Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Freedom Climbers, by Bernadette McDonald

Bernadette McDonald writes the history of the Polish Himalayan climbing phenomenon in her Freedom Climbers. In the 1970s and 80s, Polish climbers gained a reputation for tackling some of the world's hardest climbs, including dangerous lines and winter ascents on the world's highest mountains. (This legacy continues: last year, a Polish-centered team made a winter attempt on K2 and Broad Peak.) McDonald centers her story on a handful of the superstars of Polish mountaineering who make up the backbone of its early Himalayan history---Andrzej Zawada, Wanda Rutkiewicz, Krzysztof Wielicki, Jerzy Kukuczka, and Voytek Kurtyka. After a quick introduction to Rutkiewicz (who gets a lot of attention throughout), the book begins with a prehistory of Polish Himalayan climbing and discusses the possible early causes of Polish climbers' later success, including shoestring winter ascents in the Tatras, political repression in the 50s and 60s, Polish cultural history, and high-risk black market dealing. More a super-biography than a standard history, the book covers the early lives of many climbers and progresses from the overland trips to the Afghan Hindu Kush organized by Zawada, including the winter ascent of Noshaq, to the last climbs of Rutkiewicz. As climbers appear in the climbs, McDonald weaves their stories into the larger narrative, creating a semi-chronological, exciting storyline.

Freedom Climbers gives some much-needed attention to several of the under-recognized superstars of high-altitude climbing. Wanda Rutkiewicz (A Caravan of Dreams) and Jerzy Kukuczka (My Vertical World) have books in English about them already, and Krysztof Wielicki has issued a photo-narrative (Crown of Himalaya) of his 8000-meter peak quest, but these books have only provided a limited exposure to the English-language market. (You can also read a short biography of Voytek Kurtyka in Greg Child's Mixed Emotions.) McDonald fills in a large part of the story, based on a good deal of research and personal interviews. Zawada emerges as both a pioneering climber and a cutting-edge expedition organizer. Less-known, but important figures such as Cichy, Hajzer, Czok, Bozik, and Piotrowski are more than just names to me now. For the more well-known climbers, McDonald explores their motivations and emotions, such as what drove Kurtyka and Kukuczka apart and what drove Rutkiewicz over the edge. She gives climbs such as the 1987 Annapurna winter ascent depth by discussing personal animosities and anecdotes that didn't make it into earlier books.

Freedom Climbers is overall a fine book. It doesn't provide an exhaustive history of Polish Himalayan climbing, but it sure makes it interesting! Of course, it covers Wanda Rutkiewicz's 1978 climb of Everest, the 1979/80 winter ascent, as well as the 1980 South Pillar ascent. Much of the information on the 1978 climb is found in Caravan of Dreams, such as the power politics, the gender issues, and Diemberger's sleeping bag. However, I learned more about the winter climb's descent (earlier accounts tend to focus on the climb up...), and a lot more about the group dynamics of both 1980 climbs. I highly recommend this book. Happy reading!

I'm back!

It's been a while since I've posted. I've been out for family reasons, including the birth and early rearing of my second child. I'll be blogging a bit more gradually now as my schedule has changed significantly, but I'll be posting regularly. Happy reading!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Everest Calling, by Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins tells the story of the first Irish Mount Everest expedition in Everest Calling: Ascent of the Dark Side. The team climbs the mountain from Tibet via the North Ridge during the 1993 pre-monsoon season (the year before Nepal hiked their permit prices to $50,000, making the Tibetan side suddenly popular) during the last uncluttered season north of Everest until the Olympic torch relay cleared it out for a politically-sensitive ascent in 2008.  In contrast to the relatively good weather on the south side, the Irish team faces a number of storms until late in the season. While Korean, Chinese, and Taiwanese climbers make fatal and near-fatal ascents in the brunt of the storms, the Irish wait it out for safer weather, making a down-to-the-wire summit attempt as their gear is being cleared from Advanced Base Camp. The organizers and leaders of the expedition, Dawson Stelfox and Frank Nugent, make sure to include climbers from both sides of Ireland, and they make a good impression on the divided public, achieving a conciliatory political statement that the hopelessly divided South African team of 1996 failed to pull off.

The Irish ascent is an unlikely adventure, with earlier teams repelled by both Changtse and Manaslu and a relatively small number of climbers with high-altitude experience to choose from. The team works well together, even on a limited budget, and they support each other even in their setbacks. The book is well-constructed, with a flowing and casual style that seemed to me distinctly Irish. Siggins isn't a great mountaineering writer, but she does well with this particular story, especially for a general audience. The photography in the book is quite moody and beautiful, a fitting backdrop to much of the prose. I enjoyed this book, and I hope you will too.

