Sunday, September 26, 2010

Doctor on Everest: A Memoir of the Ill-Fated 1971 International Expedition, by Peter Steele; conclusion

(This book begins here.)

Steele is back at base camp for a short time before he heads up the "Hill" to work at higher camps. Soon after he arrives, a storm blows in. Climbers head down the mountain, and Harsh Bahuguna, the Indian climber, has an accident on the way down. A rescue party goes up for him, and though at first he is frozen but responsive, he has another fall, and he becomes too far gone to save in the blizzard without further loss of life or limb. The storm rages for two weeks, and the crews are for the most part stuck at their respective camps. Several climbers at Camp II become sick, and it becomes imperative to get them down. A long slog down to base camp through the storm and high snow ensues, and Steele has a lot of work on his hands getting everyone fit again. The stress of the expedition becomes too much for some, with delays because of the frightful condition of the Icefall, the impossibly long storm, and sickness all around, and infighting begins. Because of all the delays, there is only time and manpower to possibly achieve one route up Everest before the monsoon arrives, and this becomes a point of contention. Each team vies for their route, and some climbers from both teams demand to skip over to the well-trodden South Col route just to get to the top. They have a couple votes over the radio before the co-leader Jimmy Roberts returns from visiting those convalescing in the valley and makes a firm decision on the Southwest Face route. Several climbers leave in protest. Progress continues up the mountain slowly, but a strange illness is effecting many people. Steele finally narrows it down to viral glandual fever. Climbers drop like flies, and Steele sends them down the mountain one-by-one to recover, even sending Dyrenfurth, the leader, all the way home. Eventually, even Steele gets the illness. Four climbers in top shape are left on the mountain, Whillans, Haston, Uemura, and Ito, as well as two Sherpas. They make it to the Rock Band, and cannot keep themselves supplied well-enough to get higher. After 20 days high on the mountain and the monsoon on their necks, their climb is over. Steele has high praise for the Japanese climbers, as they selflessly acted as porters for the final days, often without supplemental oxygen, to keep Whillans and Haston climbing higher.

I appreciate this book being around, for I can find no other extended account of the 1971 expedition. (There is, however, an article on it in the American Alpine Journal.) Though in its current form it is very interesting to hear from the doctor on an expedition where health was such a problem, the book frustrates the reader like me, who wants to know as much as possible about the climbers and the climbing. The 1971 expedition pioneered the Southwest Face route, and besides this first expedition, the successive attempts are well-documented. Bonington and Herrligkofer, however, were old-hand at the media machine before they made their attempts, whereas Dyrenfurth benefited little (a hand-shake from President Kennedy and years of debt) from his successful American Everest expedition of 1963. It should be interesting to read Steele's other Everest-related book, a biography of Shipton, a man of his own heart.

But next, a mountain of a book from a guy who can't seem to keep his crampons off Chomolungma!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Doctor on Everest: A Memoir of the Ill-Fated 1971 International Expedition, by Peter Steele; page 114

The beginning of Steele's book is hard to forget! I've already ranted about the trend of starting your Everest book halfway or more up the mountain. Steele's prose, however, begins in base camp below the Khumbu Icefall, with all the participants of the expedition constructing latrines. While he intends it more as a jibe at the large expedition lifestyle, I can't help but find it a funny difference from the later works of Everest writers. Immediately after this bit, his writing returns to nine years previous, when he worked in a hospital in Kathmandu. At least he doesn't return all the way to his childhood! Unlike his writing companions of later years, Steele continues to wander chronologically throughout the book, making it hard for the reader looking for the facts to get things straight. His prose is so far intelligent and interesting, and he brings a perspective I haven't read before: running the hospital from base camp. The 1971 International Expedition is a big one, covering both the West Ridge and the Southwest Face simultaneously and using some of the world's most famous climbers, including Don Whillans, Dougal Haston, Naomi Uemura, and Carlo Mauri.

I looked forward to this book because 1971 Everest is the only expedition with both of my favorite climbing personalities: Don Whillans and Naomi Uemura. So far, Steele's coverage of Whillans has been enjoyable, but I've been frustrated on the Uemura front. Anything with Uemura makes my day; I still do not understand why there are no books in English on this amazing adventurer. Wickwire gives him some coverage in Addicted to Danger, and Greg Child devotes a chapter to him in Mixed Emotions, but anything else I've found has been a cameo, at best, such as Reinhold Messner's The Crystal Horizon.  

So, I'm halfway through the book, and I think the climbers are somewhere in the Western Cwm, but then again, the actual climbing has so far only made passing remarks in the book. Steele does give a good introduction to each of the climbers, and he weaves these into the prose throughout. He gives more detail about the trek into base camp than most, and he makes detailed remarks about the overall health of the climbers. Just as the expedition gets climbing, a lone Spaniard wanders into base camp with acute altitude sickness. Steele injures himself while treating the man, and they are both evacuated to Kathmandu for hospital treatment. The Spaniard sends him a bill for half the evacuation. Steele is nonplussed. He returns to base camp by way of Lukla airport, making an abbreviated trek in, and finds the climbing well underway.

Perhaps we will get to the mountain tomorrow!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Above the Clouds: The Diaries of a High-Altitude Mountaineer, by Anatoli Boukreev; conclusion

(My post on the first half of this book can be found here.)

I have another quote to share, written by Boukreev after summitting Everest and Lhotse back-to-back, in 1996:

"My thoughts during the last few ascents have evolved. When climbing the last few meters or even stopping on the summit's snowy ledge, my understanding of the meaning of the achievement has changed. My sense of joy in the accomplishment and my satisfaction with being on the top is overshadowed by the wonder that one could make such an effort for the transitory reasons of human vanity. It is as though, arriving at the top, something has been forgotten or lost, and without that it is impossible for me to understand why I am standing there. A great emptiness fills me, and I experience tranquillity, knowing that when I go down, the world will be easier for me."

