Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wibberly, Ridgeway, Noyce, Stewart, and Hall

I finished up Wibberly's Epics, read Rick Ridgeway's Boldest Dream, and have started in on Wilfrid Noyce's South Col. Additionally, I have a pair of kids books to share: Kimberly Stewart's Sir Edmund Hillary and Tim O'Shei's Left for Dead. 

Leonard Wibberly resides in Hermosa Beach, California, and I don't get the feeling he's ever been to the Himalayas. (His book begins here.) He's a good reader and disciple of the Everest literature up to his time, but he also dramatizes and adds superlative to a lot of the facts. He also states opinions that make him sound extraordinarily dated, such as climbing Everest without oxygen is impossible, the West Ridge will never be climbed, the Northeast Ridge will never be climbed, small parties have no chance on Everest, and several others. He gets most of the facts right in the history of Everest, and the book is a fairly good condensed version of the attempts of the 1920s and 1930s. The account of the 1953 is a bit spare in the details, but I imagine the literature available at the time was equally sparse. Epics does not recognize Earl Denman's attempt upon the north side in 1948 in its history, but his and Denman's books were published concurrently.

Rick Ridgeway covers the American Bicentennial Everest Expedition (1976) in The Boldest Dream. It's a tale of what he believes is the first amateur expedition of Everest, but perhaps should be billed as the first American amateur expedition. Up to this point, with the exception of the illegal attempts of Denman and Wilson, Everest expeditions had been huge national undertakings, with the nation's best and brightest hand-picked by their top Alpine club. While the ABEE is still a huge undertaking, it is organized and run by what we would today call "weekend warriors" who happen to have a couple connections in Kathmandu and a lot of luck. They gather together 12 unlikely heroes, and head up the South Col route, and not only place two climbers on the summit, but also gather the first motion picture film from the summit.

Stewart's Sir Edmund Hillary is a nice change from other children's biographies of The Man in that she actually does a bit of journalism, and the biography is partly based on interviews with Hillary and his wife, June. It's also clear that she's read and taken notes on his other writings and the books by his first wife, Louise. Overall, a great volume for kids.

Tim O'Shei briefly recounts the tale of Lincoln Hall's Beck Weathers moment on the north side of Everest in 2006 in his Left for Dead. The book tries to be edgy and educational, and I think it fails in both regards. It is a story that kids are going to find interesting, though kids' parents might find it a bit of a tough sell, since it deals so plainly with death. It gets the story correct that it deals with, but the author should not have bothered with the additional "facts" about Mount Everest, such the bit about Edmund Hillary and "his Sherpa" Tenzing Norgay or saying the scientific name for altitude sickness is cerebral oedema.

Wifrid Noyce recounts his involvement in the 1953 Brtitsh expedition in his South Col. It's a much more personal account than the official Ascent of Everest by expedition leader John Hunt. It's nice to hear some of the finer details of the expedition that would make official accounts less tidy, such as the George Lowe joking around by removing his dentures, or George Band telling a newspaper man that was haggling him that their summit assault would commence with Spitfires circling the South Col. Should be a fun read! (Noyce continues here.)


  1. After reading Sayre's "Four Against Everest" I now know that the American Bicentennial Everest Expedition is actually the second amateur American Everest expedition. Also, according to "Another Ascent of the World's Highest Mountain", the Chinese actually took motion picture footage at the summit in 1975. That doesn't leave a lot of firsts for the ABEE, but it certainly does not diminish their accomplishment!

  2. According to Ahluwalia's "Faces of Everest," Lute Jerstad of the 1963 American expedition as well as a member of the 1965 Indian expedition also took motion picture footage at the summit.