Sunday, February 9, 2014

"You Never Conquer a Mountain"

Blum’s narrative differs from Herzog’s in three ways: it reads like a group narrative; it presents a picture of American-Sherpa interaction; it offers insight into the climbers’ emotions. Blum’s account of the ascent does not revolve around her, rather it revolves around the people around her. The people—her fellow climbers—were what made the trip worthwhile. Blum paints a vivid picture of her climbing companions and included excerpts from her peers’ journals throughout the book, so the reader can get inside their heads in addition to Blum’s. Blum also presents a fuller picture of American-Sherpa interaction compared to Herzog, detailing her team’s reactions to the Sherpas’ demands and vice versa. It’s possible that Herzog didn’t have much to report in the way of interesting Sherpa interactions, but I doubt it. Blum writes about the Sherpas’ way of life and honoring the gods, and I wonder why these details are missing from Herzog’s narrative. Another thing I found missing from Herzog’s narrative after reading Blum’s is vulnerability. Blum writes about her interactions with the climbing team through which the women reveal their feelings and emotions surrounding the climb. When discussing the ascent, one of the women reveals, “Though sometimes I still don’t feel like I’m a good enough climber to be here. And I’m terrified of the avalanches” (p. 107). The women climb from a place of emotion and at times, self-doubt.

To answer the question I previously posed—about why certain details present in Blum’s narrative are missing from Herzog’s—it is clear to me now that the answer is in the fact that Blum and Herzog climbed for different reasons. Therefore, their stories look different. Herzog climbed for France, while Blum, who does not convey the same imperialistic mindset as Herzog, climbed not for America, but for women, especially those she brought with her on the climb. Blum’s team is not only a means to an end (reaching the summit), but also an end in itself. Blum writes, “Although Annapurna loomed large and cold outside, the sharing of experiences and growing understanding within would help unite us into a team that could face the challenge” (p. 95). Uniting the team is more important to Blum than reaching the top herself, and she is also concerned with uniting women writ large. A member of Dartmouth women’s rowing crew once told Blum: “Your book explained why we row—the hard work and the satisfaction of pulling together. Every time we see the name Annapurna on our boat, we are reminded of what your team did and the extraordinary things we can do when we push ourselves and each other to and beyond our limits” (p. ix).

Satisfaction. That’s what stands out to me in this quote and Blum’s narrative. Blum climbed for the satisfaction of accomplishing something as a team, while Herzog climbed to conquer. Blum writes, “You never conquer a mountain. You stand on the summit a few moments, then the wind blows your footprints away.” The moment fades, but the relationships endure. Like the crew team member and the geese flying over the summit, Blum draws satisfaction from relationships bound by hardship. Speaking of the geese, Blum writes, “I bet they’re doing it for the fun of it” (p. 188). 

1 comment:

  1. I was also drawn to this quote at the beginning of Blum's book, so I am glad that you wrote about it. I think that this idea brings us a step towards answering the question posed in class: "what do mountains do?" We see in your comparison that mountains do different things for different people. For Herzog, mountains give him something to conquer. For Blum, as you stated so well, mountains give "satisfaction from relationships bound by hardship." While both are about an inner satisfaction, they are quite different. I will be interested to see what mountains "do" for the other climbers whose accounts we will be reading throughout the semester.