Boukreev serves as a lead climber for Henry Todd on the north side of Everest in 1995, and is hired by Scott Fischer as a guide for the spring of 1996 on the South Col route. In between, he summits Dhaulagiri, and makes a winter ascent with his countrymen of Manaslu. Though he never mentions it, its clear he's working his way to the fourteen 8000ers. He worries about guiding Everest, but he cannot complain about the money, compared to his other climbing gigs. He again has trouble with English, and he's not sure he likes the idea of taking amateurs up Everest. Anyone acutally interested in this blog already knows the story that follows. Death, carnage, zombies...I mean Beck Weathers wandering around the South Col. In his Russian diaries, he actually talks more about trying to save people and in greater detail than in The Climb. He is satisfied that he was able to save all of his clients. He feels horrible for not saving Scott, but he felt he must save the clients first. He has unresolved mixed feelings about leaving the comatose Yasuko Namba where she lay. He makes a speed ascent of Lhotse days after arriving back at base camp as a memorial to Scott and to help himself sort out his feelings. Interestingly, he thought that Fischer had climbed the summits back-to-back previously, and that he was repeating this feat. Upon summitting Lhotse, he had climbed five 8000-meter peaks in one year.

He travels to America to attend Fischer's memorial, and heads back to the Himalaya for the fall season. He summits Cho Oyu and Shishipangma by his own standards. Interestingly, the final summit ridge was too dangerous to climb unroped on Shishipangma, and he turned back just shy of the summit, the same situation Ed Viesturs found himself in on the mountain. Boukreev feels that mountain climbing is between the climber and the mountain, and that he climbed the mountain and is happy with his results. Ed Viesturs, you may remember, needed to walk those final few steps and returns to Shishipangma later to finish the job. I am certainly not qualified to say either of them is right or wrong, but I do find the difference in their attitudes interesting.

That winter, he is hired by an Indonesian general to train and guide an Indonesian expedition for the South Col route of Everest. He lets the general know that he thinks the odds are slim that anyone will get a bunch of guys (even special forces) who have never seen snow to the top of Everest with three months training. Boukreev and two of his climbing friends train and weed a field of candidates down to a short list. The expedition makes two training climbs to trekkers' peaks before heading to base camp. He and his friends bring three of the troops to the summit and back down safely early in the season. On the way up, he finds the body of Bruce Herrod on the Hillary Step, and he performs burials for Fischer and Namba on the way down.

After his guiding is finished, he does some climbing for himself. First, he attempts with Simone Moro a traverse of the Everest-Lhotse massif, but is brought down by bronchitis after summitting Everest again. He then heads to Pakistan and ascends Broad Peak, and again, just like Viesturs, is turned around by unsafe snow conditions meters shy of the summit. Broad Peak is quickly followed by a speed summit of Gasherbrum II, summitting in 9 1/2 hours, and returning to base camp within 13 hours. Four 8000-meter peaks in 80 days! Yikes!

A winter ascent of Annapurna with Simone Moro follows. This time, however, there is no descent for Boukreev. He is crushed by a collapsing serac on his way up. The book ends with letters mailed from base camp and a poem written for Linda Wylie before he left.

I heart this book!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Above the Clouds: The Diaries of a High-Altitude Mountaineer, by Anatoli Boukreev; page 125

I'll have to admit that I started off with a very low opinion of Boukreev, hearing of him for the first time in Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. I can't say that reading Boukreev's The Climb improved things much---it seemed a poor rebuttal to scathing accusations and to reinforce the stereotypes of the obstinate Russian who doesn't give a dang. Then, I read Maria Coffey's Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow, which talks about his relationship with Linda Wylie, and Ed Viesturs talks about how much respect he has for him in No Shortcuts to the Top. Viesturs also mentions that anyone who wants a taste of the real Toli had better read Above the Clouds. Now I'm interested!

What a change! I'm only halfway through the book, and I'm definitely a convert. While he comes off as standoff-ish and rude when he speaks in English, he is a master of nuance and hard truth writing in his mother tongue. I need to share an example of his writing that I found particularly impressive:

"Big mountains are a completely different world: snow, ice, rocks, sky, and thin air. You cannot conquer them, only rise to their height for a short time; and for that they demand a great deal. The struggle is not with the enemy, or a competitor like in sports, but with yourself, with the feelings of weakness and inadequacy. That struggle appeals to me. It is why I became a mountaineer. Every summit is different, each a different life that you have lived. You arrive at the top having renounced everything that you think you must have to support life and are alone with your soul. That empty vantage point lets you reappraise yourself and every relationship and object that is part of the civilized world with a different perspective."

If that's what I found at the top of a mountain, you bet I'd go up! I really like pleasant surprises, and this book has so far been swell.

The book begins with an extended introduction by Galen Rowell and then a short biography by Linda Wylie. Galen's intro is certainly a better rebuttal to Krakauer than I've read before, and it talks about many of Boukreev's accomplishments and his dedication, both to friends and to mountains. The biography includes information from his friends and family, both at home in Khazakhstan and in the United States. It covers his childhood, his Soviet sports career, his transition to mountain guiding life after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and his eventual death on Annapurna.

