Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Worth it?

I’m so glad that we reverted to the original syllabus to read Blum’s Annapurna now. Though it follows on the heels of the Herzog text, Blum’s account is so different that we could be on another mountain; and, in many ways, we are. Twenty-five years after the Herzog expedition, Blum and her comrades have something else to prove, finer than potential of humanity but broader than national pride. To be the first women to summit Annapurna was to make a statement about gender roles and equal opportunities, the statement they made explicit in their fundraising shirts. With that statement to further impassion a trip that cannot be undertaken without a preexisting love of mountaineering, the team undertakes an incredibly dangerous climb.

After the avalanche of Chapter 10, Blum remarks: “I’m not sure it was particularly intelligent or laudable for us to stay. But it was definitely heroic” (161). Beginning the book with the knowledge that not everyone would come out alive, I found Blum’s recollection and interpretation of events to be fascinating. This book was written by an immediate witness to both the triumph and tragedy of the climb, where the triumph challenged gender inequality in mountaineering, but the tragedy was far greater than series of amputated toes. Regardless of the heroism, I have to ask if it was worth it. I think Blum presents a solid and self-aware case that the dream was important enough to pursue, but from the viewpoint of a feminist non-climber, I can’t say I understand.  

1 comment:

  1. I came away from Blum's account with exactly the same reaction, and I think her attitude and that of the members of her expedition contrasts sharply with those of Bancroft and Arnesen. Although Bancroft and Arnesen technically accomplish their goal of crossing the continent of Anarctica and the media "heralded Ann and Liv's crossing of the Antarctic land mass as a historic first," they "did not yet see it" (195). Both Bancroft and Arnesen know that their decision not to try and cross the Ross Ice Shelf was the correct one to make. Nevertheless, they continue to question their decision until their encounter with Logan. After hearing that their journey has shown him "that I can do anything I put my mind to," "Suddenly every fall, every mile, every injury, each bowl of oatmeal choked down, seemed worth it - for Logan and the others out there just like him" (198). While Bancroft and Arnesen do not accomplish their personal goal, they succeed in inspiring others to follow their passions and to "pass on what our teachers and mentors had given us," which was their other, and in many ways, more important goal (199). "In that light," Arnesen writes, "400 miles was not important" (199). Bancroft acknowledges that the failure of their expedition to succeed according to the standards set "within expedition circles" "still stings" (218); however, she states, "More important than the specific dreams you dream is the reason why you dream - and that reason is for the experience of living the dream, not for the accolade of having achieved it" (218). In making the prudent decision - the one that assured their survival and protected their health - Bancroft and Arnesen go against the trend that we witnessed with the Annapurna expeditions: the decision to summit no matter what happens. They recognize that, regardless of their personal goals, the expedition was a complete success and that it is the journey that matters, not the "summit." While Herzog and Blum accomplished what they set out to do, the high personal cost attached to it took away from their victories and that their summits may not have been worth it. For Bancroft and Arnesen, however, everything they went through was completely worth it. Their decision to make the expedition more about education and inspiring others than about their own personal goals makes all the pain and suffering they experienced completely worth it.