by Maria Coffey
When Maria Coffey met climber Joe Tasker, she felt like she had come home. But Tasker was a man who lived in two exclusive worlds: the dangerous slopes of the world’s highest mountains and the cozy world of Derbyshire with his friends, his shop and life away from an expedition.
As she feels closer and closer to him, he tells her that as long as he’s climbing, he can’t make commitments. He expects and asks nothing from her and she should do likewise with him. They need time to work things out, she believes.
Time is the one thing they don’t have. In May 1982, Joe Tasker and his partner Peter Boardman disappear on the east-northeast ridge of Mount Everest. This is the same area where George Mallory and Sandy Irvine lost their lives trying to make the first summit of Everest in 1924.
“What a waste!” said Carolyn Estcourt, widow of climber Nick Estcourt, who had been swept away by an avalanche on the west ridge of K2 just four years earlier. Maria protests. While she’s unable to come to terms with why Tasker would take such risks, she can’t accept that those risks were meaningless.
As Maria struggles with her grief, Boardman’s widow, Hilary, suggests that they make a journey to Tibet to Advanced Base Camp on Everest to see where Peter and Joe were lost. Maria accepts.
As they travel, Hilary reads portions of Peter’s diary out loud at night. Maria has a feeling of walking in Joe’s footsteps, a sensation that both makes her feel closer to him and intensifies the loss.
They begin to understand the draw of the immense mountain as they come within view of Mount Everest and experience its imposing presence. Struggling through the oxygen-poor atmosphere to reach Advanced Base Camp at at 20,800 feet, Maria begins to understand the intensity of the challenge that Joe had set for himself.
As they say their goodbyes at the memorial cairn for Joe and Peter at Base Camp, Maria finds herself coming to terms with the fact of Joe’s death. The trip has helped take them through stages of grief that allow her to accept the loss and begin to start a new life without Joe.
This book is a poignant story of a woman coming to terms with a terrible loss. Ultimately Maria realizes that all lives are lived on a fragile edge that can change to tragedy in heart beat. The key is to appreciate what you have and be grateful day by day. This book also offers a different perspective on the world of mountaineering and a vivid travelog on Tibet and its remoter areas.
This book is more personal and less revealing than her descriptions in Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow: The Dark Side of Extreme Adventure, written 23 years after Joe’s death. Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow covers the experiences of many more people and delves deeper into the issues of why do climbers take on such terrifying risks, what is the justification for doing so and how do those close to world class climbers cope with the fear of — or in many cases, the reality of — an accident.
Fragile Edge is a tribute to Joe Tasker in many respects; Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow is a less forgiving vision of men addicted to risk and novelty and unable to forge mature relationships that involve commitment, compromised and another person’s right to a life within a relationship as well.
The Author: Maria Coffey
Coffey began her career as a teacher in Manchester, England. She worked in Liverpool, Peru and Canada. Her work also involved working with Vietnamese refugees and helping them to learn English and adapt to a new home.
She grew up near the Derbyshire hills. Her brother Mick was a climber and she shared a house with climber Alex McIntyre, who in the autumn of 1982 died on Annapurna.
After Joe’s death, she immigrated to Canada and later became a writer. She is the author and co-author of 10 books. She married veterinarian Dag Goering. They live on Vancouver Island.