Debriefing: Climbing High by Lene Gammelgaard

Posted on September 9, 2008. Filed under: Books, Personal Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Last year I picked up a memoir/non-fiction recap of the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air). As I began to read the very technical climbing memoir I was struck with the Everest Fever; I wanted to climb. Since reading that book I closely follow all Mt.Everest happenings, including Sir Edmund Hillary’s death last summer and have recently begun to take the plunge and read more about that fateful, disastrous climb of 1996. I just finished up a quite interesting spin on the disaster by the first Danish woman to climb Mt.Everest, Lene Gammelgaard.

The first Danish woman to ascent Everest – that is quite a challenge and in itself a great accomplishment. Not only did Gammelgaard make it to the top, and photograph multiple banners for her financial backers, but she also survived the descent.  A little known fact is that most fatalities atop Mt.Everest actually occur during the descent. This leaves climbers in quite a predicament; the joy of reaching the top only heightens climbers’ awareness that the hardest part of their journey is yet to be faced. 

In 1996 two teams, among many others, set out to conquer Mt.Everest for the first time during the 1996 season. The teams were lead by Scott Fischer and Rob Hall. Gamelgaard was on Scott Fischer’s expedition, and was a close friend of Fischer’s prior to the expedition. Fischer’s expedition, appropriately named Mountain Madness, was comprised a handful of eager climbers ready to set personal records and triumphs on their way to the top of Everest. This book focused mostly on Gammelgaard’s personal achievements and difficulties in climbing Everest.

I may be overly critical, but I anticipated more of a documentary, and an overall recollection of the expedition to the top of Everest. This book focused merely on Gammelgaard’s achievement of climbing and her personal struggle during the storm that claimed so many lives atop of Mt.Everest. She is the first Danish woman to climb Mt.Everest, which is a great accomplishment, but I felt the book focused on her feelings and read like a diary of how she was feeling and how she was conquering her fears and how she was succeeding slowly up the mountain. She became friendly with some of the other members of the expedition and did touch on their highs and lows throughout the journey, but again the focus remained on her. This diary-style of writing was not bad in any way, it was just different. The ‘diary’ didn’t have the same pull and didn’t offer as much insight into Everest or the climb that they were encountering.

Finishing up the book is almost like a dream; you wake up and realize that its over, and wonder how long that actually took? The book is quick, non-technical and a light-read on a difficult subject. It is interesting to see the types of people she bonds with, being that she is a European trying to make this accomplishment. In the end though, I felt like something was missing. The drama and the details that Everest demands to have written about it simply were not evident in this memoir. You are left with a sense of pride for Lene Gammelgaard, that she accomplished what no other woman from her country had previously done, and she broke gender barriers.  It is a great accomplishment for Gammelgaard, and she should have the utmost pride for not only reaching the top but suriving the storm both on the mountain and when she returned to live through her personal losses.

If you are looking for a mountain climbing adventure and a story as epic as Everest itself, then this may be an appetizer but not the main course. Hearing the story and the events as told by a member of another expedition from a European nationality is a different spin, but it doesn’t fulfill the appetite as a more technical, in-depth memoir or documentary would. If you are interested in the 1996 Everest climbing disaster this will surely wet your appetite, but don’t expect this to cure your Everest fever.                                                                                                Grade: B-
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Please don’t take my negativity toward this book as a reason not to read it, if you are an avid pursuer of Everest it is an interesting side of a story, but I felt that there was much more that Gammelgaard could have contributed within her story, it was a selfish recap of the accident in which she lost many loved colleagues, but only brief mention of other expeditions was ever made and even more brief and vague mentions of other fatalities during that climb were made as well, I did not feel she truly respected everyone who had lost their lives during that climb or gave accolades and praise for those around her that also survived.

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[…] freelanceallison placed an observative post today on Debriefing: Climbing High by Lene GammelgaardHere’s a quick excerptAs I began to read the very technical climbing memoir I was struck with the Everest Fever; I wanted to climb. Since reading that book I closely follow all Mt.Everest happenings, including Sir Edmund Hillary’s death last summer and have … […]

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