I’ve got a bit of a list for this entry, since my internet has been down and my wife’s family’s been in town. I finished up both Wilfrid Noyce’s South Col (thank goodness!) and David Hempleman-Adams’ Toughing it Out. Additionally, I’ve read the authorless Another Ascent of the World’s Highest Mountain, Robert Roper’s Fatal Mountaineer, Captain John Noel’s Story of Everest, Showell Styles’ Mallory of Everest, and I’ve started in on Dudley Green’s Because It’s There. Also, I’ve reviewed two kids’ books: Michael Sandler’s Mountains: Surviving Mount Everest, and Robert Burleigh’s Tiger of the Snows.
Wilfrid Noyce’s prose gets a bit more interesting to me once he actually gets into the Khumbu Icefall in his South Col. (This book begins here.) The number of camps in the 1953 British ascent really hit me in this one. Noyce spends considerable time on the mountain, and unlike Tenzing and Hillary, he spends many days in each of the camps up to the South Col. This work provides a sense of place to the Southeast side of the mountain more than anything else I’ve read, and while others have worked, eaten, and slept from the Icefall to the Col, Noyce gives the impression of his taking up residence amongst the ice and rock below the summit. Particularly interesting to me is his account of working up and down the Lhotse face, both in making tracks to the South Col, and supplying the camp.
Hempleman-Adams has long since climbed Mount Everest by the time I left off last post in Toughing it Out. He moves on to reach three poles in one year, including an unassisted solo slog to the South Pole, sailing by yacht to the South Magnetic Pole, and leading a group of amateurs to the North Magnetic Pole. He then makes another go at the Geographic North Pole with a friend, but they are hampered by their sledge maker’s making their sledges out of fiberglass instead of Kevlar, as they had ordered them. He will get to the pole, he tells us at the end of the book. Just give him another go.
Communist China makes a reply to the West’s criticism of their first ascent of Mount Everest in Another Ascent of The World’s Highest Peak – Qomolangma. A large expedition returns to climb by way of the North Col - Northeast Ridge in 1975 after a skeptical reception of their 1960 ascent of the same route. This time, however, they take plenty of pictures, some motion picture film (so much for your record, American Bicentennial Expedition!), and install a semi-permanent survey tripod upon the summit of the mountain. The ascent is during the Cultural Revolution, and the book oozes with propaganda, both in photography and prose, including pictures of study sessions of the works of Chairman Mao and prose stating the triumph of science and logic over nature and backward religion. One good thing that comes of all this is the insistence that women are equal to men and can do anything that men can do. The expedition includes many women who climb high on the mountain and one, Phanthog – the expedition’s co-leader, who summits. With all of the staged photos and the Chairman-speak prose, this is a surreal book.
Robert Roper’s Fatal Mountaineer is billed as a biography of Willi Unsoeld, but it comes across as a super-biography of American Mountaineering in the 1960s and 70s. Willi Unsoeld is a mountaineer and philosophy professor who was made famous by summitting Everest in 1963 via the West Ridge along with Tom Hornbein. Roper delves into Unsoeld’s philosophical beliefs, and analyzes his philosophy as both a reflection of and the FOIL of American culture and the American climbing scene during his career. Ropes weaves this biography and cultural treatise around the story line of Willi’s 1976 ascent of Nanda Devi with his daughter and several of the well-known climbers of the 1970s and 80s, including John Roskelley, Lou Reichardt, Marty Hoey, and Peter Lev. It’s overall a thought-provoking read, though it’s clear that Roper has a chip on his shoulder when it comes to John Roskelley.
John Noel’s Story of Everest is a thoroughly enjoyable account of his adventure on and around Mount Everest. I find the work in contrast to the tedious official-speak of Norton’s account of the 1924 climb, and I’ve found some hope for enjoying other early accounts. Noel first makes an attempt at reaching Mount Everest in 1913 by way of Tibet, disguised as a Indian Muslim traveler. He reluctantly turns back 40 miles from his goal after an altercation with the local authorities during which shots are fired, but no one is hurt. He also includes details on the 1921 Reconnaissance, a chapter on Tibetans, and accounts of his trips of 1922 and 1924. The writing is clear, and he speaks thoroughly on his job as photographer and cinematographer. Noel includes a lot of prose about the beliefs and customs of Tibetans, and shares a lot of cultural details that others overlook. Additionally, he never speaks down of the local population, but rather extemporizes from a clear sense of wonder. A refreshing book!
Showell Styles’ Mallory of Everest appears at first a biography, but ends up a decent recounting of the first three Everest Expeditions. Styles starts with a chapter on Mount Everest and short history of mountaineering, and follows with a short chapter on Mallory’s life up until the Everest expeditions. There follows a recounting of the expeditions, not necessarily focusing on Mallory, but occasionally analyzing Mallory’s motives and words. A reading of this biography gives the impression that Mallory’s life was these three expeditions, and that he was a protagonist, but yet only a character in his own story. Styles’ overall account of the expeditions is accurate, but this is definitely a book with competing motives.
This is getting long, so I think I’ll leave Dudley Green until next time.
Michael Sander writes a poorly researched and occasionally squirrelly book in Mountains: Surviving Mount Everest. Sander frames the overall history and culture of the mountain and its environs with the story of 16-year-old Temba Tsheri Sherpa’s 2001 ascent of Mount Everest from the north. It’s pretty clear that Sander read an in-flight magazine article on Temba and decided to write a children’s book. The information on Temba is sparse, and the illustration of the route he took is laughable (from Nepal, up the Lho La, across White Limbo, up the center of the North Face, and over to the West Ridge for the final 1500 feet).
Robert Burleigh’s Tiger of the Snows is a poem and illustrated account of Tenzing Norgay’s climb of Mount Everest. The information is good, the poetry is enjoyable, and the chalk illustrations (by Ed Young) are snowy and warm.