PS - Siggins reminds us that both Col. Howard-Bury, leader of the 1921 reconnaissance of Everest, and Sir Edmund Hillary have Irish heritage.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Feeding the Rat, by Alfred Alvarez

Alfred Alvarez writes a profile of Mo Anthoine, a leading British climber and gear manufacturer, in Feeding the Rat. Anthoine turns up in a number of other British Everest books, such as Brummie Stokes' Soldiers and Sherpas or Doug Scott's Himalayan Climber, and he comes off as a hard-climbing steadfast companion who stays on the proper side of caution. Alvarez writes a tribute to a close friend and rope mate, who loved climbing and difficult expeditions with friends, but avoided the limelight. Anthoine and Joe Brown began making climbing helmets in the 1960s, and their business grew through the 1980s to include a wide range of hardy, but simple climbing equipment. (It didn't hurt that their products became popular with the British military.) They used their work to fund their climbing, and they were able to tackle a number of difficult objectives without the great sponsorship burdens of the professional mountaineers. As the subtitle of the book "Profile of a Climber" states, this is not an extensive biography, but rather a splendid introduction to a workhorse of British climbing (notably, his 1976 ascent of the Trango "Nameless" Tower warrants no coverage in this work). He is possibly most famous among armchair mountaineers for, along with Clive Rowland, saving the butts of Doug Scott and Chris Bonington during their harrowing descent of the Ogre.

Anthoine participated in both of Brummie Stokes' Northeast Ridge attempts, in 1986 and 1988. Only the first trip is covered in Feeding the Rat, as the book was published in 1988. Anthoine found the sixteen-climber expedition impersonal, but he was entranced by climbing on a new route on the tallest of mountains. In the book, he comments on his motivations, the scale of the mountain, his counting scheme during the drudge work, and the logistics of getting climbers up a difficult proposition such as the Pinnacles. Though the teams did not make the summit on either attempt, Harry Taylor and Russel Brice managed to surmount the Pinnacles in the 1988 climb, returning via the North Col. Notably, Anthoine's 1988 expedition to Everest would be his last, dying of a brain tumor in the summer of 1989.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sheer Will, by Mike Groom

I've been looking forward to reading Mike Groom's Sheer Will for a long time, and my patience has paid off. Groom is the whipping boy of Australian high-altitude mountaineering, and he comes back for more after several close calls and tragedies that should have ended his quest to climb the world's five tallest mountains, including losing the front third of his feet to frostbite, being avalanched off the West Face of Lhotse, being struck by rock fall, and surviving the 1996 Everest disaster. His book is an honest, but at times reserved account that provides a personal perspective on a long list of Himalayan climbs, his recovery from major frostbite, and his life as a professional mountaineer. He generally did not keep climbing diaries, and the details are at times general, but the number of climbs he covers makes up for it, and he has vivid recollections of his most dramatic climbs. His 1994 climb of K2 is particularly impressive, climbing to within 30 meters of the summit via the South Pillar days after arrival in base camp, turning around, and then returning via the Abruzzi Ridge to finish the climb.

As a boy, Groom dreamed of climbing Mount Everest, even claiming to his school friends that his dad had climbed it. He had a difficult apprenticeship on his journey to Everest, not quite performing well enough on the White Limbo (by Lincoln Hall) team's climb of Annapurna II to join them on their famous climb of Everest's North Face, and then overreaching his safety margin in his summit climb on Kanchenjunga in 1987 (which he climbed with only a partner), losing all his toes and parts of his feet to frostbite. His recovery was long, painful, and against the odds. His subsequent climbing would border between painful and excruciating depending on the day's climb, but his need to climb drove him on. He returned to the fray in a 1989 attempt on Ama Dablam and a 1990 summit of Cho Oyu before organizing his own expedition to Everest for 1991.

Groom has a sordid history with the world's highest mountain. On his first trip in 1991, he was swept 900 meters, miraculously survived with only some broken ribs and a broken nose, and yet returned to attempt the summit at the end of the expedition. In 1993, he joined Tashi Tenzing's (Tenzing Norgay's grandson, see his Tenzing Norgay and the Sherpas of Everest) expedition, in which he climbed to the summit without supplementary oxygen along with Harry Taylor (one of the first climbers to surmount Everest's infamous Pinnacles), but lost his friend an teammate, Lobsang Tschering, on the descent. Then, he returned in 1996 as a guide, only to be caught up in the tragedy of May 10 (an auspicious day for Groom, both good and bad!). Groom delayed publication of his book to add the 1996 Everest chapter, and it's a good thing he did. Groom was the only surviving guide from Hall's Adventure Consultants team, and his story contains many details that other accounts lack, such as a coherent perspective from the "huddle" that spent much of the night in the open on the South Col and details from the radio conversations during the summit climbers' descent. His account places Hall and Harris in different locations than other authors' and he, along with Boukreev (see his Above the Clouds), gives a professional climbers' witness to the tragedy.

