A large group of people braved the cold for the launch of Poles Apart: With Some Pointy Bits In Between at Kalk Bay Books recently – although the Cape Town weather seemed bearable in comparison to the book’s subject matter.
Nancy Richards, who was in discussion with authors Vaughan de la Harpe and Sean Disney, began the evening by noting that even James Clark’s cover shout emphasised the terrifying and exciting nature of the book, as he said he “suffered frostbite” just reading it.
Richards jokingly admitted to feeling “intimidated” by De la Harpe and Disney, calling them a formidable pair, and adding that she felt like she was talking to the “gods of the mountain”. As told to David Bristow, Poles Apart documents the journey of the two intrepid mountaineers’ climbing expeditions. De la Harpe and Disney have completed The Grand Slam, which includes The Seven Summits (including Kilimanjaro and Mount Everest) and the North and South Poles, as well as summiting many other peaks over the years.
Topics discussed during the evening included everything from ethics to physical exertion, acclimatisation, dangerous environments, sherpas, altitude sickness and the interesting characters the authors met on their travels. Richards was entertaining and engaging, and admitted to suffering “vertigo, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, outrage, shock and altitude sickness” while reading the book – but ultimately “extreme envy”.
De la Harpe, who reached all his summits on the first try, explained how he and Disney stay motivated, insisting “it’s not just about climbing”, and noting the importance of factors such as support, planning and assessment. However, most crucial, according to De la Harpe, is factoring in “internal motivation” and having “an objective that is worth achieving”.
Disney, a mountaineering guide and motivational speaker, has done the Seven Summits twice, and says he tries to do two or three new challenges every year. He shared his insights into the technical knowledge and practical challenges of mountaineering, including understanding the affects of altitude and mountain medicine, preparing for the journey and knowing the body’s ability to adapt to such experiences. Disney equates the skill to Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers and the notion that you need 10 000 hours of practice in a discipline to achieve optimum results.
It was difficult to believe the pair had summited the world’s highest mountain peaks and were still left with the energy to document their story, but as Vaughan explained, they wanted to “break the mould of this kind of book, we wanted it to be free of ego and in a conversational style” combined with a “large dollop of humour”. From the talk it is clear that De la Harpe and Disney’s story is detailed, riveting and definitely worth a read.