I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it once again: I’m a sucker for memoirs. And when the memoir in question involves being outdoors—think Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk about Running or Knight’s Shoe Dog—you best believe this intersectional genre is in my top three. So naturally, when Wood’s memoir is about climbing Everest, I’m sold.
In Rising, Wood eases you into her journey to Everest, in a sense acclimatizing you to the context and situation she finds herself in. In her no-holds-barred style, she recounts how her dream to climb Everest was set in motion and the events building up to the summit bid at Everest. Throughout the book, Wood’s vulnerability is striking. She lets you in on her insecurities, her heartbreak, her fears as the only female climber on the team. I get the sense that she intentionally choose not to smooth over the coarse edges of her story; she tells it as it was for her. She mentions that she worked to share her story as accurately as possible, to have it reflect the truth while knowing that it won’t necessarily reflect her teammate’s reality. I think that was brave of her to do.
The first half of the book is about how life led her to the opportunity to climb Everest, and the subsequent treacherous, life-threatening, and physical-limit-defying journey to the summit. The days before the summit bid are positively thrilling to read, and this part of the book was unputdownable. It wasn’t obvious to me, but there were some big emotions in what you’d expect was a primarily physical challenge. There is guilt from having lost a partner on a climb, and guilt from accepting an opportunity when it means your teammate will be denied one. There is grief, regret, and shame. But, there is also respect, admiration, loyalty, and forgiveness. At some point, there is mention of how previous expeditions failed due to drama among the climbers more often than you’d expect. So, despite all the odds stacked against her, she summited Everest, and her long-time dream became a reality.
What she didn’t know was how anti-climactic it would feel after the accomplishment, and how dramatically her life would shift after achieving her dream. She explores her conflicting feelings of achieving the only thing she wanted only to know that her win meant somebody else had to lose. The second half of the book is about how she struggles to acclimatize to a new life in the public eye, taking on speaking engagements to share her story knowing that the audiences just want to hear an inspiring story of a woman who claimed Everest. She struggles with imposter syndrome, a marriage that results in divorce, and chronic depression. It is about coming to terms with and rising above hardship. And realizing that you don’t have to do it alone.
The beginning of the book incorporated some lingo from the climbing community that threw me off, mainly because I struggled to visualize a “serac” or a “bergschrund”—albeit nothing an internet search couldn’t fix. Knowing that the Canadian Everest Light team had 12 climbers, it was naturally somewhat confusing knowing who’s who—but you do get the hang of it eventually. There are some pictures from the 1986 expedition at the end of the book, that helped to put. face to the many names. The pictures were also helpful to visualize the settings because when it comes to mountains sometimes pictures do more justice than words to capture the grandeur.
I cannot recollect how Rising came to be a part of my ‘Want-To-Read’ list. I suspect I might have heard it being mentioned on a podcast or in passing by a bookshelf at the library. However Wood’s memoir fell into my lap, it introduced me to an intersectional genre of books I was ready to fall in love with—the nature-cum-travel memoir. In Rising, the storytelling is a display of the transportive power of reading at its finest. A reminder that books grant us the option to travel and explore places we might not be able to go to. And, for me traveling to Everest in 1986 with Sharon Wood and eleven other male climbers and one female non-climber, Jane Fearing was surreal and I’d definitely recommend that you let her take you on that journey with her.
Here are some on my favorite highlights.
- “The beauty of talking while walking on uneven ground is how we must keep our eyes on our feet and sometimes reveal more than we would when looking one another in the eye.”
- “I hope, no matter how hard it may feel up there at times, that you remember how far you’ve come since you first told me you wanted to go to Everest with the guys.”
- “How bad do you want that turn? And how will you recognize it when it comes along?”
- “Storm days are difficult for anyone, but they tend to be a little worse for me. I know I’m cursed with bouts of depression and have learned to rise out of them with a good run or climb- an activity that alters my brain chemistry and gives me a sense of progress.”
- “My dad used to say, ‘If you think you’ve evolved spend time with your family’.”
- “To make the impossible possible on Everest, we had to raise our baseline from surviving to thriving. Thriving is not about working harder, carrying heavier loads or putting in longer days. Thriving starts with altering our preceptions. I have spent a disproportionate amount of time wishing: if only I had more of something, or better conditions- a myriad of if-onlys. All that does is take up energy and hold me back. Once we get over the if-onlys and commit, all form of resources and assistance become available. The trick is to recognize these gifts, wrapped in unfamiliar packaging. That takes an open mind.”