Climbing High: A Woman's Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy
by Lene Gammelgaard
Seal Press, $25
"To the summit and safe return...to the summit and safe return" is Lene
Gammelgaard's mantra throughout her vivid account of the disastrous climbing
season of 1996, when the frozen slopes of Mt. Everest claimed the lives of 12
Gammelgaard survived with a combination of physical and mental discipline and,
yes, luck. Engrossing descriptions and shivering monologues put us on the
mountain with her, immersed in the intensity of the struggle to the summit: "Ice
forms on the inner side of the tent and sprinkles down on us with every gust."
Back on the move, terrified, she exhorts herself, "Concentrate on one step at a
time. Don't think; don't let the old fear take over."
Summiting in triumph, she exults: "I am 29,028 feet above sea level; snow, ice,
and mountain below me-everything is below me-as far as I can see." The ecstasy is
short-lived, for as she descends a sudden storm roars across the mountain. That
night the frozen hell of Everest's "Death Zone" leaves her "whimpering like a
beaten dog. I shake with convulsions and howl."
She ends up in a ragtag group of two Sherpa guides and seven climbers who make it
just far enough down to avoid being killed. After escaping, however, they got
lost, and during the ordeal, the Sherpas disappeared and two of the climbers
froze to death. The others managed to make it to camp during a break in the
storm: "The gale and the snowstorm pause just long enough for a mountain massif
to emerge at our right. And I think there is a star." With the help of a young
Sherpa, Gammelgaard finally made it back to base camp.
Climbing High goes beyond adventure saga to become a powerful study of
connections between natural landscape and inner terrain. The first Scandinavian
woman to reach Everest's peak, Gammelgaard returned to Denmark a celebrity. But
public attention didn't distract her from the gift of the mountain ordeal.
"Everest-pure, divine, unmanipulable, vast, deadly and profoundly rewarding for a
short while-just as life can be anywhere. But more so than most places, Everest
shows you what you are made of in that brief period that seems a lifetime."
Women Pioneers for the Environment
by Mary Joy Breton
Northeastern University Press, $26.95
"A chopped head is cheaper than
a felled tree!" cried Amrita Devi as the axe came down. After she had crumpled
to the ground, her three daughters each in turn took her place defending the
trees. All were killed-beheaded as they stood hugging Himalayan village trees
that the Rajasthan king needed to fire bricks to build a new palace-300 years
Devi and her daughters may have made the ultimate sacrifice for their trees, but
as Mary Joy Breton's 50 subsequent profiles illustrate, it is not unusual for
women to display remarkable courage to protect their environment.
The women portrayed are often poor, sometimes marginally educated, forced into
confrontations with multinational corporations and political
machines. Many risk social censure, threats to themselves and their families,
jail, and even death. Some are famed, like Rachel Carson or Lois Gibbs, who
exposed the notorious toxic dumping at Love Canal. Less prominent, however, are
those like Carson's 1990s counterpart, Theo
Colborn, who has uncovered health problems caused by hormone disruptors in
pesticides and other chemicals.
One of their worthier predecessors was Ellen Swallow (1842-1911), who educated
women about the environment while creating the concept and practice of urban
sanitary engineering, anchoring her crusade in her maxim, "Where plants will not
grow, people ought not to live."
In showing that the environmental role of such women is far greater than
generally known, this remarkable collection also reminds us how rich our
environmental legacy really is.Rebecca Shotwell
World on the Web: Our Planet, Our Selves
by Sierra Club Webmaster John Kealy
Connections between environmental and human health are being made every day. To
follow this fast-moving field, and to learn what you can do to keep yourself and
your home planet in the pink, check out these Internet resources:
The Web page of the Environmental Research Foundation
provides "news and resources for environmental justice." One of its strongest
features is a searchable archive of Rachel's Environment & Health Weekly, a
comprehensive environmental health newsletter published since 1986.
Take advantage of the vast resources of the National Institute of Environmental
Health Sciences without getting bogged down in the minutiae by going to the
agency's "Facts About Environment-Related Diseases and Health Risks" page at
www.niehs.nih.gov, then click on "Environmental Diseases From A to Z."
Along with extensive background material on the links between breast cancer and
the environment, the Health and Environment page of the World Resources Institute
(www.wri.org/health) includes an extensive Web-based slide show created by WRI's
Devra Lee Davis.
Information about children's health, from air pollution and asthma to
pesticides and toxicology, can be found at www. cehn.org,
the home page of the
Children's Environmental Health Network. Particularly useful is the site's
Resource Guide on Children's Environmental Health, which allows visitors to
research children's health organizations by geographic region, target audience,
For information about the health
of your community, go to the Environmental Defense Fund's site at
By entering zip codes or clicking on a series of environmental
maps, you'll see how your area rates in air pollution, chemical releases from
manufacturing facilities, and animal wastes from factory farms-and find out what
you can do about it.