Sheer Will is considerably more expensive currently than the average Everest book, with used copies going for around $40. If you'd like an inexpensive preview, Clint Willis includes material from the 1996 Everest chapter in his Epics on Everest. Sheer Will is a wonderful book, and if you have money to burn, I believe it's worth the outlay. Happy reading!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Highest Mountain, by Kris Hirschmann

Kris Hirschmann writes a book for kids about Mount Everest and its environment in The Highest Mountain. The book is one volume in Kidhaven Press' Extreme Places Series, including the deepest lake, the longest bridge, and the longest river. The author wisely picks a few topics and goes into detail rather than writing a general book. The four topics include the geography of Everest and its surrounding area, the history of surveying the peak, a short history of climbing the peak, and the environmental degradation and recent conservation efforts.The information in the geography section is quite good, though the author uses a rather nebulous definition for Mount Everest, including describing wildlife that resides below 5,000 feet elevation, which would be quite far away. I also found the surveying section well-written, even describing the trouble of accurately describing sea level. Some information was oversimplified, but nothing too bad. The environmental section properly identifies the issues with waste and deforestation and talks about them quite well, but overlooks climate change. It is difficult to talk about intelligibly with children, but it is certainly having an impact on Everest and its environs.

Now for the climbing! The climbing history of Mount Everest is somewhat more disappointing than the other sections of the book. Though there was only occasional wackiness in the survey chapter, the climbing history gets messy at times. A 2003 book should not say that Mallory and Irvine's bodies were never found. There were decidedly more than five camps in the 1953 expedition, and though Tenzing and Hillary waded through deep snow on the upper Southeast Ridge, I wouldn't go so far as to say they continually dug themselves out of snow pits nor were they lucky enough to drink gallons of hot tea at their top camp (more likely measurable in quarts, and it was lemon drink). The Chinese did not follow the same route as the first ascent. After a mention of the 1965 Indian expedition, the rest of the climbing history is lumped into generalities. In general in this book, do not trust the photo captions. They switch Everest and Nuptse (Notably, the cover is a picture of Nuptse, with Everest cut out of the photo.), state that the 1922 expedition only made it to 22,000 feet, call the 1953 expedition the "Hillary Expedition," gives a location for a photo as "at the Solu-Khumbu trek," and shows a "satellite" image of a climber in profile crossing an aluminum ladder at the top of the Khumbu Icefall, taken from 50 feet away. As long as you don't need accurate information about climbing the mountain or need accurate photo descriptions, this is a decent book. It's certainly not my favorite, but it should be useful for the other three topics it covers besides climbing.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Summit, by Eric Alexander

If you want to get away with some adventure reading while gaining some brownie points with God, try Eric Alexander's The Summit. Alexander is the first (that I know of) author to climb Mount Everest and write about it from a religious Christian perspective (unlike Roger Hart, who bumped his head while ascending the North Col and invented his own religion in The Phaselock Code). The author climbed along with Erik Weihenmayer (author of Touching the Top of the World), Brad & Sherman Bull, Charlie Mace, and many others under the sponsorship of the National Federation for the Blind via the South Col in the pre-monsoon season of 2001. Throughout the book, he writes about his faith and how climbing and his journey relates to his beliefs, and he structures the chapters to loosely focus on specific concepts important to both Christianity and climbing. His team gets a lot of flack for blind climber Erik Weihenmayer's presence on the mountain, but Alexander shows that team work and attitude are far more important for success than one climber's seeing where the next foot placement lies.

For me, the book came off as a bit of an uncomfortable mix. It was hard for me to read a quote of Bible scripture on one page that admonished the taking of revenge, and then on another to read about his leading Wiehenmayer into a pile of yak poo in retaliation for a snide comment. I appreciated his honesty in storytelling, but I found his laughing about little things like this difficult to get over, considering his pedagogic focus. (I will admit that I am the sort of person who is often bothered more by a several smaller things than one bigger problem.) I believe the sincerity of his faith, and I think he makes a strong argument for risk-taking such as mountaineering while a Christian. I respect his self-imposed distance from the local rituals, but I find it sad that he seemed threatened or uncomfortable around them. I'm not sure if I like this book or not, but I think it would be a great read for a select audience. I'd recommend reading a couple pages before bringing it home.

PS - Alexander's claim of his team's record of heaviest movie equipment on the summit is unsubstantiated. David Breashears (or should I say two Sherpa) actually carried his significantly heavier IMAX camera and tripod to the summit in 1996 for 90 seconds of panoramic footage (see High Exposure).

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Points Unknown, edited by David Roberts

David Roberts compiles a collection of some of the best English-language true adventure writing in Points Unknown: A Century of Great Exploration. Roberts is a former climber and his collection reflects his own history, with nearly a quarter of the entries telling stories from the mountains. He includes a wide range of interests, however, with polar journeys, caving, deserts, oceans, and jungles. All of the chapters in this collection are book excerpts. As Roberts is a great adventure writer, he has a nose for good stories by other authors, and he picks a fine collection of both popular and cult titles.

