I just finished reading Steph Davis’s first book “High Infatuation” while recovering from two days of climbing and an accidental hour-long run.
First, I should mention that, for me, Steph Davis is incredibly inspiring. I first learned of her climbing, skydiving, BASE jumping, etc. adventures last fall, while writing a test article for an internship at Climbing Magazine. I was assigned to write about Clif Bar dropping five of their sponsored athletes for participating in high-risk activities. Steph was one of those athletes, the only female. I am a bit biased in my liking her, as she used the questions I sent her for my article in a blog post that served as her first public response to the issue—granted her blog is based off of questions people write to her, but it still caught my attention. Since then, I have been increasingly inspired the more I learn about her first female ascents, mentality when jumping, and overall lifestyle choices. She also has a fantastic recipe for granola on her website; I recommend it highly.
I found “High Infatuation” on one of the shelves above my desk at Rock and Ice, and decided to borrow it to learn more about Steph’s early years and have a little climbing psych before bed each night. The cover told me that I would be reading a “Climber’s Guide to Love and Gravity.”
“High Infatuation,”published in 2005, is a collection of short stories and essays beginning with how Steph first found climbing and ending with her free-climbing the Salathe Wall in Yosemite. In between are tales of Patagonia, Kirgizstan, Baffin Island, Pakistan, and more free climbing in Yosemite. She tells of impressive first accents, first female ascents, the challenges of free climbing in Yosemite without reliable partners, and the terrible weather of Patagonia.
I really appreciated Steph’s honestly throughout the book. Alongside all of her successes—which are many and on very difficult ascents—she writes about times when she was terrified, exhausted, smelly, failed, and was ready to bail. She even tells of discovering that, after weeks of wearing the same base layer in Patagonia, the crotch had rotted through. And she isn’t afraid to admit when her passions might have gone too far, for example, when she selfishly pushed one climbing partner beyond what she believes was reasonable in her quest to summit Fits Roy—though everything worked out in the end, so I’m sure her partner, Philip, wasn’t unhappy with the outcome. She also admits to frequently forgetting people’s names and sometimes making them up.
However, I did have a little difficulty getting into her writing voice, though reading one or two essays at a time might have caused this. I also struggled to follow the timeline. I knew that time kept marching forward, but I lost a sense of how old she was after the first third of the book, or how much time had passed between her different adventures. The book also switches from being in past tense to present, which I found a little challenging, as I kept mentally trying to put all the present verbs back into past tense—though that might just be me.
Now, if you’re looking for a book about how Steph Davis fell in love with Dean Potter—one might think that is the theme from the many pictures of him in the book and “love” being mentioned in the title—you will be disappointed. I wasn’t looking for a mushy romance of two lovesick climbers who were driven together by their passions for scaling rocks, but I was a little surprised about how little of the book was about their relationship. When Dean is mentioned, he only plays a small back-seat roll in a bigger Steph project, is away doing his own projects, or, more likely, he and Steph are at odds, stewing in a snow cave before they break up, again. However, if you wanted Dean to stay out of the picture or are disenchanted by romance, you’ll be quite satisfied with Steph’s minimal account of their relationship.
Overall, I think “High Infatuation” was a way for Steph to collect the various essays she had written over the years and put them in one place and sum up her climbing experiences and their impact on her life thus far. She is an incredibly smart woman (she has a Masters degree in English literature), but I don’t think this book shows her full writing potential. It reads like a sampling of her journal entries that, while well written, feel a bit disjointed. Though, in Steph’s defense, it sounds like she was quite busy with climbing adventures during the time she was writing it—and every other time in her life since she began the sport—so a perfect account of her travels shouldn’t be expected.
I would recommend “High Infatuation” to those who are already familiar with Steph’s climbing history and interested in learning more about her thought process during her early adventures. However, I wouldn’t recommend it as a first introduction to her life and writing.
An Ending Note: Due to some sort of publishing error, the first essay of chapter 6 is cut off after the first page, which is too bad since I really enjoyed the first part of it.
Originally published June 22, 2015, on coffeetapeibuprofenclimb.blogspot.com.