Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lute Jerstad, Erik Weikenmeyer, Lincoln Hall, and Leonard Who???

I finished up McCallum's Everest Diary and Erik Weihenmayer's Touch the Top of the World, read Lincoln Hall's White Limbo, and started in on Leonard Wibberly's The Epics of Everest. I decided to take a break on the kids' books for a couple days.

McCallum, I imagine, makes an excellent sports writer for his era. He takes a bit of getting used to for modern-day climbing readers. He can at times be very dramatic, almost overly so, and doesn't always get the mountaineering stuff correct. He spins and excellent narrative, however, and Jerstad's diary entries are insightful, and at times poetic. Jerstad climbs during the 1963 American ascent of Everest and is one of the lead climbers, with Jim Whittaker, on the South Col route. (The expeditions has climbers on both the South Col and the West Ridge routes.) He spends an amazing amount of time high on the mountain, and it's a real testament to the human spirit that he spent as much time as he did at altitude, and still managed to climb to the top and back down, including a night out on the upper Southeast Ridge. I recommend this book, both for the narrative, but especially for Jerstad's perspectives on life and mountaineering.

Erik Weihenmayer never gives up. He climbs and falls and climbs and gropes and has the time of his life beating himself up on the way to the summit. I got a little nervous when he gets to the Epilogue and he still hadn't climbed Everest, but had made it to the top of Aconcagua. Luckilly, there was an added chapter for his later summit of Mount Everest, by the South Col route in 2001. After a 13-hr ascent of the Khumbu Icefall, he wasn't so sure he was cut out for Everest, but true to his attitude, he works it again and again, until by the fourth trip up, he makes it in 5 hours. He gets into his element near the top, when everyone is moving at his pace in the dark, and the terrain allows for a pattern for the first time. He summits with 19 others, and faces a lot of reactions, from elation to criticism of his achievement. He doesn't seem to let any of this get him down.

Lincoln Hall's first Everest book is a gem. Though the narrative is a bit bare at times, the story is hard to beat. Five friends climb a new route on Everest in a semi-alpine style without supplemental oxygen and live to tell the tale. They are constantly in danger, and have several close calls with avalanches. I believe they climb during or after the monsoon up and around the Great Couloir on the North Face in 1984. There's plenty of snow on the mountain, and they take a lot of breathtaking photographs (Margo Chisholm, eat your heart out). He preaches a bit, at times, about the environment, but he walks the walk, and they carry out all their trash but their high camp tent (due to one of the climber's injury). An interesting side note: their liaison officer is Mr. Qu, the man who lost his toes and several fingers to frostbite after climbing the Second Step on the Northeast Ridge with bare appendages in 1960 to set ropes on the final summit assault.

Speaking of assault, I finally figured out the book that everyone keeps talking about, when they say that people shouldn't talk about declaring war on or conquering a mountain; they're talking about Leonard Wibberly's The Epics of Everest. He sets up his army against Everest in the first chapter, and as of page 60, hasn't yet given up on his metaphor. I hope that by the time he gets to the 1953 expedition, that Everest is no longer the enemy. This could get post.

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