Endless ice. Thin air. The threat of dropping into nothingness thousands of feet below. This is the climb Silvia Vasquez-Lavado braves in her page-turning, pulse-raising memoir chronicling her journey to Mount Everest.
A Latina hero in the elite macho tech world of Silicon Valley, privately, she was hanging by a thread. Deep in the throes of alcoholism, hiding her sexuality from her family, and repressing the abuse she’d suffered as a child, she started climbing. Something about the brute force required for the ascent — the risk and spirit and sheer size of the mountains and death’s close proximity — woke her up. She then took her biggest pain as a survivor to the biggest mountain: Everest.
“The Mother of the World,” as it’s known in Nepal, allows few to reach her summit, but Silvia didn’t go alone. She gathered a group of young female survivors and led them to base camp alongside her. It was never easy. At times hair-raising, nerve-racking, and always challenging, Silvia remembers the acute anxiety of leading a group of novice climbers to Everest’s base, all the while coping with her own nerves of summiting. But, there were also moments of peace, joy, and healing with the strength of her fellow survivors and community propelling her forward.
In the Shadow of the Mountain is a remarkable story of heroism, one which awakens in all of us a lust for adventure, an appetite for risk, and faith in our own resilience.
Silvia Vasquez-Lavado is a humanitarian, mountaineer, explorer, social entrepreneur, and technologist living in San Francisco. In 2014, she launched Courageous Girls, a nonprofit that helps survivors of sexual abuse and trafficking with opportunities to find inner strength and cultivate their voices by demonstrating their physical strength. Courageous Girls has had projects in Nepal, India, the United States, and Peru. Vasquez-Lavado was recognized by Fortune magazine as one of the Corporate Heroes of 2015. CNET named her one of the 20 Most Influential Latinos in Silicon Valley. She has also been recognized by the Peruvian government as one of the “Marca Peru” ambassadors (country brand ambassadors). She is a member of the Explorers Club and one of the few women in the world to complete the Seven Summits.
Amanda E. Machado (she/they) is a writer, public speaker and facilitator whose work explores how race, gender, sexuality, and power affect the way we travel and experience the outdoors. Their work has been published in The Atlantic, Guernica, The Washington Post, Slate, The Guardian, Harper’s Bazaar, NBC News, Vox, Outside, Sierra Magazine, and others. Her work has also been featured in the New York Times, NPR, National Geographic, Travel and Leisure, Longreads, Jezebel, the Climate One podcast, the She Explores podcast, and several other publications, radio programs, and blogs.
In addition to their essay writing, Amanda also is a public speaker and workshop facilitator on issues of justice and anti-oppression for organizations around the world including Patagonia, The North Face, Backcountry, University of California Berkeley, Seattle Public Library, Breakthrough Institute, The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, HipCamp, Kampgrounds of America (KOA), and many others. She is also the founder of Reclaiming Nature Writing, a multi-week online workshop that expands how we tell stories about nature in a way that considers issues like ancestry, colonization, migration trauma, and more.
Silvia Vasquez-Lavado photo courtesy of Emily Assiran. Amanda E. Machado photo courtesy of the author.