Roberts chooses a number of Everest-related titles. I was happy to not read another Ascent of Everest excerpt here! Instead he chooses two famous, yet considerably more dramatic stories that take place on Mount Everest: Noel Odell's account of Mallory and Irvine's disappearance into the clouds in 1924 and Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld's traverse of Everest from the North Face to the South Col. Roberts includes Odell's entire chapter on Mallory and Irvine's summit climb from The Fight for Everest, from his ascent to Camp V to his analysis of their odds of making the top. Hornbein and Unsoeld's climb comes from Hornbein's Everest: The West Ridge, and Roberts includes their climb from their top camp at the future Hornbein Coulior to the end of their bivouac, along with Lute Jerstad and Barry Bishop at a record 28,000 feet. There are a number of other titles about Everest climbers in Roberts' collection, including Eric Shipton (1933, 1935, 1936, 1938, 1951) and Bill Tilman's (1935, 1938) ascent of Mount Kenya in Shipton's That Untravelled World, Tilman and Odell's (1924, 1938) climb in The Ascent of Nanda Devi, Tom Patey and Don Whillans' (1971, 1972) attempt on the North Face of the Eiger from Patey's One Man's Mountains, Art Davidson's 1967 winter climb of Denali along with Ray Genet (1979) in Minus 148 Degrees, Peter Boardman (1975, 1980, 1982) and Joe Tasker's (1980, 1982) climb of the West Face of Changabang from The Shining Mountain, and Jon Krakauer's (1996) climb of the Devil's Thumb from Eiger Dreams. Also of Everest interest, Tim Cahill, the screenwriter for Breashears' Everest IMAX film, provides a story on caving in Kentucky from Jaguars Ripped My Flesh.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Sky Was His Limit, by B. N. Mullik

B. N. Mullik writes the biography of Sonam Gyatso, the greatest Himalayan climber that you've probably never heard of in The Sky Was His Limit. Gyatso's climbs are the story of the beginning of Indian mountaineering, as he participated in the first class of Tenzing Norgay's Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and thereafter an impressive string of early Indian expeditions, including Nanda Devi, Annapurna III (first ascent), Cho Oyu (first Indian ascent), and all three Everest expeditions in the 1960s. His determination, positive attitude, and physique placed him at the vanguard in all of his climbs, outlasting his teammates and supporting them even if it meant leaving the summit untrodden. His natural ability at high altitude guaranteed his placement on the summit teams on each of the Everest climbs. Gyatso is Sikkimese (the first to climb Mount Everest), and he worked both as a police constable in the outlying districts and an instructor of mountaineering, eventually opening his own institute at Gangtok. He was deeply dedicated to his family and to his faith and never failed to greet others with a smile.

Gyatso was the only climber to participate in all three Everest expeditions. Because he participated in each of the summit climbs, he was the first person to climb above 27,000 three times. When he reached the summit in 1965, he became the oldest person to climb the mountain at 42. (It's amazing how people used to call 42 "past one's prime" for high-altitude climbing!) Each of his summit attempts were quite dramatic, and he was fortunate to reach the summit on his third try, as he ascended the Southeast Ridge in a terrible storm and climbed from the Balcony the next day with a frostbitten (and thawed) back. He credited his ascent to the three Sherpa climbing instructors from his school who supported him on his trip to the assault camp even in the teeth of a terrible storm.

This book is a lovely tribute to a regional and national hero. It focuses on his love and dedication to family, friends, and career, as well as his joy of sharing the mountains with others. You can read more about the first Indian Everest expedition in Brig. Gyan Singh's The Lure of Everest, the second in Maj. John Dias' The Everest Adventure, and the third in Com. Mohan Kohli's Nine Atop Everest (which I hope to get to soon!).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Everest: The Unfinished Adventure, by Hugh Ruttledge

I'm embarrassed to admit that I've just now read the official narrative of the 1936 Everest expedition, Hugh Ruttledge's Everest: The Unfinished Adventure. It did not occur to me that an expedition that was so thoroughly defeated might actually have a enjoyable text to relate its misfortune. I noted in my post for Everest 1933 that Ruttledge writes in a more approachable, modern style, and he continues the trend here. He admits that there were some petty differences among climbers, even relates a few incidents, and lets fly that the team made double marches on the return journey to save money! (If you're looking for something like In the Hall of the Mountain King, you're bound to be disappointed, however.) Even John Hunt in 1953 was able to summon up a gentleman's collar to relate a unnaturally prosaic, yet heroic account in his Ascent of Everest. As such, The Unfinished Adventure makes a pretty good precursor to Bonington's Everest: Southwest Face in both form and style, with a great team fighting against weather that won't let up, some dissension in the ranks, and a boatload of appendices covering the minutiae of an unsuccessful climb. 

