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.

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