Mixed Emotions – Greg Child

mixed emotions greg child cover artThe Mountain Library rating: 

Published:  1993
Reading style: easy
Images: none

Lasting memory:

“I’ve never been certain whether I’m a climber who writes or a writer who climbs.” And so begins Mixed Emotions, the first collection of Greg Child’s mountain writing. The title of this book should not be a surprise, for there is a recurring theme running through much of Child’s insightful work where he openly debates the conflict he experiences between justifying the risks of climbing versus the joys of the outcome. Similarly, Child likes to challenge his role as a mountain writer and in Mixed Emotions the basis for his struggle is set out in this first line. This continues in the opening to the classic Coast to Coast on the Granite Slasher (as Jon Krakauer outlines in the Foreword) – “Never trust the written word. At best it’s a second-rate account of reality….It’s slashing at reality.” We confront with him the question of how to communicate the joy of climbing through words. Is this possible? How to describe a summit, recount an epic or pay tribute to a lost friend. This ongoing dialogue raises Mixed Emotions to become a reference point in the genre. Wannabe mountain writers take note.

There are other lessons here too. In Another Tongue, a work of fiction thick with Child’s experiences from the Baltoro is a cutting scrutiny of the motivations of mountaineers and their influence on mountain communities, told through the eyes of two Balti porters. And in Meeting with a Stranger we bear witness to Child’s meditation on death after discovering a skeleton on a glacier “peaceful… He was part of the mountain now, like a boulder.”

As I’ve discussed before, the joy of Child’s writing is in the depth of observation and breadth of experience he delivers with intelligence and humour. From his beginnings climbing rock in Australia, to big walls in Yosemite, through to his beloved Karakoram, it’s all covered in Mixed Emotions. And there are also satisfying pieces on legends such as Doug Scott, Voytek Kurtyka, Don Whillans, and the lesser known, dark knight of American big walls, Jim Beyer.

“Human error is a reckless luxury in an environment where trespassers are merely tolerated.”

What the publisher says:

Well-known for his Himalayan expeditions and first ascents on rock walls in Australia and the United States, Greg Child freely admits his mixed feelings about climbing. Overwhelming are the loss of friends, the thrill of achievement, and the soul-shattering moments of risk and survival; but it is precisely these experiences that compel him to write and to continue climbing.

In Mixed Emotions, Child remembers the mountains, the people, and the episodes that “have made me feel my life acutely,” including the 1986 K2 tragedy that killed thirteen climbers; a near-fatal snakebite in his native Australia; and the loss of climbing partner Pete Thexton. He recalls his associations with world-renowned mountaineers Doug Scott, John Roskelley, Voytek Kurtyka, and Don Whillans. Child also narrates fascinating off-mountain journeys to a secluded Hindu shrine, and the remote, harsh landscape of the Baltoro Glacier, where “progress” has left its indelible mark.

Finally, Child comments on some less tangible aspects of climbing, such as the “ghostly presence” that accompanies climbers under duress, and the meanings of and inevitable meetings with death.

The first collection of work from one of the world’s finest mountaineering writers, Mixed Emotions includes five previously unpublished essays by Greg Child.

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2 comments

  1. I’m a continuing fan of the quality of your writing, and big fan of Greg Child. I’ve read “Mixed Emotions” three times already, and I’ll probably pick it up again soon. Child’s writing is a wonderful balance of entertainment and insight. A great book! Thanks for the review!

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