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!

1 comment:

  1. I was mistaken in this post. There were actually two previous attempts by Japanese expeditions upon the Southwest Face in 1969 and 1970.