The diaries cover expeditions beginning in 1989 with his participation in the Soviet traverse of Kachenjunga and finishing with a poem presented to Wylie before his departure for Annapurna in 1997. He remains thoughtful throughout, and he admits in his contact with Americans that they often believe him to be argumentative when he offers a different course of action. What they cannot know, because of the language barrier, is that he speaks from unbelievable amounts of experience, training, and knowledge. Though he does not brag or even dote on this in his journals, he has (according to his biography) climbed over 200 6,000 meter peaks and all of the 7,000 meter peaks in the Soviet Union several times over. Whereas occasional American and British scientists like to study the physiology of high-altitude acclimation, the Soviets made this study a state priority, and used their best mountaineers as test subjects to root out the most effective courses for fitness at elevation. Just as the Soviet mountaineering machine was coming to a climax, and its climbers began to take on the Himalaya, communism fell, and so, too, did state support for mountaineering. Boukreev was at the top of a generation of climbers engineered to take on the world, and he suddenly found himself without the means to climb the mountains he had spent his life training for.

An editor at Climbing magazine got him a job as a guide for a McKinley expedition, and he slowly worked his contacts to find other work in the mountains. He sometimes guided American friends in the mountains of the former Soviet states, he guided McKinley once more, and then he landed a spot in 1993 on a K2 expedition for the price of showing up. He once again inadvertantly came off as argumentative, this time with his German partners, but he trusted them to make the important decisions. Even though he did not agree with their plan of action, he followed them, and then reluctantly led the party to the summit late in the day. Only one of his three climbing partners, and neither of the leaders, made it back to the high camp after summitting. He was the eighth person in the world to surmount Everest, K2, and Kanchenjunga, (He climbed Everest via the South Col "quite by accident" on the last Soviet expedition to the mountain in 1991.) but he felt little reward after such a tragedy. The K2 at first did little for him, but after working a while in Boulder, CO as a cement mixer, the local paper wrote an article about him, and Thor Keiser (who attempted K2 at the same time as Ed Viesturs in 1992) noticed. Thor invited him to guide Makalu, and the Cho Oyu, and then Rob Hall snatched him up for Everest. His career had begun.

Above the Clouds continues here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Himalaya Alpine-Style: The Most Challenging Routes on the Highest Peaks, by Fanshawe & Venables

Fanshawe and Venables put together a coffee table book directed more towards the serious (armchair) mountaineer than Robert Mads Anderson's tome. The book serves as a reference guide for the alpine ascents the authors feel are the most interesting on several mountains, with extensive photos, an outline map of each route, some prose, and a fact-table that gives details of the expeditions. The North Face Direct route, climbed by Loretan and Troillet in 1986, is included for Everest. Along with their French comrade, Beghin, they ripped up to 7800 m in an eleven-hour night climb following the Japanese Couloir from the Rongbuk Glacier. During the day, they rested and melted snow for food and drinks. The following evening, they set out again to follow the Hornbein Couloir, Beghin turning back after a short while. By 1 p.m., Loretan and Troillet were on the summit. After ninety minutes on top of the world, they found the snow conditions perfect for a glissade, and made down to the glacier along with Beghin in five hours. An hour later, an avalanche filled the couloir! The book also makes a nod to Messner's alpine-style solo ascent of the North Ridge, noting that it was likely more difficult, but the authors give Loretan and Troillet points for style. Both expeditions summitted during a brief respite in the weather towards the end of the monsoon and took advantage of good snow conditions.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Summits: Climbing the Seven Summits Solo, by Robert Mads Anderson; conclusion

The beginning of this book can be found here

Anderson has three summits to go; next stop Europe's Elbrus! He travels to the peak by way of Moscow and finds a country in transition. The fall of communism was not far off, and he catches glimpses of the old world interwoven into the new. He is careful to include telling photographs, such as a mother in traditional dress holding the hand of her daughter, who wearing the latest fashions. On the mountain, he stays at the Pruitt II hut after walking up since the skylift is broken. The approach is straightforward from the hut, and he has little hope of traveling a new route as planned. After surmounting, he travels to the Ukraine and the Crimea to take in the culture and some rays.

Antarctica's Mt. Vinson follows. Anderson catches a plane from Punta Arenas as a paying member of a guided expedition, but the expedition organizers allow him to pursue his solo plans. He gets ideal weather for his 21-day excursion, and he summits the mountain by the South Face and the Rolex Ridge, both unclimbed routes. He describes amazing cold and ice crystals bigger that a fist on the mountain. Additionally, he climbs two nearby unclimbed peaks with the extra time provided by the perfect (for Antarctica!) weather.

Anderson now has only Mount Everest to climb. The book actually covers his third solo attempt! He tries the mountain in 1991 to no avail, in 1993 during the "worst monsoon in 100 years," and returns in 1995 for a final go. This time he brings two friends to share base camp and climb alongside, but independent of him. They travel from Nepal over the Friendship Bridge into Tibet, and head to the mountain with a brief stop in Xegar and the Rongbuk Monastery. He attempts the Great Couloir route, parting ways with his friends at the Lho La. He makes two concerted attempts, but is turned back by hip high snow near the top of the couloir. With one of his friends, he makes one last attempt as a duet, but alas, the snow remains. As the book ends, he leaves his quest unfinished.