The climb gets off to a good start, but constant heavy snow and multiple blizzards put an end to their climbing after they establish Camp IV on the North Col. It seems like this climb should have been the ascent. The team includes an all-star cast, including Shipton, Smythe, and Wyn-Harris, all of whom had been above 27,000 on the North Face in 1933, and a roster nearly full of climbers with recent Himalayan experience. In Darjeeling, Ruttledge even receives a weather forecast that predicted ideal weather and a likely late monsoon. The team brings a more efficient oxygen apparatus than previously (including both open- and closed-circuit units), and a plan for a camp at the foot of the First Step---the placement of the modern day summit assault camp. If only Mother Nature had acquiesced...

The book is a pleasure to read. In addition to Ruttledge's pleasant style, the book contains several features that add to its value. There are many photographs (unfortunately at the end this time rather than shuffled into the mix), including an early action shot of climbers in a blizzard and several taken during the 1935 reconnaissance. (Ruttledge additionally covers the story of the 1935 reconnaissance in this book.) The appendices are a mix of entertainment and technical matters, contrasting a back-and-forth between Humphreys and Smijth-Windham about a stolen bottle of chutney (or was it capers?) to a catalog of all insects collected during the journey. If you actually sort through the lists, you might get a couple gems, such as the inclusion of cocaine in the medical kit or the 28-lb "portable" receiving radio meant for the high camps. This book was considerably more light-hearted than its predecessors. I suppose you have to have a sense of humor about showing up with the most firepower and achieving the least results of any of the expeditions. After Everest showed these climbers who was boss, they attempted to climb to the North Col from the West and to ascend Changste, both of which they also failed to do. What a rout!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Himalayas, by Yoshikazu Shirakawa

Yoshikazu Shirakawa almost gets away with the faux pas of using an "s" to plural Himalaya with his book Himalayas. His enormous photo essay treats the entirety of the world's highest mountain chain as a set of distinct ranges, but he unfortunately sticks an "s" on the end of each of these as well. Otherwise, he might have made an interesting rhetorical case for multiple Himalaya. Picky authors, such as Louis C. Baume (and I suppose, myself), feel the need to point out that is no pluralizing the Abode of Snow---it is a single range, and it is almighty, even if you feel the need to argue about which mountains it describes (Karakorum? Tien Shan?). Shirakawa's work encompasses four parts of the Himalaya: Nepal, Punjab (Kashmir), Sikkim, and the Hindu Kush. He describes in his travel narratives the difficulty of creating a photo book encompassing the entirety of the range when there were so many political restrictions on where he could go and what he could photograph in the late 1960s. His perseverance served him well, however, and he got not only access but encouragement in his photography and travel in Nepal during the 1965-1969 ban on foreign visitation to the outlying areas (including the use of the King's private plane and trekking access to Everest, Annapurna, and Kanchenjunga), air access to the Afghan side of the Hindu Kush, and permission to enter Kashmir. He was thwarted, however, in his attempts to enter Garwhal, northern Pakistan, and Bhutan. His need to work on a tight schedule and a tight budget often place his life in danger, such as trekking to Everest Base Camp without proper acclimatization or flying at dizzying heights with little or no oxygen.

His photographs are a work of contrasts. Whether serrated ridgelines set against ethereal clouds or his posterized Sin City-esque black and whites, Shirakawa's images evoke both the alien harshness and natural beauty of the Himalaya's extreme environment. He possesses the rare gift, like Sella and possibly Rowell, of evoking emotion in a pure mountainscape, such as the lonely motherhood of Ama Dablam or the exuberant heights of Sharphu. The English translation of his work comes in two editions, a massive 1986 edition that includes a testimonial by the King of Nepal and a smaller quarto-sized edition from 1977. The layouts are quite different, and they actually have a few distinct photographs in each.

Everest is represented is several photographs, in Kyuya Fukada's essay, and Edmund Hillary's introduction. Hillary evokes the spirit of Mallory in his reasoning for climbing these high mountains and our respect for them. Fukada gives a short history of climbing the mountain and mentions that Naomi Muira (who ascended the mountain in 1970) presented him a summit stone. The photographs of Everest are taken from the Nepal side, with an image from Kala Pattar, a dramatic image of the Khumbu Icefall taken from Pumori, a photo of the South Wall of Lhotse, and couple from further afield. They are actually not the most evocative images of this essay, but are still some of the most striking photos of Mount Everest nonetheless---a telling indication of Shirakawa's talent. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Surviving the Extremes, by Kenneth Kamler

