Monday, December 6, 2010

Ghosts, detectives, and the meaning of life!

After learning about Jochen Hemmleb's research on the Mallory and Irvine mystery, I really looked forward to reading Ghosts of Everest. I was a bit taken aback, though, when I turned to the title page, and found that the book has a different author. I thought I would be reading something thoroughly academic, but it turned out to be a basic, but entertaining, account of the 1999 Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition with some facts of the 1924 expedition thrown in. The appendix on the 1960 Chinese expedition gave me something to think about, and it shows (along with his identification of other cadavers by the color of their socks) just how thorough Hemmleb is. I also found his analysis of Odell's statements compelling. I felt somewhat voyeuristic seeing the pictures of Mallory's body clinging to the slope, and I find it poetic that history has shown us Mallory's bare buttocks instead of his summit photos!

I thought I might as well see the saga of Jochen Hemmleb through, so I also read his Detectives on Everest, the story of the 2001 Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition. This one states that it is actually by Hemmleb, but the overall character of the book is quite close to the first one. The team returns to the mountain, minus Conrad Anker but with a couple new climbers, to search for clues of Irvine and figure out where the 1933 and early Chinese camps are located to direct their searching. They come across a range of items from a number of expeditions, and a mitten likely from Mallory or Irvine below the First Step. Additionally, the team is robbed of the summit by the antics of the under-prepared and the obstinate, and their climbers end up rescuing a number of other parties' climbers incapacitated on the Northeast Ridge. Hemmleb's greatest discoveries come after the expedition, in Beijing, as he interviews several of the key climbers on the 1960 and 1975 expeditions. Based on the interviews, it is reasonable to assume that the Chinese climbers came across two separate European bodies on their expeditions, and it appears quite possible that Irvine is waiting for discovery on the Yellow Band.

I originally thought I would be reading Roger Hart's philosophical opus this week, but I instead opted for another musing of the meaning of life (for the mountaineer, at least), Pat Ament's Climbing Everest. I believe the book is supposed to be a mix of a slice of life, a philosophical treatise, and a humorist's take on the act of climbing Mount Everest. Ament occasionally makes interesting points in the work, but they are certainly fleeting. This book wanders from topic to topic without ever really getting into detail on anything, and he seems to leave much of his analysis incomplete. The accompanying cartoons, to me, detracted from the overall feel of the book. I would tell you more of what this book is about, but I'm not sure I really know after reading it! Climbing Everest could perhaps be considered a bit of poetry, and when taken as such, feels a bit like warm tea: easy to swallow, but lacking heat.

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