The book overall reminds me of a Paul Theroux travel memoir in style and setting, with less prose and many more pictures; Anderson covers much ground, however, that Theroux will likely never see. The pictures are appropriate and well-shot, but certainly the work of a talented amateur, rather than a professional photographer. Again, though, because of their location, many of the shots are unlikely to be one-upped by a professional anytime soon. This book makes a great introduction to the seven summits for those who prefer visual imagery over the imagination and for those who don't want to take the time to read a full-length book such as Dick Bass's. It is also an opportunity, along with his other two books, to get to know one of the world's less-publicized professional mountaineers.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Summits: Climbing the Seven Summits Solo, by Robert Mads Anderson; page 91

Anderson is a veteran of the Everest Kangshung Face expedition that put Stephen Venables on the summit. During the expedition he reaches the South Summit and loses some fingertips and toes to frostbite. In 1990, he dedicates himself to reach the tops of the seven summits alone, to explore the cultures surrounding the mountains, and to tell the story of his adventure primarily through photography. A friend will follow him to base camp to video his attempts. The overall presentation of this volume is of a coffee table book, and the prose reflects the attention span of the occasional glance, rather than the through-reader.

He begins with his ascent of Kilimanjaro, does not give his route, but his photographs show that his base camp is in front of the Breach Wall. The photos of the mountain depict the double nature of the upper mountain, half rocky Sahara, half thin-layered glacier. He also includes many photos of the nearby wildlife. On his way out, one of the base camp porters hurts his knee, and he and the other porters take turns carrying him back to civilization, 16 kilometers distant. He takes some time after his trek to visit nearby wildlife refuges.

Kilimanjaro is followed by South America's Aconcagua, which he ascends by the Polish Glacier in a single-day push from camp one. He longs to see a guanaco, the miniature llama native to the area, but has no luck. His photos show a rocky approach, beautiful weather for a summit, and a chance encounter with Phil Ershler, famous mountain guide and another seven-summiter. While in nearby Mendoza, his videographer's equipment and passport are stolen. Perhaps his friend should not have bragged about his camera to his waiter at dinner!

Mount McKinley is next. The approach is a long slog on skis through a crevasse field towing a sled behind, and Anderson says it's best to pray throughout that neither you nor your sled disappear into the earth on the way!  He summits twice in three days, first alone by the Messner Couloir with a return by the West Buttress, and once more with his cameraman friend by an unspecified route. On the mountain, he runs into Sandy Hill Pittman, who will later survive the 1996 Everest disaster. He is impressed by the 1 kg. salmon steaks in the restaurants of Talkeetna.

There follows Mount Kosiuko in Australia. Anderson makes light of his trip, mentioning that he rents a car for the approach and his base camp is a nearby motel. He takes the ski lift nearly to the top, and stops for a coffee in the cafe. Nature gets the better of him, however, and he is turned back by a blizzard, unable to see through the snow which way leads up since the top of the mountain is nearly flat. He returns three days later in better weather for a quick stroll to the summit and some photographs.

Everest tomorrow!

This post continues here

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Adventurer's Eye: The Autobiography of Everest Film-Man Tom Stobart; conclusion

(This book begins here.)

Stobart finishes up his year of travels and filming in Africa with another trip to South Africa to film sea lions and penguins. From there he heads to Australia, near Darwin, to film the capture of crocodiles. They catch little, almost strand themselves in a mud bog, and he finds himself with a difficult illness. He returns to London very sick, and after weeks of tests and his further deterioration, the doctors discover an amoeba infection in his liver. He finds out while in the hospital that he is being considered for the filming of the 1953 South Col Everest expedition, assuming his health returns. His doctor recommends three weeks in the hospital and several months convalescence. The expedition, however, leaves in four weeks. He prepares for the filming, works to bring some life back to his body, and squeaks by the health exam from the expedition doctor before leaving. The expedition climbers have already left by boat months before, and he travels to Kathmandu by air. He shares a room at the British Embassy with Hillary and describes him as a "steel skeleton." He's unsure that a film on a Himalayan peak, especially Everest, is feasible, but he will take his experiences on Nun Kun and in Antarctica and see what he can make of it. He enjoys the march in, and works hard to capture usable footage of all the climbers, since he will not know until afterward who, if anyone, will climb the mountain. He follows Hillary and Lowe to the Khumbu Ice Fall in the advanced party. He has much difficulty (especially considering his health) getting good footage, since it entails darting ahead of these strong climbers, filming their passing, and repeating. At base camp, he constructs with some help a small ice cave to store his film as well as work on his camera equipment in a relatively uniform temperature. He films much of the progress up through camp four, but due to a bout of pneumonia and his previous illness finds it impossible to stay ahead of the climbers further up, who additionally have the benefit of oxygen at this height. He provides two cameras and some training to climbers for footage of the South Col and above. Bourdillion and Evans reach the South Summit, and then Hillary and Tenzing make it to the top. Everybody celebrates, the Queen is happy, and when the time comes, she even attends the movie premiere!

Stobart's book is an enjoyable read and a grand adventure. It keeps one guessing throughout, due to his clueing the reader in on details at the last possible moment, such as telling that he is going to Africa, but saving where in Africa until he lands, or telling of his Antarctic expedition, but not relating that he was returning with the boat until it's time to go. This guesswork is a nice change from the predictable grind of most expedition books. The book is also an important window into the beginnings of the adventure documentary business that blossomed from the newsreels of World War II. The section about Everest is unique in his perspective, and it also gives some details left out of the tidy official account by Lord Hunt, such as the snow blindness of the porters in the advanced party and the presence of Ralph Izzard, sent to scoop their official news sponsor. Izzard wrote a book of his misadventures on this news run; I'll have to review it soon. Who wouldn't want to read a book about a guy who shows up to Everest base camp clean shaven and in business attire?! But first, a hardcore disciple of Dick Bass!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Adventurer's Eye: The Autobiography of Everest Film-Man Tom Stobart, by Tom Stobart; page 164

(This book begins here.)

