Silvia Vasquez-Lavado is a Peruvian humanitarian and mountaineer. She is one of the few women in the world to complete the ‘Seven Summits’ and has been openly recognised by the Peruvian government as a cultural ambassador. In 2014, she launched Courageous Girls to help survivors of sexual abuse and trafficking find the strength to heal. In her awe-inspiring memoir, Silvia delves into her own sexual abuse as a child, as well as her struggle with alcoholism and the repression of her sexuality. After returning home to Peru, Silvia realises that the only way for her to heal is to climb. And thus, her summit of Everest begins. On her journey up the mountain, she brings five women, members of Courageous Girls, all of whom are on their own odysseys to confront their personal trauma. Together they form a sisterhood and propel each other forward.
Throughout the book, the narrative goes back and forth, flitting between Silvia’s troubled past and her present climb of Everest. This mode of storytelling feels incredibly natural — the struggle of climbing the mountain becomes a metaphor for Silvia dredging through the depths of her darkest memories. As she progresses up Everest, her memories become more recent, giving us a sense that she has confronted and healed from her past during the climb. Interestingly, this functions as a reminder of the many forms of healing that we all find and identify with throughout our lives, whether that be climbing, running, drawing, singing, etc.
Additionally, the feminine point of view of climbing Everest was extremely enjoyable. After she leaves the five members of Courageous Girls at Basecamp to proceed on her summit of Everest, Silvia is the only woman in a group of macho, army veteran men. Here she tells of the struggles unique to women climbing Everest; she must ask the group to stop because she has started her period, dealing with terrible cramps whilst traversing an icy cliff edge, and all the while struggling to use climbing equipment designed for men.
In the Shadow of the Mountain is not only a story of a grand expedition but a story of healing after a lifetime of pain and of the power of women.