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Excerpt: Believe and Begin



By Joanna Croston

Mt. Everest has followed Sharon Wood wherever she goes since her historic ascent of the peak in 1986. Over three decades later, her memoir Rising not only chronicles that achievement, but also culminates a writing process as challenging as the climb itself.

I’m sitting in a small café in Canmore, Alberta, and people are starting to trickle in. The vibe in the room is warm, and as the venue fills, folks are smiling and laughing. It’s a small-town, comforting kind of energy where everyone knows each other, and people certainly know the main attraction. We’ve gathered to see Sharon Wood, the first North American woman to summit Mt. Everest, and celebrate the launch of her new book. Rising has been a 30-year labour of love – or perhaps more correctly, a 30-year itch that was never quite scratched. And now, here it finally is, written, bound and published.

Several team members from the 1986 Everest Light expedition have reunited for the event. Barry Blanchard, Laurie Skreslet and Kevin Doyle are right up front. A few couches have been pulled forward to the makeshift stage where Wood will stand to read, and this is where they sit, ready to heckle. Others, like Albi Sole, Jim Elzinga, James Blench and Jane Fearing, are on the perimeter or in the shadows waiting for the reading to begin.

As the show begins, Wood describes how she thought and hoped that some day her achievement on Everest might “go away” and how, eventually, she might be free of it. Since 1986 she’s made a living giving inspirational speeches about her Everest climb, but she explains how she’s never quite been comfortable with it. She admits that she never expected it to take up so much of her identity, yet here she is still talking about Everest. Deciding to write a book about it now, decades later, seems an odd way to be rid of something. 

“Everest has opened doors for me and expanded my world. But at times, Everest has felt like an overbearing friend,” she reads from the pages of Rising. “It has often preceded me, elbowed its way into rooms, sashayed across floors, cut swaths through conversations and embarrassed me.” 

“Outside of my work as an inspirational speaker, I have been quiet about this particular mountain,” she continues. “Some friends have accused me of being coy when I do not let Everest speak for me, but this is how it is: complicated.”

So, did writing a book about Everest finally enable Wood to put the mountain behind her? 

→ Keep reading this feature in Volume 5 of the Canadian Rockies Annual.

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