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Beyond the Limits: A Woman's Triumph on Everest

Beyond the Limits: A Woman ’s Triumph on Everest. Stacy Allison with Peter Carlin. Little Brown & Company, Boston. 1993.

What can you say about a book promoting Everest as “the world’s most challenging mountain” and which provides a rare close-up of the elite mountain-climbing world? Sounds a lot like 99 other Everest books, doesn't it?

As usual for a book of this type, the author’s pre-Everest life is detailed, and in this case detailed at too far great a length. The first half of Beyond the Limits covers Allison’s early climbing days and the training climbs for Everest, as well as dwelling at length on her abusive marriage. However, some well-written climbing episodes also manage to come through.

On Mount Robson, in the Canadian Rockies, with Mark Meiner they are among the lucky few who make Robson’s summit. However, having travelled light, without food, water, tent or sleeping bags they are caught at the summit in one of the mountain’s frequent storms. Robson is notorious for bad weather. Allison’s description of the first night huddled in a snow pit and a second night during their descent brings realism to the reader. On Pik Kommunizma, a series of bad decisions which high-altitude climbers cannot afford to make resulted in the death of an expedition member. Again, her mountaineering descriptions are well thought out in tone and content.

On her unsuccessful attempt on Everest, Allison spends most of her time wondering whether one of the other women on the expedition will beat her to the prize of being “the First American Woman on Everest.” This time she has “seen the light” and now climbs for herself (and that goal of being “The First Woman”) and fits into the expedition better. There are still the interpersonal tensions and complexities among the team members but now her perspective is better.

One can applaud her 1988 achievement of soloing the last bit to the summit and the tenacity and strength required on a mountain like Everest. Her descriptions of her teammate’s reactions to her success, particularly those who were themselves unsuccessful, are particularly poignant.

Despite these moments, however, Beyond the Limits really has little to distinguish it from the many other books available on Mount Everest, other books with more substance and climbing content.

Bev Bendell