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Risking Adventure: Mountaineering Journeys Around the World

by Jim Haberl

In spite of what Haberl claims in his introduction, Risking Adventure does not explore what motivates people to climb mountains. It chronicles the camaraderie that comes from climbing together. It also chronicles difficulties and hardship on climbs. It travels to Africa, South America, and Alaska and introduces characters like the ballsy Czech at Kilimanjaro and the Peruvian helicopter pilots. But it does not, as Haberl says, “explore the notion that risk and adventure need to be part of our lives.” It is a diary of exotic trips rendered in flat prose, peppered with dazzling photographs. It does not explore. It testifies.

As the first Canadian to climb K2, Haberl’s authority on climbing must be trusted. His skill is matched by his love for fellow climbers, especially his friend who died after also successfully climbing K2. It’s a pity therefore that Haberl’s prose makes for dull reading and that the main idea behind the book is thoroughly skirted. To ask, “Why climb mountains,” is like asking, “Why do humans put themselves in jeopardy?” It’s a difficult question to explore, but one Haberl is potentially in a position to answer. He has, as he says, been asked it many times. And we can imagine that when he’s hanging off a 2,000-foot mountain face by his fingertips, and night descends and ice jams belay lines, he must feel the will to live firing inside him like a dragon smoked out of her cave. But his literal-minded storytelling turns this delicate moment into a timed and dated weather report: “At midnight we were still on the rock. We were tired. I was nervous.”

Sprinkled into this are literal transcriptions of conversations: “Gosh it’s a long way down, Rob. Yeah. It sure is, Jim. Can we make it? I don’t know, what do you think? Yes we can. That’s what I like about you, your positive attitude. Thanks, I like your positive attitude, too.”

After almost having lost his footing, or else a limb, and if not a limb then a dear friend, exhausted and disoriented but triumphant and intoxicated by the danger overcome, Haberl will only say, “Gosh that was scary.”

Haberl’s writing does injustice to his adventures but his pictures make them vivid. Like those in National Geographic, the photos make for a spontaneous sense of what the snow tasted like, what the pack felt like, what kind of effort it took to climb with altitude sickness, and so on. When the real Haberl shines through, as he does intermittently in the prose, the reader gets a chance to appreciate how dedicated and talented a climber Haberl is, and how spectacular the risks he takes are. Too bad for us that the question of “Why climb?” is not truly explored or, at least, that the mountains explored have not truly been captured in words.