by Lydia Bradey (Penguin Books, $35)
“It’s strange the way a mountain becomes bigger – or perhaps you become smaller – when you’re by yourself,” observed Lydia Bradey during her solo ascent of Mount Everest in 1988.
This memoir of her life and climbs pitches the reader straight into the Everest ascent. Not surprisingly, reaching the summit and safely descending was a struggle but she made it, becoming the first female to summit without supplementary oxygen (and is still the only Kiwi to have achieved this).
As the story unfolds, the thrill of success was to be tempered by the tragic loss of close friends climbing on the mountain at the same time. Bradey then had to face the authorities in Kathmandu for climbing a route she did not have a permit for and also had to weather the storm of controversy and speculation her climb generated in New Zealand, with some in the climbing community doubting her claim.
The Everest climb and its aftermath illustrate the issues many expeditions have with team dynamics, which were often further complicated for Bradey by being the lone female on many climbs.
Bradey showed her prowess for climbing early, ascending Aspiring at 17 and Mount Cook at 18 years of age. Describing how she chose to climb in a club to learn safe practices from experienced people, she notes the difference between being a safe and dying on a climb is small. Always learning and setting new goals, Bradey’s climbing forays took her all over the world, including Denali, Yosemite, the Himalaya and Arapiles.
This book is an engaging read for many, including aspiring climbers and guides, experienced climbers looking for inspiration to tackle more lofty goals and armchair mountaineers that enjoy an enthralling story. The book also has value for anyone keen to venture into the outdoors, with much to learn from Bradey’s positive self talk and organisation when on an expedition. The book also affirms that a passion can be pursued as a lifestyle and a career, and is a great inspiration for females in male dominated pursuits.
The numerous photographs draw the reader further into Bradey’s vertical, snowy world.
As impressive as her list of firsts is (in addition to Everest, she has a number of first female ascents of big walls in Yosemite, is the first Australasian woman to climb an 8,000-metre mountain, Gasherbrum II in 1987, and has made first ascents of mountains in Antarctica), it is Bradey’s love of the mountains that shines throughout the book, climbing for fun and to see the view rather than bagging peaks.