Kenneth Kamler gives a medical perspective in Surviving the Extremes: A Doctor's Journey to the Limits of Human Endurance. He describes the reaction of the body to extreme environments, including the jungle, the high seas, the desert, underwater, high altitude, and outer space. For the chapters on the jungle, underwater, and high altitude, he draws primarily on personal experience for his survival situations, and for the others he relates the personal experiences of others. I found that the two types of chapters had entirely different characters, with his personal experiences focusing on the wilderness medicine he had the privilege to perform and his patients, while the other chapters were somewhat more hollow, relating merely the physiological reactions of the body to the stresses it faces under such conditions along with some of the things the protagonists did to survive. In the high seas chapter, he talks about Steve Callahan's (see Callahan's Adrift) fishing exploits and his trouble with the solar still during his 76 days in a life raft, but overlooks the weeks of treatment he received in a local hospital after his rescue. I think the strength of this book is Kamler's on-site extreme environment medical practice stories, and I found I was looking for more on-site medicine stories in the secondary source chapters, such as a Jerri Nielsen story (who operated on herself for cancer at the South Pole) or similar. The stories of survival he includes are harrowing, however, and throughout, he provides detailed descriptions of the body's response to the extremes and what the modern adventurer can do to mitigate such risks.

Kamler has spent several seasons on Mount Everest (chronicled in his Doctor on Everest). He writes a bit about the day-to-day workings of a high-altitude hospital in this book, but he focuses on his worst-off patients, including Pasang, who fell 80 feet down a crevasse onto his head; Konga, who contracted pulmonary edema; and the 1996 disaster survivors Makalu Gau and Beck Weathers, both with severe frostbite. He discusses the body's response to high altitude, as well as how the bodies of Sherpas and other high-altitude natives have adjusted to their home environments. I found it fascinating that their muscles have developed to store significantly larger quantities of oxygen and that they don't have lactic acid build up in their system. I'm a bit curious if the muscle storage mechanism is what develops to give lowlanders the long-term acclimatization that lasts over months or years. I appreciated Kamler's admitting that he could think of no medical reason why Beck Weathers should be alive and his focus on the will's contribution to human survival in seemingly insurmountable circumstances.

Monday, September 19, 2011

More Heroes of Modern Adventure, by Bridges & Tiltman

T. C. Bridges and H. Hessell Tiltman released More Heroes of Modern Adventure after the success of their initial volume of adventure stories. This volume avoids the major adventurers (save the Everest crew), and sticks to an odd lot, focusing on Americans, of people who have done exciting things. The Royal Geographical Society would largely turn their nose at much of this crew, as many pursue the ends of the for fame or fortune, or simply as part of a job. The stories are at times a bit jumbled, told in 30s newsprint style, and are sometimes entertaining merely for their inclusion, such as "The Saviour of Death Valley," (a local who ends up rescuing the fools who wander into Death Valley) or "Dodging Death in War-Stricken China" (about a man who sells arms to Nationalist troops and then leads a brigade while drawing a very nice paycheck). A lot of these read as an extended human-interest story, with the element of danger hammed up.

The Everest piece (published in 1930) is a better reflection of the American perception of the climbs than of the climbs themselves. Though they get most of the facts correct, much of the analysis is fraught. According to the book, one of the main problems of high altitude climbing on Everest is not eating enough food (Actually, Norton came to the conclusion that the climbers were severely dehydrated more than anything.), both Mallory and Irvine were "crackpot" cragsmen, running out of oxygen isn't a problem at high altitude because climbers can acclimatize just fine, and so forth. I don't recommend seeking this book out for its Everest material. If you can get into the style and try not to analyze too much in the stories, the book itself can be an entertaining bit of nostalgia. After all, who doesn't want to read about blowing up icebergs or driving the fastest car ever?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

That Untraveled World, by Eric Shipton

Eric Shipton writes his autobiography in That Untraveled World. He chronicles a life fulfilled in the exploration of faraway places, from Kashgar and Kashmir to Patagonia and the Galapagos Islands. He purports that he is no one particularly special and that his life of adventure came from a mixture of one-in-a-million chances and people's overestimation of his abilities. I think he's being quite modest, but I can't fully decide if he's genuine in his belief or merely posturing for posterity. Shipton is known for his asceticism during his travels, but it seems more that he was trying to prove a point on expedition costs rather than "suffering" for its own sake. He seems to enjoy his travels quite a bit, and if drinking the occasional rakshi instead of champagne and searching out local friends rather than servants is self-punishment, then I'd be glad to suffer along with him! He supports the modern developments in climbing technique and equipment, but he mentions that the recent upsurge in competitiveness on the mountain is both dangerous and ultimately unfulfilling for the climber. He gets quite a lot out of climbing, but he finds even more enjoyment out of exploring, and he gets the rare opportunity to range over many unmapped areas in both Central Asia and South America.

