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!

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