Mixed Emotions, Mountaineering Writings of Greg Child was published in 1993 and includes previously published stories from the 70s and 80s. However, mountain adventures are timeless and always fun, especially for climbers. I was fascinated by complaints about “crowds” on Himalayan peaks more fifteen years before the ill-fated 1996 Everest expedition and Jon Krakauer’s gripping account of the tragedy, Into Thin Air. Krakauer also wrote the introduction to Mixed Emotions, great stories about memorable climbers, strange occurrences, various journeys into strange lands, and death.
I started rock climbing in Missouri in the 70s, moved on to mountaineering with a guided ascent of Mount Rainier in 1982, and was captivated by books like Ascent: the spiritual and physical quest of Willi Unsoeld. Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein (from my hometown St. Louis) made the legendary first climb of Everest’s West Ridge and in the process became the first to traverse any Himalayan peak. Unsoeld heavily influenced outdoor experiential education, organizations like Outward Bound, and lead to my own 1993 trip guiding “troubled teenagers” into the Wind River Range.
My adventures, while on a much smaller scale, I think allow me an enhanced appreciation of Child’s “mixed emotions.” My teeth have chattered while waiting out storms on high peaks. I dreamed of the Himalayas and the Karakorum, and I climbed to18,000 feet in the Northern Andes. I never trekked off into the “death zone” but came close enough on other adventures. I explore these themes in my Pushcart Prize nominated story “The Wells Creek Route,” and mountaineering figures prominently in my outdoor relationship suspense novel Where the River Splits.
In reading Greg Child’s Mixed Emotions, I am again reminded of the special “spirit” it takes to summit the world’s toughest mountains. While I look forward to hiking up a few more Colorado “fourteeners” with my daughter, I see no need to watch each other freeze to death on some faraway peak while struggling with cerebral edema. No need to lose my daughter like Willi Unsoeld did on her namesake mountain Nandi Devi, no need to be like Greg Child watching his partner die attempting Makalu on the Chinese-Nepalese border. While climbing has been Child’s life, it’s easy to see why he has mixed emotions.
My rating of four out of five stars has nothing to do with the dated material or the excellent writing, but more with technical aspects, and the possible assumption that readers are familiar with the jargon, history, and peculiar drive of mountaineers.
Jeffrey Penn May
Where the River Splits
“The journey to the end is never boring… the story keeps coming back to St. Louis, which should add to its appeal for local readers.” Steve Weinberg, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.