Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Parallel Challenges

To quote Herzog, "There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men." As we talked about last week, Annapurna is clearly a metaphor for the seemingly unreachable challenges that one faces in life; for Blum and her team, their story is equally as much about summiting the physical Annapurna as it is about advocating women's ability to succeed, a challenge in a fiercely male-oriented domain. I like Blum's outlook, that, when rejecting gendered limitations on who can/should climb, "individual differences are more important than sexual ones, and motivation counts most of all" (xxiv). The drive that all of the women had on this expedition inspired me, and I'm in awe of their determination and strength. I found it incredibly frustrating to read about all of the misconceptions and assumptions that many people hold about females in mountain expeditions, in particular how the media portrays female climbers (like only reporting Blum's dysentery on Everest, not the rest of her male companions').

This book focused on challenges that were individual, team, and gender-related, and I liked the parallels that Blum made throughout her book about how the team dealt with the distinct obstacles they all had to overcome. Blum says that, as women, societal "conditioning holds us back in many hidden ways," (57) and I love how Blum's story is a triumph (mostly) not only in terms of mountaineering, but also (more importantly?) in terms of defying gendered prejudices.

The quests for ownership in this book had more to do with proving themselves as female climbers than asserting their dominance over nature, for example the debates over who got to lead each portion of the climb and over the role that the Sherpas should play. Compared to Herzog's story, the desire for ownership over the climb stems more from the overarching goal to succeed as women, instead of a hope to dominate a mountain. This was a women's climb; when debating a second summit attempt, Alison said "You've got to remember that this attempt is what our expedition is all about - a real all-women team" (194). Due to this outlook, Blum and her team had much clearer perspectives over our lack of control over nature. I was struck throughout this story how - despite how technically prepared they were - their ability to succeed ultimately depended on nature: "the avalanches were coming down night and day, dominating our existence" (146). The team never lost a sense of place throughout the expedition, and their respect for the Himalayas and true love of climbing did not compete with the "power of [the] mountain" (149). I think that's one of the things I admire most about this story, it all comes down to the quote at the beginning of the book:
You never conquer a mountain. You stand on the summit a few moments, Then the wind blows your footprints away. 

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