Mirrors in the Cliffs. Edited by Jim Perrin. Diadem Books, Ltd., London, 1983. 688 pages, 11 color plates and 21 pages of black-and white photographs, 26 cartoons by Sheridan Anderson. $12.95.
Jim Perrin has put together a collection of 100 articles on climbing. He draws from a wide range of authors and subjects. Perrin, in his introduction, admits that his choices were largely a matter of his own personal taste. At the same time he has successfully maintained common themes to tie the collection together as a whole.
Variety is great. Adventures range in scale from John MacKenzie’s stories of nighttime building ascents in Glasgow to Messner’s account of his solo of Nanga Parbat. Style varies enormously. There is the straight narrative style of Roskelley in “Momentum on Makalu” compared to Mike Thompson’s philosophical style in “The Aesthetics of Risk.” Some articles are light, such as Tom Patey’s “A Short Walk with Whillans,” against the heaviness of Ivan Ghirar- dini’s “The Shroud Solo,” where the author finds himself “living … no longer in the world of the living, but yet not yet in the world of the dead.” Alex MacIntyre makes light of the heavy in “Dangerous Dancing” on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses. There is an interview with John Gill on “Bouldering as an Art” as well as Rick Ridgeway’s account of the Americans reaching the top of K2. Perrin has covered climbing’s wide range well.
The collection holds together well with common themes making the bond. The human side and the individual take more importance than the technical side and the expedition approach. There are the big questions: “Why do we do it? Is is worth it? Are the risks justified? Where do you draw the line?” There is the question of death and how climbing fits into everyday life.
Dave Roberts considers the why in “Consolation for a Tragedy.” His four- man team is on the top of Huntington after weeks of extreme effort. He says of the surroundings and the moment,
“Nothing could last thus suspended, we were bound to die, Ed in only twenty hours; but if time for us had ever stopped to let the savage splendor of the earth declare its timelessness, it was then.”
Tilman describes a similar feeling of timelessness, standing on the summit of Nanda Devi in “Gentlemen’s Relish.”
The issue of “drawing the line” comes up in John Long’s “The Only Blasphemy.” He finds himself high up on a rock climb, unroped, struggling with a 5.11 move. He survives the incident to write one of the best articles in the book.
Reinhard Karl covers a lot of issues in “Boredom in Big Numbers.” To the why question, he says that he is not really sure but something keeps making him keep on doing it. He talks about the misunderstandings between the “illiterate and the mountain hero” in his travels through foreign lands, seeking mountain glory.
Perrin’s collection covers a lot of ground. It is great writing and well put together.