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Blind Corners; Adventure on Seven Continents

Blind Comers; Adventure on Seven Continents. Geoff Tabin. ICS Books, Merrillville, IN, 1993. 33 color photos, hardcover, 196 pages, $24.99.

Geoff Tabin’s Blind Corners, circles around the serious business of alpinism with a whimsical humor. It is what ornithologists call a “rare visitor” and of the same species, and sings with the same irreverence as Tom Patey’s One Man’s Mountains. Like Dr. Patey, Dr. Tabin knows that a collection of light-hearted stories has a better chance of entertaining (his stated purpose within the Introduction) than yet another standard climber autobiography.

Mind you, Tabin’s Blind Comers is a collection rather than an original book. Short and apparently hastily-written vignettes are used as transitions between chapters. The book is occasionally plagued by repetition. And the tone is as disparate as one could expect from the book’s wide-ranging sources: Climbing, Outside, Penthouse, The American Alpine Journal, Trilogy, Summit and Playboy.

Tabin’s path in Blind Corners; Adventures on Seven Continents is to retrace his experiences climbing the highest peak on each continent. Some of these are cryptic. For instance, Denali would have benefited from more than just a single paragraph of Tabin’s fun-loving perspectives. Between the big climbs, there are digressions, such as a well-paced chapter on bungee-jumping in Colorado. Tabin doesn’t try to milk much conquest out of his sorties atop each of the so-called “Seven Summits.” Unlike his predecessor Dick Bass, Tabin takes us on his low budget trips and spends more time sharing social observations than blow-by-blow descriptions of the climbing. In Irian Jaya, he shares a fascinating glimpse of the stone-age Dani people and not only does he dispense with writing about the actual climb of Carstensz Pyramid, but he convinces you that the climb was anticlimactic after culturally connecting with the Dani.

Some readers will recall that Tabin already published the Everest 1981 Kangshung Face story in the AAJ. But this chapter in the book contains a lot of previously unpublished nuances that shed the bright light of truth on climbing expedition life in general and, in specific, characters like John Roskelley and Dan Reid. Tabin’s portrait of Reid’s insanity is a kindhearted yet revealing microcosm for every climber who has ever nursed obsession.

After yet another compelling chapter about a 1983 return to Everest’s East Face, Tabin regales us with a third chapter about summiting via the south side of Everest in 1988. Following the pattern of the rest of the book, Tabin paints a lot more about the actual people behind Everest’s crowded and most tragic year. After trying to summit via one of Everest’s hardest routes, Tabin is happy with the challenge of simply getting up the standard South Col route. Amid the disasters of other strung-out climbers in 1988, his conclusion rings with resounding clarity. Mountaineering success should be more about coming home alive than climbing a difficult new route or reaching the summit.

But this is entertainment. Read it to laugh at what the hungry A1 Burgess does with a sheep when a Patagonian sheep herder suddenly appears. Or the sort of alterations that Lydia Bradey made in her salopettes in order to find new challenges atop … uhh, Everest. Or how Tabin cons the staid Sports Illustrated journalist into flying into the staging area for Cartensz Pyramid without official sanction. Amid the demands of medical school, Tabin takes climbing just seriously enough to pull off some outrageous trips, with some of the most novel sponsorship scams ever dreamed up. In the foreword, Sir Edmund Hillary nails it fairly when he writes that “Geoff is a strange conglomeration of success and brilliant failure.”

The sixteen-page color photo captions are classic Tabin. “The first plastic lawn flamingo on top of Mt. Everest.” “Dani men enjoying a meal of bat.” “ … Mountain biker from hell.”

The fun meter soars with his profile of Lou Reichardt, or “The World’s Most Daring Sportsman.” Then there’s the hilarious recounting of a Sherpa’s escapades in Chicago. No question that this self-deprecating, keen-eyed climber could trade in his ophthalmoscope for a word processor. If he should undertake an original, book-length work, climbing literature would be in for a rare visit indeed.

Jonathan Waterman