“You never conquer a mountain.
You stand on the summit a few moments,
Then the wind blows your footprints away.” (pg. 211)
Blum picked this quote to introduce the chapter entitled, “A Woman’s Place”, where four of the climber’s on Blum’s expedition actually summit Annapurna. Although at first I thought I might want a break before reading a second account of the same mountain, retrospectively I am very glad we switched the order back to the original syllabus, because by reading two very different accounts in quick succession, I not only increased my knowledge about both that specific mountain range and the logistics involved in climbing it, but Annapurna as the mountain, not simply another daring expedition’s goal, became more personal to me.
I guess I could have seen it coming, but I was shocked when Vera and Allison died in the climbing attempt. What had the biggest impact on me was that no one will ever know how the exact story of how they died; that secret belongs to the mountain. When I went back and read the above quote, it seemed to me that the mountain conquered them. This bore such a contrast to the colonial tone of Herzog’s expedition, one that may have seemed less drastic had we read them further apart. I can’t imagine the torn emotions Blum must have felt as she succumbed to the mountain, feeling both despair at the loss of her friends and joy and the mission accomplished for their group, Americans, and women in general. We have discussed in countless English and creative writing classes the effect that a setting can have on the mood of the scene. If I was making a movie, I can think of few more epic settings for both a death and a victory than a mountain, let alone Annapurna on a day with bright blue skies. We can embellish plots all we want, but here Blum was, actually living it. This, for me, summed up the distinction of this being an “Adventure Narratives class”. We talk about how literature creates lies to get at the truth, but here the author solely accounts the truth, which is in itself so powerful it doesn’t need embellishing to get at further truths beyond the life of mountaineering.
To me, the fact that when she actually sat down to write this book she still picked this quote to introduce the chapter where her expedition actually summits the mountain impresses me. After all the mountain has given her and taken from her, she still respects it as a piece of nature and does not blame it nor try and own it. For these reasons this account seemed more real to me than Herzog’s, and in some ways more of a triumph even though the full group did not make it down.