple pages i could barely keep my head
    out of it.  The book is about hikers and climbers who go through all these dangerous hikes on the worlds biggest mountains, some never
    make it back home, but their story is told. These climbers put their own life in jeopardy to be satisfied when climbing mountains that no other
    person would ever dream of climbing. The major message that the book sends to its reader, is to never give up on something you truly love.
    A lot of the climbers in the book get hurt or injured severly, but they fight to get back to what they love to do the most. They never give up on
    their goals or their families. This is one of the reason i like this book because i can relate to climbers, not in the same sense of climbing, but
    in sports. I like how the author Maria Coffey tells the stories about the life they live and the dangers they go through every hike. What i didn't
    like about the book is all the statistics about hikers and the stress that families go through when a family memeber goes on a challenging hike.
    In my opinion i think people should read this book because its very interesting and it shows why people hike and why they go through all the
    trouble just to get to the top of a mountain. Thats why i gave this book a 4 out 5.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2006

    Not that exciting

    Although most outdoor adventure novels interest me, after reading Where the Mountain Casts its Shadow, I found my self uninterested and unsatisfied. The novel is about extreme mountain climbers who put their lives in immense danger for the adrenalin rush and to overcome seemingly impossible feats. Although the author Maria Coffey does a good job of telling about the tragic adventures at times she tends to talk about the climbers families and the physiology of the climbers too much. One reoccurring theme of the novel is that even if the climbers become injured or even an amputee they still return to the sport they love. Coffey talks about the horrible stress families are put through. She does this to vent her own grief of losing a loved one and to show not only what it is like for the climber but also for family and friends. One thing I disliked was that Coffey tried to give reasons for why people marry these adrenalin junkies. This clearly is Coffey just venting her grief about the lose of her loved one and asking her self why she was so attracted to this kind of person. Coffey interviews many famous climbers to try and find the reason why they climb. Some say that their thirst for the mountains is an addiction and others say, 'Endurance, fear, suffering cold, and the state between survival and death are such strong experiences that we want them again and again.' (Reinhold Messner) Allot of the novel is spent answering questions like Why do people climb? And what attracts any one to these kinds of people? Both of these questions do not interest me. I want to hear about how they battled against the elements, not why they climbed in the first place. Overall I give this book a 4 out of 10 and would not suggest reading it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2004

    Into the darkness with a flashlight!

    Coffey is to be applauded for asking the hard questions about the climbing game. In my experience, mountaineers too often pay lip service to the death toll in the hills, regardless of their own struggles with grief and fear. I think it's because grief and fear become so tied up together for a high-altitude climber of any enduring ambition, it becomes very difficult for them to honestly talk about the issues -- because it's all very close to the surface and uncomfortable. Coffey's exploration, filtered through her own grief, is compelling but not complete. What's missing is that internal monologue where grief and fear are seen to be in starkest play. I certainly recommend Coffey's book, but I would urge you to look at the new book by Peter Hillary, `In The Ghost Country', to complete the picture of the dark side. There you'll enter Hillary's mind and find the grief and fear of the game working there for all to see, a lifetime of horror playing out in his head on a walk to the South Pole. I love both books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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