Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Everest Grand Cirlce, by Gillette and Reynolds

Everest Grand Circle: A Climbing and Skiing Adventure through Nepal and Tibet recounts Ned Gillette's and Jan Reynold's efforts to circumambulate Mount Everest. They are joined off and on by Jim Bridwell, Steve McKinney, Craig Calonica, and Rick Barker. The circle begins with a winter climb of Pumori followed by a winter trek over high passes to the Barun Glacier. Gillette and Reynolds then head to Tibet, and travel from the Lho La to Kharta over the Lhakpa La and through the Kangshung Valley.

The adventure begins after Gillette's and Reynold's successful 1980 climb and ski descent of China's Mount Muztagata, when Gillete makes the comment in passing to the President of the C.M.A. (Chinese Mountaineering Association) that he would like to ski in Tibet sometime. The President later replies that he looks forward to seeing Gillette next year for his ski trek. Gillette then rushes to plan a ski trip, makes Everest the highlight, and throws in Pumori for extra challenge.

Their ascent of Pumori was only the second winter ascent of a Himalayan mountain, and the first by a new route. Gillette and Reynolds are joined on their climb by Jim Bridwell and Steve McKinney. The reading for the ascent is entertaining and sometimes harrowing. The climbers manage to keep a sense of humor and work together well. The trek that follows, over three passes to the Barun Glacier, makes for exciting reading.

On their next leg, they head to Everest Base Camp on the north side by way of Beijing and Lhasa. They meet up with Bonington's Northeast Ridge Expedition and make instant friends. They also run into the American Great Couloir crew near the top of the main Rongbuk Glacier. I was very happy to read the sections on Boardman and Tasker. The last book I read about both of them was Chris Bonington's Everest, which contains an excerpt of Bonington's and Clarke's The Unclimbed Ridge, where they meet their demise, and I have since read three books by Maria Coffey in which they are always referred to in the past tense. It was good to bring them back to life in my imagination for a picnic with friends at the historic British base camp.

Everest Grand Circle's two authors trade off narration in this book. Reynolds' writing is more of the emotional and psychological pulse of the expedition. Gillette's contains more of the hard facts of the trip, but he also goes into detail about the history of the ground they are traveling, including references to the early British expeditions, Maurice Wilson, Woodrow Wilson Sayre, and others. The detailed history mostly involves the mountains; I was hoping to get more historical information about the rarely-visited passes and valleys that they travel through. He mentions which passes were used by whom, but he leaves out a lot of details in favor of a faster and more exciting storyline. 

Not only is this a tale of the first circumambulation of Everest, but it was also the starting point for several other Everest adventures. Bridwell would later head up a West Ridge Direct attempt in 1985 (depicted in Ed Webster's Snow in the Kingdom). Calonica would later make several attempts to ski from the summit of Everest in the 1990s. McKinney would later fly a hang glider from part way up the West Ridge of Everest in 1986, and Ned Gillette would reach the summit of Everest via the South Col in 1992. An inspiring adventure for both the reader and the participants!

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