Thursday, December 13, 2007

Touch the Top of the World

By Erik Weihenmayer

The sub-title of this book says it all: A blind man’s journey to climb farther than the eye can see.

I’m always a little leery of autobiographical books as they are frequently little more than the results of a narcissistic impulse gone wild. I can only take so much Me! Me! Me! at once, especially when it’s written by someone whose only real accomplishment has been being born and becoming a star or rising to some high political position through family contacts. I’m reminded of the expression, “he was born on third base and thought he hit a triple” every time I pick up one of the latest “best sellers” of that ilk.

But this book was different. Sure it’s simply written, and some passages are a bit hard to accept at face value, for example when he describes doctor’s visits when he was less than two years old as if he is recounting them from first-person memory. But those are minor nits. The real story here is how a young man, totally blind since his teenage years, refuses to accept the limitations of blindness. He discovers his passion for mountaineering and through his climbing comes to terms with his disability and, one may say, his life.

It’s a story of struggle and passion, success and failure, fear and bravery. His descriptions of his experiences on the mountains put the reader right there with him, feeling for the next hand hold or foot placement to avoid a potentially fatal slip, or at best a wild swing on the end of a rope several thousand feet above the rocks below.

It’s also a story about friendship and respect. His climbing partners put their lives in his hands, and he in theirs, every time they climb together, so one can only marvel at the level of respect they must have for his abilities and skills on the mountain. And their friendship helps carry them all through some very difficult times on the mountain, and back on the ground.

I devoured this book, right up to and including the final chapter where the author describes his summiting of Mount Everest in May 2001 – the first blind climber to ever reach that peak.

Truly an excellent read.

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