Pros: Detailed, insightful, offers an entirely different perspective
The Bottom Line: If you are interested in mountaineering, this is a must read!
In 1979 Maria Coffey met the man that would change her life forever, Joe Tasker, world renown mountaineer, author and photographer. In March, 1982, Maria bid Joe farewell as he boarded the flight that would eventually take him to Mt. Everest for the last time. On May 17, 1982, Tasker and fellow climber, Peter Boardman, were photographed, from a distance, between the two pinnacles on the Kangshung Face, North Ridge, Mt. Everest. In 1992 a Kazakh-Japanese expedition found Boardmans' body, frozen and appearing he had simply fallen asleep. Tasker was never found.
In 1983 Maria Coffey and Hilary Boardman, Peter's wife, made their own expedition to Everest to say their final goodbyes to their soulmates. This was essentially Maria's first major climbing experience, she had taken rudimentary training for the trip.
Maria was a school teacher, on the fringes of the climbing community, only associated through her relationship with Joe Tasker. I find her undertaking a remarkable experience in itself, the book that evolved from this experience was unlike anything I have previously read concerning this killing field known as Mt. Everest.
Starting her book mid way through the story, she recounts her life with Joe prior to his departure for the 1982 summit attempt, moving on to how she and Tasker met and how their romance progressed. Finally she details hearing the news of Joe's disappearance from fellow expeditioner, Dick Renshaw, and the effects this news had on her life.
I have read approximately 10 books now regarding Mt. Everest, but this is the first one that was written from the survivors point of view. I don't mean a survivor that has reached the summit and returned, or a survivor that attempted to summit and was thwarted by weather, health, injury or other adverse conditions. I mean a person that has survived the death of a loved one to this sport. I found this intriguing and the book itself was a compelling read.
Certainly when someone is killed on the mountains their family is mentioned, news stories released, but then another group joins the throngs trekking through the snow and these survivors are soon forgotten. We don't consider the pain and anguish they face in their everyday lives as their loved ones attempt to conquer that which cannot be conquered.
Maria Coffey brings these feelings to the forefront and slaps you right in the face with them. Poignant in may instances, the book is a profound portrait of life for the mountaineering families - both those going to the summit and those left behind to fear for them. In addition, Coffey paints an outstanding visual of life in the mountains. The villages, the people, the devastation of the surrounding areas. In all the books I have read, I have never been introduced to the people, mostly Tibetians, that live and survive in the shadow of Mt. Everest everyday.
Using her skills as an author and photographer, Coffey gives you a mental and visual picture of flora and fauna, lakes and rivers, the incredibly poor, temples destroyed by invading armies. In addition, her pictorial layout is both stark and foreboding and sensually beautiful. Frankly, of all the Everest books I have read to date, I have found this one by far the most interesting in detail and individual survival.
Coffey managed to moved on with her life after her trek to Everest, eventually moving to Canada and marrying. She and her husband have co-authored many books and articles and run a kayaking and hiking expedition company that travels worldwide, Hidden Places. I salute Ms. Coffey in her ability to learn to face, accept, and move on after the death of Joe Tasker. I salute her ability to face the mountain and learn from her own experiences why Joe was so enthralled with his dreams of conquest.
....Long, long must be our parting, I was not destined to tell you thoughts. I stood on tiptoe gazing into the distance, Interminably gazing at the road that had taken you. With thoughts of you my mind is obsessed, In my dreams I see the light of your face. Now you are started on your long journey, Each day brings you further from me Oh, that I had a bird's wings And high flying could follow you .... *****
*****page 77, Fragile Edge:A Personal Portrait of Loss on Everest by Maria Coffey. Poem from Chinese Poems , Arthur Waley, 1968.
Thanks, Susi :)
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