WIND FROM A DISTANT SUMMIT. The story of New Zealand’s leading woman mountaineer. By Pat Deavoll. Pp 264, paperback, 29 colour and 2 b/w photos, 2011. (Craig Cotton Publishing, New Zealand, NZ$ 39.99)
The subtitle of the book is a misnomer since Pat is one of the world’s top all round alpinist today redefining boundaries and breaking barriers of mind, body and soul in the vertical arena of high mountains. Of her climbing prowess, iron will and reckless passion the mountaineering world is aware but who would have imagined that she wielded equal finesse and grace with her pen! That too when she could only finish it due to the publisher’s deadline. I am not known for embellishments but for Pat’s book the only word I have is ‘unputdownable’ and even then it is an understatement. I am not sure if writing this book was a redefining period in Pat’s life but for the reader it would surely be a redefining experience as we climb sheer virgin faces of rock and ice with Pat, often fragile, broken, on the verge of collapse and all angled at gravity and death-defying dimensions. Was I glad that I was only accompanying Pat vicariously, sometimes inside her rucksack, sometime riding her helmet, peering down white walls of glistening ice into the rugged wastelands of Alaska, Canadian Rockies, Karakoram, Himalaya, Tibet, Central Asia, and her very own Southern Alps, where she learnt her ropes and holds.
Pat Deavoll was raised on a farm in North Canterbury and educated in Christchurch. She began mountaineering in her late teens and, after a break when she also became one of New Zealand's leading whitewater kayakers, has continued to climb at the elite level for over three decades. She worked as an outdoor instructor for many years before retraining as a journalist. Currently she works as the Activities & Events Coordinator for the New Zealand Alpine Club in Christchurch. If you haven’t heard of Pat before then you should and if you haven’t known her before then it’s time you did. Perhaps it would raise eyebrows of recognition to know that Pat was one of the lead stunt doubles for the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Vertical Limits’.
Pat leads us through compelling storytelling on the journey of her life from the countryside following her passion for the outdoors; developing from a shy wobbly teenager into the woman she is today. We learn the elements that such high caliber extreme alpinists are made up of and what keeps them going. Her story is as much about her personal voyage of self discovery as it is an inspirational tale of grit and determination, failures and self-doubts and above all an embodiment of man’s ‘never-say-die’ spirit. Pat’s climbs are essentially steep, incredibly and ludicrously steep and dangerous ice and rock faces around the world. And she climbs not to prove anything to anyone or for glory or for any misguided ego; she does it simply since she loves it and finds her true self up within those lofty pinnacles where even eagles fear to fly. This is a journey of self-discovery as much as a nail biting thriller that would inspire and motivate anyone from any field of work to go that extra length and to take that one step to achieve his ultimate goal. Since Pat teaches us never to give up on our dreams no matter how heavy and impossible the odds are.
What makes Pat’s book a cut above such genre books by other elite alpinists are the chapters dedicated to such ethical and moral issues as gender bias, forging of a fulfilling partnership, bonding and finding friends in the most unlikely places, styles of climbing, Everest mortalities and usage of oxygen, etc. She literally shakes the hornet’s nest in matters few would dare to discuss publicly. She collects opinions and views from some of the world’s top climbers on such issues and adds her own; giving us an in depth understanding of a world few have the privilege or courage to explore.
While talking about others, Pat is equally courageous to elaborate upon her own demons, both real and imaginary; her trials and tribulations, battle with clinical depression, sacrifices she did and continues to do; and this makes her and the book a human story of unparallel courage, tenacity and honesty. Her historical essays are well researched and she has added her wit to showcase the old through a fresh coat of interpretation and storytelling nuances. An exhaustive glossary will help even non climbers to understand the technical aspects of climbing and an elaborate bibliography would surely lead us to some more mountain literature of repute.
Pat is a personal friend and I have had the rare privilege of sharing her rope on numerous occasions and so far I have only had admiration and respect for her climbing portfolio and regard her as a human with all qualities of being humane. On a bad ass climb, on a sheer face of hard ice, on a sustained long vertical pitch or on a dark stormy night on the verge of certain death, I would if I could, want Pat to be my partner and if not her then certainly her book by my side. When you are down and out and on the edge you need her passion, her enthusiasm and her climbing skills to see through your ordeal. And if you are caught inside your tent waiting out the weather blasting outside then you need her book to count your hours into seconds.
Whoever you may be, and even if you hate climbing, this book is for you and for your kids and everyone you love since this is an eternal tale of man’s hunger for the unknown and the indomitable spirit of the human race. Let Pat be your guide and lead you through the adventure of life; you will never be the same again.
Any author’s first book is normally a learning ground and is often below the best; but with Pat I am hoping and looking forward to her next offering to know how on earth she can improve on her first foray into the literary world! I am sure she can and she will just like the way she keeps us boggled with her climbs year after year that gets crazier and deadlier. With Pat, there’s never a stage where one can say, this is the best she is capable of, since she would outdo herself in her next climb; and I hope that her literary adventure would also unfurl in the years to come in a manner similar to her climbs. Despite being on the supposedly wrong side of 50 Pat continues to grow as a climber and a human of undeniable strength.
If you are looking for an edge of the seat thriller and have a lazy weekend ahead then don’t look any further, Pat’s book is more than you would be able to handle.
The book can be ordered online from the following sites: