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TRIUMPH TOO QUICKLY FOLLOWED BY TRAGEDY...
on 30 December 2002
Alison Hargreaves was probably one of the most enigmatic climbers of this century. Isolated from the mountaineering community at large for the better part of her career, it was not until she climbed Everest without support and without supplementary oxygen that she got the recognition she so craved. Her solo ascent of Everest without oxygen was the first ever such summit by a woman.
Her need for that recognition was twofold. She seemed to lack personal self-esteem, as a result of her marriage to a man who was emotionally and physically abusive. She also seemed to have a lack of confidence, at times, in her innate ability as a climber, needing validation from the mountaineering community, a validation which seemed to be long in coming. Yet, it was only on the mountains that she felt in control, because her personal life was so out of control. Indecisive about what to do about her unhappy marriage, the mountains gave her hope that she would be able to secure herself and her children financially and free herself from the bondage of an unhappy union.
When she triumphed on Everest, and her future as a climber of renown seem assured, she almost immediately set out on expedition under pressure from her husband to summit K2, leaving behind her two beloved young children. While she ultimately met with success and reached the summit of K2, she descended head long into a storm with gale force winds. Sadly, she never got off the mountain, consigned to the environs of K2 for all time.
Her death created a maelstrom of controversy at the time, over the idea of a mother with two small children having put herself so at risk of leaving them motherless. Sadly, it was women journalists who spearheaded this sentiment, threatening to destroy Ms. Hargreaves' reputation in death. This was clearly a double standard, as many who die while climbing are men who are fathers to small children. Yet, in death they are not pilloried for having left their children fatherless. Rather, they are often heralded for their daring and courage in attempting to scale new heights.
This book chronicles Ms. Hargreaves' life and her love of climbing. It attempts to paint a balanced portrait of a woman so little known to the world at large, but who made mountaineering history just before her death. It explores her personal life, not only as a wife and mother, but as a person for whom climbing was her life's blood. The author attempts to understand her approach to climbing, as well as her exploits, and ground them in the context out of which they arose. It is the story of an ordinary woman who just before her death made herself extraordinary. Although the author recounts Ms. Hargreaves' life in a somewhat prosaic manner, it is definitely a book well worth reading.