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Books | Web

BOOKS: Woman on Top

Climbing High: A Woman's Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy
by Lene Gammelgaard
Seal Press, $25

"To the summit and safe the summit and safe return" is Lene Gammelgaard's mantra throughout her vivid account of the disastrous climbing season of 1996, when the frozen slopes of Mt. Everest claimed the lives of 12 mountaineers.

Gammelgaard survived with a combination of physical and mental discipline and, yes, luck. Engrossing descriptions and shivering monologues put us on the mountain with her, immersed in the intensity of the struggle to the summit: "Ice forms on the inner side of the tent and sprinkles down on us with every gust." Back on the move, terrified, she exhorts herself, "Concentrate on one step at a time. Don't think; don't let the old fear take over."

Summiting in triumph, she exults: "I am 29,028 feet above sea level; snow, ice, and mountain below me-everything is below me-as far as I can see." The ecstasy is short-lived, for as she descends a sudden storm roars across the mountain. That night the frozen hell of Everest's "Death Zone" leaves her "whimpering like a beaten dog. I shake with convulsions and howl."

She ends up in a ragtag group of two Sherpa guides and seven climbers who make it just far enough down to avoid being killed. After escaping, however, they got lost, and during the ordeal, the Sherpas disappeared and two of the climbers froze to death. The others managed to make it to camp during a break in the storm: "The gale and the snowstorm pause just long enough for a mountain massif to emerge at our right. And I think there is a star." With the help of a young Sherpa, Gammelgaard finally made it back to base camp.

Climbing High goes beyond adventure saga to become a powerful study of connections between natural landscape and inner terrain. The first Scandinavian woman to reach Everest's peak, Gammelgaard returned to Denmark a celebrity. But public attention didn't distract her from the gift of the mountain ordeal. "Everest-pure, divine, unmanipulable, vast, deadly and profoundly rewarding for a short while-just as life can be anywhere. But more so than most places, Everest shows you what you are made of in that brief period that seems a lifetime." —Rebecca Shotwell

Women's Earth

Women Pioneers for the Environment
by Mary Joy Breton
Northeastern University Press, $26.95

"A chopped head is cheaper than a felled tree!" cried Amrita Devi as the axe came down. After she had crumpled to the ground, her three daughters each in turn took her place defending the trees. All were killed-beheaded as they stood hugging Himalayan village trees that the Rajasthan king needed to fire bricks to build a new palace-300 years ago.

Devi and her daughters may have made the ultimate sacrifice for their trees, but as Mary Joy Breton's 50 subsequent profiles illustrate, it is not unusual for women to display remarkable courage to protect their environment.

The women portrayed are often poor, sometimes marginally educated, forced into confrontations with multinational corporations and political machines. Many risk social censure, threats to themselves and their families, jail, and even death. Some are famed, like Rachel Carson or Lois Gibbs, who exposed the notorious toxic dumping at Love Canal. Less prominent, however, are those like Carson's 1990s counterpart, Theo Colborn, who has uncovered health problems caused by hormone disruptors in pesticides and other chemicals.

One of their worthier predecessors was Ellen Swallow (1842-1911), who educated women about the environment while creating the concept and practice of urban sanitary engineering, anchoring her crusade in her maxim, "Where plants will not grow, people ought not to live."

In showing that the environmental role of such women is far greater than generally known, this remarkable collection also reminds us how rich our environmental legacy really is.—Rebecca Shotwell

World on the Web: Our Planet, Our Selves

by Sierra Club Webmaster John Kealy

Connections between environmental and human health are being made every day. To follow this fast-moving field, and to learn what you can do to keep yourself and your home planet in the pink, check out these Internet resources:

The Web page of the Environmental Research Foundation (www. provides "news and resources for environmental justice." One of its strongest features is a searchable archive of Rachel's Environment & Health Weekly, a comprehensive environmental health newsletter published since 1986.

Take advantage of the vast resources of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences without getting bogged down in the minutiae by going to the agency's "Facts About Environment-Related Diseases and Health Risks" page at, then click on "Environmental Diseases From A to Z."

Along with extensive background material on the links between breast cancer and the environment, the Health and Environment page of the World Resources Institute ( includes an extensive Web-based slide show created by WRI's Devra Lee Davis.

Information about children's health, from air pollution and asthma to pesticides and toxicology, can be found at www., the home page of the Children's Environmental Health Network. Particularly useful is the site's Resource Guide on Children's Environmental Health, which allows visitors to research children's health organizations by geographic region, target audience, or keyword.

For information about the health of your community, go to the Environmental Defense Fund's site at By entering zip codes or clicking on a series of environmental maps, you'll see how your area rates in air pollution, chemical releases from manufacturing facilities, and animal wastes from factory farms-and find out what you can do about it.

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