Friday, November 19, 2010

A polar explorer's cakewalk, an early work, some kids, and the book that might beat me

I'm still working on Noyce's South Col, I'm halfway through David Hempleman-Adam's Toughing it Out, and I've read a short-ish section on Mount Everest in Buchan's Last Secrets. Additionally, I've read a couple kids books: Audrey Salkeld's Mystery on Everest and Christine Taylor-Butler's Sacred Mountain. 

Hempleman-Adams's Toughing it Out is a fun read for me since I enjoy the occasional polar traveler book on the side of my Everest As a young boy, he decides he will climb Everest. At the age of 16, he writes to Chris Bonington offering his services as a porter for his second Southwest Face attempt; Bonington kindly refuses, but encourages his passion. A couple years, and several mountains later, he informs a 1979 German and Polish team that he's coming up with them. He finds when he arrives in Nepal that he can only afford a trekking permit, and heads to Base Camp to at least check things out. The following year, Reinhold Messner ascends Everest alone and without supplemental oxygen, and Hempleman-Adams decides that there's nothing left to strive for in the mountains. He instead heads to the North Pole, coming up shy in a solo air-supported attempt on foot after cracking two ribs in a fall. He then bags the Magnetic North Pole in an unsupported solo run, and then heads to the Geomagnetic North Pole a couple years later with friends after a school boy informs him at one of his lectures that it exists. He settles down to run the family business, but then finds an ad for Himalayan Kingdoms in the paper. For the low (compared to a North Pole trip) price of 25,000 pounds, he can have someone else do the organizational work for him, and all he has to do is train hard and show up for a chance at Everest. There are no openings for the Everest climb when he calls, but someone drops out 2 months before departure, and he puts it in high gear. His expedition uses the South Col route during the 1993 post-monsoon season, and compared to his polar excursions, he makes it sound like a walk in the park. Two years later, he's finished the Seven Summits, and currently (where I am in the book) he's walking solo, unsupported to the South Pole. This guy can't sit still! (This book continues here.)

Buchan's Last Secrets is a 1924 volume of places that at the time, are still somewhat mysterious to westerners, such as Lhasa, Mount McKinley, the Brahmaputra, and of course, Everest. Since the work is compartmentalized and more of a collection than a storyline, I read only the Everest chapter, about 30 pages long. Buchan is surprisingly up-to-date, and had dreamed of his own trip to Everest until the Great War took over Europe and also the life of his traveling companion. He covers little early exploration of the region, but gives a good summary of the 1921 reconnaissance and the 1922 climbing expedition. He writes just a hair early for the big news on Everest in 1924. He is a staunch supporter of climbing with supplemental oxygen.

Salkeld repeated delivers on both facts and style, and Mystery on Everest keeps with the trend. This one is a photobiography of George Mallory, and she gives facts and photos that rarely seen elsewhere, including his naming Pumori ("honored daughter") after his daughter, Claire, and a picture of his taking a class of students climbing in Snowdonia. Salkeld gives a measured view of his life, choosing not to dwell on his walking off into the mist, or her own participation on the location of his body in 1999.

Taylor-Butler gets everything but the climbing right in Sacred Mountain, but it luckily (and rightly!) plays only a part in her book on Mount Everest. She gives an insightful look at life and culture in the Nepali side of Everest, and constructs a beautiful tome. The climbing facts are a bit wacky at times, such as calling the Sherpas on the 1953 expedition "guides" or that people generally climb the "South Face" of Everest. It is great, however, to have someone cover the recent Sherpa and Sherpani expeditions to the top of Everest! A very well-researched book from an outsider looking in.

And lastly, I'm still reading South Col. I can't get through more than 10 pages without nodding off. It's well-written, but it's just too stylized for me. I'll be reading this book for a long time. I will finish. I WILL!

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