Shipton overall has very little to say about Mount Everest in this book. When he first brings it up, he mentions that there are already a number of books written about the expeditions that he joined or led (1933, 1935, 1936, 1938, and 1951). He talks a little bit about each with some macro analysis and an occasional anecdote, though he gives the 1935 and 1951 reconnaissances decent page space. (Of course, they are explorations!) I thought he brought a good point up about the unwieldy amounts of baggage on the early trips, namely that the sheer complexity of the logistics on these expeditions increased their apparent importance. He supports the idea that with a longer span of relatively settled and warm weather, several of the early expeditions likely would have made the summit. He says of Wager and Wyn-Harris in 1933, that if they had the open-circuit oxygen apparatus used by Hillary and Tenzing in 1953, even in the given conditions they would have made the top. For a lengthier telling and analysis of the Everest expeditions by Eric Shipton, read his Men Against Everest. Also, he wrote the official tome for the 1951 reconnaissance: The Everest Reconnaissance Expedition, and Tony Astill wrote a lovely volume about the 1935 reconnaissance of the north side of Mount Everest led by Shipton: Mount Everest: The Reconnaissance 1935.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sivalaya, by Louis C. Baume

Louis C. Baume provides a reference text for the exploration and climbing of the 8000-meter peaks in Sivalaya. For each of the peaks, he writes a general introduction, a list of maps of the area, a chronicle (chronology) of exploration and climbing of the peak, a bibliography, and a drawing of the peak with the route of the first ascent traced upon it. In addition, he writes a general introduction to the Himalayas that focuses on the formation of the mountains, the history of their survey, and the orthography of the place names, including the many names of Mount Everest (55, to be exact). The book is dated now (published in 1979), but it is still a handy reference for the early climbs and explorations of the high peaks.

Baume's Mount Everest material is quite handy. In addition to the orthography of its 55 contested names, there are a number of relatively unique data in the book. In his introduction, he paraphrases Sir Oliver Lodge's Why I Believe in Personal Immortality about his paranormal vision of Mallory and Irvine's death high on Everest. He includes a number of maps in his list, and rates their usefulness. The chronicle includes a number of abortive attempts to set up an expedition, including by Lord Curzon in 1899 and General Bruce in 1908, both through Nepal, and Marta Brevoort's declaration in 1876 of her interest in an attempt. Although his bibliography is by no means exhaustive, he still manages to include some books not found in Salkeld and Boyle's Climbing Mount Everest: The Bibliography. I overall appreciated reading this book. I feel like it clarified my jumbled impression of the history of climbing Makalu, and it was a handy refresher for the early history of exploring the Karakorum. It's easy to navigate for a quick reference, and if you're weird like me, it makes an entertaining through-read. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Wildest Dream, by Peter & Leni Gillman

Peter and Leni Gillman write the authoritative biography of George Herbert Leigh Leigh-Mallory in The Wildest Dream: The Biography of George Mallory. David Pye's George Leigh Mallory was a stirring tribute and labor of love, but it had a limited perspective. David Robertson, as a member of the Mallory clan, released a well-written, but one-sided view of his life in George Mallory. Dudley Green does justice to the spirit of the man in Because It's There, but ignores uncomfortable information. The Gillmans sort through all the sources, including sour information, and illustrate a complex and fascinating individual whose full character is often lost in hero biographies. They relate the full breadth of Mallory's life and legacy, from his family's early history (including the derivation of his full name) to his children's growing up without a father.

The authors focus on the personal Mallory in this book. They tell much of his life through his letters and writings as well as a broad spectrum of the letters and writings of his friends and family. I thought they did a spectacular job of navigating the murky waters of his rumored homosexuality (see Walt Unsworth's Everest: The Mountaineering History for an extreme example), analyzing a number of first-person sources and coming to a logical, and surprising conclusion. By including so many perspectives throughout the book, the authors reveal more of his personality than I've previously encountered, including insecurities that he revealed in his letters to Young and his awkward relationship with Cottie Sanders. Even with his correspondence with Hinks, the permanent secretary to the Royal Geographical Society, the authors focus on the parts that describe his thoughts and feelings, rather than quoting lines that might have more bearing on the climbs. I think perhaps that Dudley Green overall paints a better picture of the professional Mallory, but I believe that a person's personal legacy and humanity is ultimately more important.

The authors of course cover his expeditions to Mount Everest. They do not reveal any startling new information here, largely because the sources have already been so thoroughly sifted through. They do track down the mysterious "Stella" from the letter found in his shirt pocket after his death and provide some insights into his role in the choosing of climbers for the 1924 expedition. The coverage on Everest is thorough and fair, and I enjoyed reading it. The Gillmans put the expeditions in the likely perspective of his life, with prescient analysis of his decisions to participate in each, and a focus on his family during each of the trips. I feel like I understand George Mallory more as a human being now than I did previously, and I hope you will as well!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Everest: The Struggle to Reach the Top of the World, by Geoff Tibballs

Geoff Tibballs writes a young adults' history of climbing Mount Everest in Everest: The Struggle to Reach the Top of the World. As a British author, Tibballs has a very British-centric view of Everest's history, with inclusions such as Rebecca Stephens (first British woman to summit), Alison Hargreaves, Stephen Venables, and Brian Blessed. Overall, it is written well, with only small errors that likely came from his sources or are typos---"Nunda Devi". (He includes a bibliography.) The print is quite small, I imagine to keep the book within page restrictions and include the wealth of photographic illustrations present. A couple of the illustrations are mislabeled, such as the "First Aerial Photographs of Everest" or "Hillary on the Summit of Cho Oyu." I appreciated, however, his search for some pictures that don't normally get used.

