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REVIEW: Kelly Cordes' The Tower

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Living in Berkeley, California has its perks. Everything I need in life is within walking distances - including cool events that offer things to learn that I never even thought to learn about. This happened recently when I happened upon an event being put on by the clothing brand Patagonia, which creates outdoor clothing.

Patagonia is a term for a region encompassing the southern tip of South America. A proper map of it can be found here. In fitting with their adopted name, Patagonia Clothing has started a publishing company, the arm of which has published a book called The Tower by mountaineering enthusiast Kelly Cordes. I was lucky enough to get a promotional copy.

Cerro Torre is a miraculously beautiful peak located on the border of Chile and Argentina, which measures at 10,262 feet. That may not compare to Mount Everest's nearly 30,000 feet but it is still one of the more challenging mountains to climb in the world. Cordes writes of the frequent controversy of the mountain. Much of the controversy centers around Cesare Maestri, an Italian born climber who drove himself toward several attempts on the mountain - his 1959 attempt and then his 1970 attempt being controversial for differing reasons. The first was tragedy, the second was a controversy over the fairness and accessibility of mountain climbing - Maestri in that second attempt used a gas powered compressor drill given to him by a corporate sponsor to equip 350 m. of rocks with bolts. The bolts were taken down later by Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk, North American climbers who in 2012 personally took down all the bolts regardless of their personal or historical significance, deeming them "unnecessary."

What becomes very clear throughout The Tower is that, for the mountaineer, the activity (and profession, when the sort of sponsorship that Cesare Maestri enjoyed comes in to the picture) is not a mindless hobby. It is filled with philosophy. Cordes takes one trip in to Italy where he illustrates that, on some level, Maestri was a part of Italian nationalism - a figure who achieved greatness abroad after Italy's humiliation in the second world war. Italian newspapers and crowds gave him a hero's welcome when he visited Italy and most Italians Cordes talked to were unwilling to doubt the validity of Maestri's peak attempts.

The claim to achievement, along with a tragic loss on the part of Torre Egger, an Austrian guide who passed away during their 1959 ascent, oddly does reflect the Axis story of World War II - a team of Italians and Austrians coming short of their desired glory. Mountaineering indeed was a part of fascism - fascist philosopher Julius Evola wrote an entire book about it. The disregard of Kennedy and Kruk for Maestri's drive to conquer the mountain likewise reflected the American foiling of Italy and Germany in World War II.

The author himself is in deep in mountaineering and closes the book by talking about his own injuries, indirectly linking them to the tragic losses we see in the book each time any generation dared to climb Cerro Torre. His most engaging, in my personal opinion, was the tragic story of Carlyle Norman, a Canadian mountain climber who lost her life while attempting Cerro Torre in 2012. Cordes notes that Norman had lost both of her parents in separate accidents. While it is not specifically spelled out, those two factors may have been likely elements of what drove Norman to climb against serious odds.

The book deviates several times from genuinely good reportage of what occurred from the Maestri/Fava generation in to the Kennedy/Kruk generation, although Cordes, so personally involved and intrigued by mountaineering himself, cannot help but interject his views in to it. This follows through with the story he tells of the various climbers, from varying backgrounds, from the "by any means" Maestri to the possibly personally redemptive Norman, who may have been claiming a greater truth but essentially were seeking themselves on that mountain. And there's nothing wrong with that. Our own selves are the only truth we will ever really know.


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About Radical Second Things

Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

Mark Cappetta is a practicing Catholic and active LGBT activist. He has been instrumental in keeping Radical Second Things and updates the Facebook account almost daily.

Eva Gnostiquette is an artist, programmer, "future scientist," bi-trans girl and graphic designer. She voluntarily helped to create the first print issue Radical Second Things and designed our beautiful banners. Thanks so much, Eva!

Jordan Denato is a professional artist based out of Iowa. He took the initiative to illustrate both Jennifer Reimer's story and Michael Orion's Oscar Romero work. He has his own art studio, Tar and Feather Studios, and is a critical part of Radical Second Things.

Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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