Arriving in the Himalayas in early spring, Stobart finds there is not much mountain climbing to be done. He instead chooses a trek that will bring him close to Nanda Devi, and hires four coolies for the journey. Locals continually tell him to turn back, because the way forward is impossible, but he continues on, eventually reaching his destination and meeting a Buddhist hermit who happens to speak English. He continues working for the military through the war, and decides following the end of European hostilities to take a final trek before returning home. He, a friend, and a man they find through the mail, decide to climb (with Stobart filming) Nun Kun, a 23,000 foot unclimbed peak near Kashmir. Along with three Sherpas and local porters, they head to the mountain, and set up base camp. Stobart finds filming while climbing exceedingly difficult. They set up two advanced camps before giving up due to all of their oil stoves giving out. Upon returning, Stobart finds that most of his filming poor and somewhat boring, and takes the trip as an education, rather than a feature.

In England, he turns to scientific filming after teaching for a bit, and eventually lands himself on an Antarctic expedition. On the way down, he does his best to film, but finds that he needs to work exceedingly hard to get along with his shipmates and remain unnoticed as often as possible. The boat meets up with a commercial whaler that carried their heaviest cargo through the rougher seas, and he is aghast of the dirtiness and efficiency of what he sees. He is equally squeamish of the killing of seals by the crew on their way down. They work hard to find a place to offload the equipment on the uncharted coast of Queen Maud Land before the end of the Antarctic summer. After an extended search, they find a mooring, and set up a camp for several men to winter in, and the crew and Stobart head out just as pancake ice is beginning to form around them. Stobart convinces the film company to allow him to do some filming in South Africa before his return.

Stobart decides to settle down, and takes a job with a friend, but gives notice three days later after being invited to film in Central Africa. He gets practice filming at a wild animal holding facility, and then heads out to film the capture of wild animals for zoos by the proprietors. He doesn't like the idea of these animals being in zoos, but he enjoys the filming, none the less.

Tomorrow, Everest!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Adventurer's Eye: The Autobiography of Everest Film-Man Tom Stobart, by Tom Stobart; page 77

This is the first book I've reviewed on this blog that has not started in the middle of a climb, and it's a little refreshing. Stobart begins with his childhood, growing up in England and generally being uninterested in school. He works towards a career in film, writing reviews for film journals, before being accepted as an apprentice to a documentary film maker. He works on his first film about rivers and meets the girl of his dreams, a dark-haired Rumanian named Kara. She has to return home, and stricken, he decides to follow her. He discovers that the only English language film on Rumania is very poor, and sets about to remedy Rumania's problem as well as his own. On his way out, Germany and Russia make an agreement about Germany's invasion of Poland, and the upheaval of World War II begins. Stobart is only able to make a brief visit to the country and to Kara, without shooting any film, before he must return. His journey is made difficult by the closing of Switzerland's borders and his lack of cash. By the time he arrives in France, he has five shillings left for his meals. Still determined to be with his love, he joins an international charity run by the Quakers for service in Rumania. He is able to spend a short time there before Rumania takes the side of the Germans, and he is expelled from the country. Stobart begs Kara to come with him, but she insists she must stay with her family. He can no longer return by way of Italy and France, and can only leave Rumania by traveling east. He works his way through Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq to catch a boat to India. First and second class are booked for six months solid, so he and a Czech companion travel third class on the deck of the ship, and find themselves unprepared without their own food, bedding, or cooking wares. They convince the captain to allow them to pay a second class fare in exchange for food and beds. Without money, Stobart find himself trapped in India. He helps some locals put together some films without pay, and has trouble finding any work. After a time, a military officer approaches him and asks him to teach military men how to make films for military use. He enjoys the work an works very hard, so much so, that the doctor prescribes him 6 weeks vacation to recover from multiple illnesses. It is here that we find out that Stobart knew Odell of Everest fame as a child, and loved listening to his stories and looking through his pictures. With six weeks vacation and some money in his pocket, he naturally heads straightaway to the Himalayas! (This book continues here.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks, by Ed Viesturs; conclusion

(This book begins here.)

Annapurna becomes Viesturs' nemesis. His first attempt on the North Face is wrecked by two weeks of heavy snow. His second attempt, by the grueling East Ridge, is thwarted by frightening conditions halfway up. Two of his teammates drag themselves to the summit and back, however. Viesturs is happy for them, but also happy about his choice to stay behind. They have a hellish time. In between attempt two and three, Viesturs and one of his companions from Annapurna travel to Pakistan to climb Nanga Parbat and to finish Broad Peak. They climb the Diamir Face of Nanga Parbat with a group of Italians who invite them to climb with them, having already set up most of the route. They wait out a storm at the high camp for three days, and make a long climb to the summit and descend in a whiteout that gives them trouble finding the way. Viesturs and his partner head to Broad Peak. At the long summit ridge, his partner has trouble keeping up. After summitting, they skip out on the high camp and head straight down when they realize something is wrong. A pair of helicopters comes to rescue his partner at base camp, and Viesturs gets a free ride back to Skardu in the second, because it had come in case the first had troubles. Only Annapurna is left, but he puts it off a year to return to Everest with David Breashears for more filming. They once again return to the summit via the South Col, this time with Viesturs using supplemental oxygen. Annapurna beckons, and he goes for another North Face attempt. This time the snow is lighter, and the weather cooperates, and he gets up and back in one piece. He becomes the first American to climb the 14 highest mountains in the world. After all the media attention has died down, he's not quite sure what to do with himself. He might return to the 8,000 meter peaks if another film opportunity arose, but he has no personal reason to return. He continues the motivational speaker circuit and representing his sponsors. He sets his sights on shorter, but still interesting mountains and a couple non-mountain adventures.

