Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Summit by Eric Alexander

book cover

The Summit
by Eric Alexander

ISBN-13: 9780892217014
Trade Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: New Leaf Press
Released: Nov. 1, 2010

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
It's one of the greatest challenges one can face on Earth: an ascent to the top of the world on the slopes of Mount Everest. Eric Alexander experienced grace and a faith-empowering journey he will never forget as part of a record-setting team in May 2001, scaling the heights of Everest with his friend, blind climber Erik Weihenmayer.

  • Experience some of the most dangerous locations in the world, including abject terror on Ama Dablam, a blind ski descent of Russia's Mount Elbrus, and up Kilimanjaro in Africa with four blind teens

  • Gain wisdom in the application of trust, courage, innovation, teamwork, leadership, and integrity to overcome your own Everests

  • Discover practical faith lessons learned on the highest peaks of six continents

Here is the powerful story of Eric Alexander and his unique life journey of helping to guide people with disabilities as they overcome the most perilous places of the world.

My Review:
The Summit is a memoir by a man who has climbed some of the tallest and most difficult mountains in the world...and usually with a blind person on his team. His vivid descriptions of the various climbs gives the reader a good idea of what climbing extremely high mountains is like (both the good and the bad) and the special challenges created by climbing with a blind climber.

The author gave details about his climbs up Mt. Ama Dablam (including blind Eric W.), Mt. Everest (up to base camp, including 3 blind men & a quadriplegic; up to summit, including blind Eric & a documentary crew), Mt. Elbrus (including blind Eric; both Erics skied down), Mt. Cook (including blind Eric), Mt. Pisco (including 3 "at risk" teens), Inca trail to Machu Pichu (including 9 blind teens & 9 sighted teens), Mt. Kilimanjaro (including 4 blind teens), Mt. Aconcagua, and Mt. Denali.

Between the stories of his mountain climbs, the author described the training, dangers, and doubts he had at home in Colorado and talked about meeting his wife. There were some spectacular full-color photographs from the mountain climbs in the center of the book.

However, I'd expected the book to include a bit more from the blind climber's perspective. There were a few quotes from Eric W. (mostly about incidents involving the author) and the author explained how he and the other team members helped to guide Eric W. on a climb, but it was in terms of what the author did for Eric W. rather than from Eric W.'s perspective.

The author also didn't use a linear time-line and this sometimes made things confusing. In fact, he split his account of the Mount Everest climb in two and told about a variety of other climbs in between. Personally, I would have enjoyed the overall story more if it had been told in order. This also would have allowed the reader to better see his growth as a person and a climber.

I also felt like the author craved acknowledgment of his achievements and harbored contempt for strangers who were more adverse to risking their life. Because of this, he kept expecting his team members to see him as a failure or reject him anytime he made a mistake or turned back for health reasons. I found this mildly exasperating. However, it's great he's willing to support and help his blind friend (and others) achieve their climbing dreams.

The author did talk about his Christian faith and how it helped him on the various climbs. He ended each chapter with a reflection section about what the climb taught him that related to the Christian faith.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to those interested in what it's like to climb Mt. Everest and other tall mountains.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
April 14, 2000, Day 29 — The relentless storm only added to the drama of retreating that day. With 4,000 feet of air below us, we would descend in what we call “full conditions,” meaning the foulest of weather, over the jagged, rocky, extremely exposed terrain that now had a coat of ice and snow, not only on its surface, but on our ropes as well. It was slick, at least the parts angular enough to collect snow on that steep and often vertical terrain. Rappelling, climbing, slipping, sliding, and banging our way down the ridge in what at times was a whiteout, gave me a new perspective on what it would be like to be in my blind climbing partner, Erik Weihenmayer’s shoes.

The three of us, Chris Morris, Brad Bull, and I, had just grunted our way from the 20,000-foot perch of Camp Two to the lower and more comfortable accommodations of Camp One at 19,000 feet on Ama Dablam. We were tired and very relieved to see our tents just yards away. My tent was one of the farthest from the fixed lines leading us down onto the platform terminating just before camp. My tentmate at this camp would be Dr. Steve Gipe, who had remained at Camp One as the team ascended. Dr Gipe’s intentions were to attempt the summit from Camp One as the team fixed the route up higher, then later rejoin the team as everyone was leaving Camp Three for the summit.

As I approached my tent I could almost feel the warmth of my bag and a nice cooked meal, and was already beginning to think of sleep. In fact, I may have been half asleep and daydreaming when it happened. Chris Morris said he thought I was a "goner" and Dr. Gipe kept yelling, "Stop! Stop! Self arrest!" Brad Bull started to pray. I know God heard his prayer.

Camp One is perched at the top of a 600-foot, mostly smooth, yet steep slabby rock face. If you are familiar with the rock formation outside of Boulder, Colorado, called the Flatirons, it would be similar to this with little blocky features that would give a falling person flight at times. I was ten feet from my tent and scrambling over the rocks, which were scattered all over the top of the face. As I made my final few steps to the tent, one of these rocks shifted, toppled over, and caused me to lose my balance and fall to my stomach on top of it. I was caught off guard to say the least, because I had stepped on this particular rock a number of times before, but it was my heavy load and the thoughtlessness of my step brought on by fatigue that caused it to turn over.

I felt like I was Coyote in a Roadrunner cartoon. My body started to drop, yet somehow my head seemed to linger in space. I hugged the rock and as I did, it started to slide over the edge with me on top of it. I knew that if I didn’t let go I would tumble some 600 feet down, being crushed by this rock that was now in my arms. So I decided to let go, and take my chances, hoping that I would be able to grab on to the ledge in front of me as my feet began their way down. With gloved hands hitting the loose and partly snow-covered edge, I had no chance as my hands deflected like a soccer ball off the goal post in a botched goal attempt. This wouldn’t be a completely vertical fall. I would, in some moments, be afforded the luxury of abrasive granite shredding me and my clothes.

My head smacked the rock, and as I began my freefall and slide for life, all I could think of was a series of four-letter words. Words like: “Stop! Help! Grab!” And then over again: “Grab! Grab! Stop! Stop! Help! Help!” Perhaps one or two other four-letter words were spoken, but I can’t recall what they might have been. People often ask me what I was thinking in that moment. I have to laugh because it’s not as though I could have paused in mid-flight and reflected on the matter, concerning myself with the various methods I would have employed to bring myself to a complete stop. In fact, I kid and tell them, "I was thinking what anyone would have been thinking: 'Do these pants make me look fat?'"

The fall was sudden and quick, yet it seemed to last all afternoon. I slid, crested a precipice, landed again on my belly not far below, repeating this endlessly during the course of my rapid plunge. Fortunately, I was still wearing my helmet, multiple layers of clothing, and my backpack, which at times padded me from the impact of the hard granite. During the course of this tumble, had I caught my foot on a ledge or begun to cartwheel, I most certainly would have fallen the entire distance to a rocky death below.

Read more of chapter one and two.

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