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Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow: The Dark Side of Extreme Adventure

by Maria Coffey

Following the death of Maria Coffey’s life partner, elite British mountaineer Joe Tasker, on Everest’s then-unclimbed Northeast Ridge in 1985, Coffey moved to Canada and reinvented herself as a writer. Her first book, Fragile Edge, detailed her emotional journey across Tibet to Everest in the wake of Joe’s death. Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow examines the typical psychological and emotional traits of high-altitude mountaineers and their family members.

Drawing on her own experiences and those of other climbers and their spouses, Coffey delves into dark human recesses to discover what drives mountaineers to repeatedly risk their lives in the face of family obligations, accidents, and the deaths of friends on expeditions. Coffey details the special bond between climbers and their partners, their children, and the many female admirers of such men. She writes of the outrageous parties that she attended with Joe and the letters from one of his mistresses after he died, giving readers a raw and insightful glimpse into a mountaineer’s compartmentalized life.

Coffey explains that climbers feel their mortality recede by looking death in the face, an experience that can make life back on the ground feel tiresome and laborious. She also emphasizes that climbers are mostly satisfied people who combine a more spiritual outlook with their recreation. “For serious mountaineers,” she writes, “climbing transcends sport or hobby. It defines their friendships, their personas.”

Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow offers an unpolished and emotionally rugged account of the climbing world behind the glossy magazine covers. This unique book could not have been written so honestly without its author’s mountaineering connections and her own terrible loss.