I wouldn't call this book one the greats, but it is an entertaining read by a hardcore climber who is unimaginably personable. I appreciate Viesturs' conservatism on his climbs. I'm not really of the mind set that climbing any massive peak is worth the dangers (I think partly I read climbing books because I'm intrigued by people who do things I would never do.), but his safety-directed mindset is refreshing. I also find it fascinating to read from a professional's perspective about the commercialization of Everest during the late 80's and early 90's.

Up next, a photographer on the first ascent.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks, by Ed Viesturs; page 211

(This book begins here.)

David Breashears asks Viesturs to lead the climbing for his upcoming 1996 Everest IMAX movie. After a lot of prep, the crew heads to Nepal in March to get ready for the climb. The South Col base camp is overrun with expeditions, including the IMAX group, guided expeditions by Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, an international Everest expedition, the South African expedition, a Korean expedition, the solo adventurer Goran Kropp, a Lhotse group, and a guided climb of Pumori. Breashears wants to film Viesturs summitting the mountain without supplemental oxygen, along with Tenzing Norgay's son, Jamling, the Catalan Araceli Segarra, and the Japanese Sumiyo Tsuzuki. They set up for a May 9th summit to get ahead of the crowd, but the monsoon is still blowing on the summit when they arrive at camp III the day previous. They sit it out, and then everybody (else) and their sister head up for a May 10th summit. The rest is history. Chomolungma is angry and eats a three guides and some Adventure Consultants clients on the south, and three Indian climbers on the north. (I'm not sure I should include that last bit about the Indian climbers since Viesturs does not.) Beck Weathers does his frozen zombie walk down the mountain; there's a miraculous helicopter rescue above the Khumbu Ice Fall for Makalu Gau and Weathers; the IMAX crew saves the day. Yea! For those of you new to the medium, there are almost as many books on the 1996 Everest disaster as there were climbers in base camp that spring. Viesturs' is original in that it covers his perspective and talks about his wife, Paula's, role as base camp manager for the IMAX expedition. He also gives a fair view of the Krakauer vs. Boukreev literary showdown. The expedition goes on to make the summit and a great film in the process. The IMAX Everest film was my first introduction to high-altitude mountaineering. Before that, I knew that some British (oops) guy climbed Everest in the 50's and got knighted, but I had no idea people were still doing it. It wasn't until a couple years ago that my armchair addiction began, though, and I still don't know how it happened. Anyway, a year later, Viesturs returns with Breashears to make a NOVA special on high altitude physiology and climb the mountain again by the South Col. Over the following years, he makes it to the top of Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, and Shishapangma. I forgot in my last post that he summitted Cho Oyu somewhere in there. He makes an attempt on Nanga Parbat, and is on his way to Annapurna. For a book titled Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks, he doesn't spend much time on several of them. Manaslu warrants a page, Gasherbum I and II are over in slightly more time. His second, successful, trip to Shishapangma is over almost before it begins. I realize that a three-day ascent deserves considerably less prose than a season-long expedition, but I still feel shortchanged on the peaks that I know less about, and therefore would find more interesting. I suppose the book was meant to be a bestseller, rather than a trade publication. Sounds like we might get some juicy details on Annapurna, post.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks, by Ed Viesturs; page 139

(This book begins here.)

Viesturs goes from rookie Ranier guide to a sponsored mountaineer ticking off 8,000ers during this section of the book. After a couple guiding trips to Denali, he is invited on an Everest expedition to the Great Couloir by Lou Whittaker. He makes it to within 300 feet of the summit without supplemental oxygen (he does not use it for his own climbs as a matter of principal), but turns back because the last section (the top of the West Ridge) would have been very dangerous to downclimb without a rope. He serves as a guide to a post-monsoon expedition to the Kangshung Face, only to find it much to dangerous to climb, and the party does not get much higher than base camp. Jim Whittaker (Lou's twin) invites him on an international peace expedition to the North Ridge route, and he summits the mountain in the second summit party. He climbs Kachenjunga and and K2, and becomes the first American to finish "the big three." Over the next several years, Viesturs is invited to climb Everest annually, for a total of seven expeditions and three summits. Additionally, he comes within 100 yards of the summit of Shishipangma on a guiding trip, he and Rob Hall blast up Lhotse in 3 days after summitting Everest one year, and they make trips to Makalu and Gasherbrum I & II, for a total of six summits so far and almost a seventh. He meets the woman of his dreams at a barbecue, and after an extended relationship they get married in February 1996. They both head out to work on Everest for the spring season. Things are about to get tragic. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 13, 2010

No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks, by Ed Viesturs; page 78

Viesturs is closely associated with Mount Everest, both for his IMAX climb, and for his many seasons of guiding on the mountain. This book covers more than just his Everest experiences, and it is in the category of the 8,000ers club books, along with tomes by Messner, Kukuczka, and others. Viesturs' is not as directed as the title suggests, and serves additionally as a memoir to a life of climbing, much like Kukuczka's.

Ed Viesturs begins the book with his unlikely ascent of K2 with Mountain Madness founder Scott Fischer. They buy onto the permit of a Russian team along with Thor Kieser and end up climbing on similar schedules to Chantal Mauduit, Gary Ball, and Rob Hall. He reminds us of his safety record, and shows us how things get out of hand when climbers ignore the signs of danger high on the mountain with the recounting of the rescues of Mauduit and Ball and his and Fischer's sketchy ascent and descent of the mountain. Veisturs vows to never to step past his safety zone again. He also notes that by 1998, four of these fellow climbers would be dead.

