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!

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