Review by Louise Thornley for the Federated Mountain Clubs Bulletin. Number 197.
Taking a well-earned breather from her 35 year climbing career elite alpinist Pat Deavoll has lingered long enough at ground level to write an autobiography. It’s a truly impressive account, taking the reader from the Southern Alps to remote and often unclimbed peaks in Canada, Alaska, the Himalayas and Pakistan. It’s the perfect escape, especially if you secretly envy the mountaineers life but aren’t quite ready to give up your day job.
Not one to follow the crowd, Pat chooses unknown mountains and routes, favouring first ascents, remoteness and scenic c beauty over well-trod slopes. Her CV includes numerous accomplishments- with the solo first ascent of Pakistan’s Karim Sar just one example.
A frequent theme in Pat’s climbs is the long journey required to reach even the base of a mountain. In a similar vein, the book also reveals Pat’s long quest towards acceptance of failure or falling short of her goals. Her story too is about living with depression, and how climbing helps her ‘find a peace.’
The books structure, ordered more around themes or mountain areas than chronology meant is was sometimes confusing to place people. Over all though, the book proved engrossing and well written.
Unlike some climbing books this one stands out for its honest reflections on important issues affecting climbers. How do people work together in extreme conditions on prolonged expeditions? What helps create a good climbing partnership? How do individuals deal with the effects of altitude or injury? And how do climbers cope when their friends die in the mountains?
Pat’s story pays a lovely tribute to Karen McNeill, the world class New Zealand ice climber who died on an Alaskan peak. Pat writes movingly of her friendship with Karen and the loss. Despite Karen’s significant achievements, she remains unknown to most New Zealanders.
Karen is one of many unsung climbing heroes celebrated. Pat devotes a fascinating chapter to the history and status of women climbers which tells tales of various New Zealand women achieving great things- and not just when they were young. Jane Thomson for instance, made the first ascent of Rolleston’s low peak at the age of 68.
If you want nail biting, sweat inducing reports of extreme climbing, you’ll find them here. But the book will be equally enjoyed by those who are curious about the climbing context or who just want to flirt with the fantasy of scaling great peaks. It explains why climbers are motivated to keep climbing through hardship and loss, and why anyone might want to put themselves through such an ordeal in the first place.
Most of all it’s a personal exploration of the lure of climbing and an accolade to the beauty of remote peaks. Its inspiring to read how this extraordinary New Zealander has forged a life infused with adventure. WFADS is a gripping story of Pat’s enduring love affair with the mountains. She is still hooked” “The mountains have lost none of their challenge, none of their allure. They enthralled me back then, and nothing has changed.”
Review by Josh Gale for Wilderness Magazine, April 2012
In many areas of life, the achievements of women often dont get the same plaudits as do those of men.When 16-year-old Deavoll set out on her mission to become a mountaineer this lack of recognition and sexism was even more prevalent than it is today. Mountaineering was a mans game as Deavoll explains in her book, and she was a young, unsure of herself country girl taking on the Southern Alps with the big boys.
Her book starts by eloquently capturing this experience of being a shy girl climbing with the lads and her nagging sense of self-doubt. To be fair however, the book also shows there were good Kiwi blokes who took here seriously and encouraged her during her early days.
Its surprising to read about Deavoll’s honest account of her ongoing struggle with depression, on the one hand, and her never give up attitude and climbing achievements on the other. Like many driven athletes, its often this tendency for being too hard on themselves that propels them to achieve greatness. When Deavoll wasnt climbing she slumped and when she did pull herself out of it, a sense of low self esteem ate at her confidence. Her hook offers these and other insightful accounts of her internal dialogue and there’s lessons for all climbers and serious trampers in this. Deavoll stuck at it and is now one of the best climbers in New Zealand history.
Deavoll is also a journalist so she knows how to keep the readers interested, how to write simply and clearly and how to introduce the various people she has climbed with throughout her long and outstanding career. I particularly enjoyed her chapter on the Karakoram region of Pakistan. Not only does Deavoll outline her climbing experiences there, but she also provides as in other chapters, a personal feeling for the local culture and its history. She touches on the troubled country’s recent history and the difficulties for people who disagree with the conservative attitude towards swomen.
In 2009, to add to her long list of first ascents on mountains around the world, Deavoll became the first person to climb Karim Sar in Pakistan.