Viesturs was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and as a child moved to Rockford, IL. He was particularly effected by Herzog's Annapurna at age 15, and decided that one day he, too, would join a Himalayan expedition. He went to University of Washington to be near the mountains, especially Ranier. Working hard both academically and financially while climbing any time he got a chance, he eventually landed a job as a Ranier Guide under Lou Whittaker. He continued the job while applying for and attending veterinary school, and then went on to be a vet, only to discover that it gave him no time for his passion for climbing. Things would have to post.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Boys of Everest: Chirs Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbing's Greatest Generation, by Clint Willis

I've been on vacation the past couple of days. I kept up my reading, but I've been away from the computer.

Today I bring to you all 529 pages of Clint Willis's superbiography of Britian's climbing elite, circa 1965-1985. The story is framed around the life and climbs of Chris Bonington, with some side climbs to boot, including the exploits of Don Whillans, Joe Tasker, and Peter Boardman. It includes narratives of each of Bonington's expeditions until the Everest Northeast Ridge expedition and is followed by a prologue of Bonington's eventual summiting of the mountain in 1985 via the South Col. Willis gives a summary of the life and climbs of those mountaineers who came into contact with Bonington during his career, including Hamish MacInnes, Don Whillans, Ian Clough, John Harlin, Dougal Haston, Mick Burke, Nick Estcourt, Martin Boysen, Doug Scott, Peter Boardman, Joe Tasker, Dick Renshaw, and many others. Willis gives short descriptions of each of their childhoods and early climbing experience and provides details of each man's experiences during Bonington's expeditions. He manages to weave these mini-biographies into the narrative of Bonington's life and climbs smoothly and enjoyably, sometimes setting up the climb ahead and sometimes creating moments of suspense. The book includes more than just Everest expeditions, with trips to the Alps,  Patagonia, K2, Changabang, Dunagiri, and elsewhere. On Everest, it covers in detail the failed 1972 Southwest Face expedition, the successful 1975 Southwest Face expedition, and the 1982 Northeast Ridge expedition, and contains information regarding the 1985 Norwegian South Col expedition, and the aborted attempts on the Southwest Face by the Germans and Japanese.

This book is a great introduction to a pivotal epoch in British Mountaineering. Though it seems like a long read, it condenses many books (and therefore, thousands more pages) on the topic into one enjoyable story. I would not recommend it as a replacement for such greats as Everest: The Hard Way or The Shining Mountain, but it should serve to whet one's appetite for the course of great literature available on and by these talented climbers. Only one thing bothered me: Willis narrates the thoughts and actions of those who died upon their deaths, relating to the reader what cannot be known; especially chilling was the extended narration on the death of Joe Tasker and Peter Boardman, which, other than the placement of Boardman's body, remains a mystery. Willis is talented writer, and these moments are particularly artistic, but for me they call into question the thoughts he relates of the surviving members of the expeditions and leave it up to the reader to discover which are truth and which are art.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mt. Everest: Confessions of an Amateur Peak Bagger, by Kevin Flynn; conclusion

(This book begins here.)

Kevin Flynn is feeling better this time around and has a winner's attitude. It gets him up to the South Col, and then things slow down. He straggles behind his climbing companions, but even after several delays carries on to the summit, last man on top. He's spent and his personal Sherpa, Mingma, talks him down the mountain until two others arrive with a warm drink and new oxygen near the South Col camp. He feels sick, and struggles down the mountain over the next two days, and finds out in base camp that he has pneumonia and potentially HAPE. He pays for a helicopter evacuation, and after a brief visit to the doctor in Kathmandu, makes an early departure for home. It is not until the plane flight from Hong Kong that he begins to reflect upon his accomplishment. Congrats, dude!

Overall, the book is enjoyable and seems to be a pretty good guidebook for potential amateurs looking to mount Everest. The editing is a little squirrely, but shouldn't bother most readers. The bit about the reindeer (copulating) hat confuses me somewhat, since elsewhere in the book, he writes f-, s-, and a-. He occasionally repeats explanations of terms, such as Sherpa. Also, somewhere in there, the second person perspective disappears---I think perhaps somewhere near the beginning of the second trip. I appreciate his honesty in his analysis of his motives and actions, and he seems like a really nice guy.

Up next, an all-star cast!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mt. Everest: Confessions of an Amateur Peak Bagger, by Kevin Flynn; page 181

(This book begins here.)

Kevin Flynn's attitude hasn't quite been right from the onset and a year's hard physical training wasn't enough to help him over the fragile balance point between mind and matter, so he gives up his climb at the South Col, despite 80 others summitting the mountain the following day---a new record. He does fill you in on many of the Everest climbing experiences, and even survives a storm during a descent and the re-ascent of the Lhotse Face. Like so many before him, he vows never to return...only to return two years later for another try, this time with a bigger iPod. He feels much more comfortable in the country, and has a much better trek to base camp, feeling stronger and making better time. He has also had an attitude adjustment. Alas, the iPod breaks on his trek in! Through the magic of global delivery service and the modernization of the mountain, he has a new one with all his tunes within a week...which also breaks. Thank goodness he still has his sturdy 5 gig back-up, though! I might have been kept awake on more that a few occasions by mp3 players on my trek up the Appalachian Trial . . . I might be slightly biased against them. (Flynn continues here.)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mt. Everest: Confessions of an Amateur Peak Bagger, by Kevin Flynn; page 81

While this has been one of the most entertaining amateur ascent books I've dipped into so far, it is also at times a peek into Everest culture at its worst. The detail about hearing water flowing under the rocks below the base camp tents during warmer weather is an amazing scene setter, but it grates my sense of sportsmanship and egalitarianism to hear a guide from another expedition tell him to "have a Sherpa bring up your down suit" if the weather warms between camps II and III, and it is by my standards pointless to put your life and others in danger so that you can feel good about putting another check on the list. The writing style is punchy and fun, but Flynn occasionally wanders from the everyman into the absurd, such as clarifying for the reader what "the shits" is and saying that his iPod was the most important piece of equipment he brought to the mountain. I feel a slight sense of connection to this author because he and my wife both lived in Rochester, NY, and he and I both took our future wives for their first climb up a rock slide peak in the Adirondacks. Other than his quirkiness and the water under the tents bit, I think the only really new thing he  has brought so far to Everest literature is his second person perspective, with "you" do this, and "you" acclimatize in this manner, acting very much as a personal tour guide to future amateur climbers. Next time, we'll be getting into some climbing!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Crystal Horizon: Everest-The First Solo Ascent, by Reinhold Messner; conclusion

(The Crystal Horizon begins here.) Messner's writing style is something to be experienced rather than related, but I can tell you it is original! The Crystal Horizon is the third book of his I've read, and it is so far the most idiosyncratic and . . . refreshing. So many climbing books resemble each other in unfortunate ways that it is nice to come across an original. After recently reading a book by an amateur climber following a very similar route, it is also amazing to see what an original Herr Messner is at summitting mountains. Ascending the North Col without supplemental oxygen, he takes 50 paces between short rest breaks; the amateur took between 3 and 5 steps and was clearly taking longer breaks. He climbs for 8-10 hours each day, sets up camp, melts snow for water and food, is unable to sleep, breaks camp, and repeats for 3 days straight right to the top of the mountain, even bothering to set up his ice ax as a tripod to take photographs of himself climbing. He takes one of the greatest Everest summit photos, of himself facing away from the camera striding towards the summit, the Chinese survey tripod from 1974 visible over his left shoulder. So many photos are static, with the summiter standing on top and showing a flag or a sign otherwise looking out of place. Messner is a climber, and I can think of no better photo to show it. This photograph also represents the metaphor of Sisyphus he gives of his life, always pushing to the top, but never reaching the peak that ends his toil up the mountains. He clearly has little memory of his descent, and he leaves most of that narration to Lena, waiting for him at the base of the North Col. Returning to Beijing and eventually Europe, he reminds his readers what a devisive character he is with anecdotes from his contact with the press. He succeeds at becoming the first to climb Mount Everest solo, and without supplemental oxygen, by a previously-unfinished route, and during the monsoon season to boot! Perhaps a small point: at the outset of the book, he attempts to make it sound as if climbing Everest during the monsoon period would be the most difficult time of year to reach the summit, but he really makes it sound like a walk in the park compared to the account by Joe Tasker of an attempt to climb the West Ridge the following winter. If he wanted to drive this point home, he really needed to ham up all the suffering! Overall, a very entertaining book. Time to move on to something amateur!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Crystal Horizon: Everest-The First Solo Ascent, by Reinhold Messner; page 173

(The Crystal Horizon begins here.) Messner finally lives his dream of visiting Tibet. Before he gets there, he must travel to Bejing, and deal with the communist, yet unsurprisingly capitalist CMA. His calling Chairman Mao "the greatest influence in world fashion" after viewing the olive-colored uniforms of the Chinese public outside his hotel amuses me greatly. Upon arriving in Tibet, he is happy to see the "homeland of [his] dreams," but is also sad to see so much of it crumbling. The Potala, in Lhasa, is a definite exception, and he and girlfriend, Lena, get a tour. En route to Rongbuk and base camp, he is probably the first westerner to visit the imfamous guesthouse at Shigatse, and comes away without gastrointestinal difficulty. Based on later books I've read, he's relatively lucky. Soon after arriving in base camp, he and Lena hike over a pass into a Tibetan valley to acclimate and invade a small nomadic settlement. There follows a solo trip up the North Col in hip-high monsoon snow, a trek to the base of the Lho La, and then a return to base camp and Rongbuk. He is feeling confident of his future ascent. It makes me happy that he tests not only the limits of his physical prowess on this trip, but also the limits of his visa restrictions and climbing permit. On thier trek to the Lho La, Lena begins to think her boyfriend might be psychotic...and he publishes the diary entry in the book. What a guy! Stay tuned for the climb next post. (This book continues here.)

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Crystal Horizon: Everest-The First Solo Ascent, by Reinhold Messner; page 80

Lots of Everest books have historical lead ups to the author's climb, but Messner's is not only better written than most, but also keeps my interest in two ways. First, he weaves the history of early British attempts that have direct relation to his planned route (future Everest writers take note!) into his own preparation story, thereby making the necessary preparation storyline less of an effort to get through. While writing about the biggest and least interesting effort of any Himilayan climb (making it to the mountain), he avoids too much prattle, but is sure to leave in the juicy bits that make him sound suave and heroic. It must be nice to be Reinhold Messner; he successfully obtains permits for his solo climb of Mount Everest by the West Ridge from the Nepalese government and by the North Ridge from the Chinese both less than a year ahead of his scheduled departure. Chris Bonington, eat your heart out. Secondly, he includes a lot of pictures from the early expeditions interwoven into the text---something, like climbing Mount Everest solo and without oxygen, that only Herr Messner could get away with in 1980. The pictures provide a perspective that I have not yet seen of the early expeditions, and they reinforce in my mind's eye the amazing accomplishments of these driven pioneers. Also appreciated is his detailed account of Maurice Wilson's suicidal solo attempt in 1934. One of the best yet I have read within a book about a later climb! (Messner continues here.)