Tibball's history is thorough in the beginning, and picks winners towards today. He includes all the official expeditions up to 1953, Maurice Wilson, but not Earl Denman or Klaus Becker-Larsen. He is good a picking pertinent information, though he couldn't help including a relatively long section on the Abominable Snowman. He gives a good amount of space to the 1953 assault and tells the story well. In his later history, I'm not sure the Americans would appreciate having their climb lumped into the section "Chinese Footsteps" along with Wang Fu-Chou and Chu Yin-Hua or Junko Tabei would like to be know for having been "set" on the summit rather than climbing to it like her male counterparts. Tibballs includes Miura's ski descent, Boninton's expeditions, Messner / Habeler, the Kangshung Face expeditions of the 1980s, and a section on "New Ways to Conquer" regarding Everest stunts. Notably, women climbers are left "In the Footsteps of History," the following section. Oops. It's a shame---I'd like to recommend this book for its thoroughness, but it kept getting on my nerves, both for little mistakes or misjudgments and for chauvinism. Its publication year, 1998, also puts it a year ahead of the finding of George Mallory's body, and yet it somehow left out the 1996 disaster that was probably on a lot of its current readers' minds. My search continues for the perfect young readers' Everest history.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

No Magic Helicopter, by Carol Masheter

Carol Masheter becomes the oldest US woman to climb Mount Everest in No Magic Helicopter: An Aging Amazon's Climb of Everest. She turns her passion for endurance sports and occasional climbing into a focus on high-altitude mountaineering in her mid-fifties, climbing several mountains in the Andes before summiting Aconcagua and Cho Oyu. She is 60 before she calls Guy Cotter at Adventure Consultants to sign up for Everest. Her expedition climbs in the pre-monsoon season of 2008 from Nepal, and they face a number of difficulties related to the Chinese Olympic Torch Relay on the other side of the border. Her fellow clients include two mother-daughter pairs seeking records and a handful of men. Notably, Lydia Bradey, the first woman to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen (who was also banned from climbing in Nepal for several years for her efforts), is one of her guides.

This was a hard book for me to read, as it is such a change from the traditional literature of Everest. While there is danger on the mountain, everything that can be controlled or mitigated...is. Adventure Consultants runs a sturdy program, and Masheter is provided with every possible advantage in her quest for the top, including a personal minder for all of her climbing on the mountain and oxygen above the Western Cwm. Books such as this one or Vajpai's On Top of the World provide an interesting "state-of-the-expedition" account, in which the authors, due to a certain amount of removal of the clients from the planning and execution of the logistics inherent in the Cadillac operations, are largely left to worry about themselves, their personal gear, and the trivial decisions they are allowed to make. Naturally, they still have control of whether to continue on and usually have some flexibility in their acclimatization schedule (though Masheter's is tightly controlled by the Nepalese Army thanks to the Olympics), but the mystery of the climb is somewhat lost, and the essential camaraderie of working out the route happens only behind the scenes. While Masheter's climb is no doubt the event of a lifetime and a difficult test of endurance and will, I worry that her book and others that detail recent climbs may be the death knell for the Everest Literature. When we have gone from writing about blasting the limits of perceived human capabilities in the 1920s to today's fretting about the amount of cheese on a pizza at a high-altitude lodge, where is this genre heading? Will I one day have a last book to read?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Everest: Southwest Face, by Chris Bonington

Chris Bonington writes about the 1972 British attempt to climb "the hardest route" on Everest in Everest: Southwest Face. His team's attempt followed a number of tries on the route, by the Japanese, an International group, and a European expedition, and he relates their history and analyzes their efforts before getting into the details of his own climb. After a last-moment cancellation by the Italians, Bonington and his teammates whip together a serious effort over a single summer for a post-monsoon climb that would require a bulk of technical equipment and a host of well-tested high altitude climbers. Despite a number of scuffles, the climbers get along well enough to climb together (anger management seems to be one of the biggest hazards on Southwest Face climbs), and they put in a good amount of work on the rare days of non-atrocious weather. Ultimately, storms and high winds deal the trump card, but avalanches and rock fall deal them several blows as well. Additionally, Tony Tighe disappears in the Khumbu Icefall on the last day of clearing the mountain.

This book is handy for several purposes. It gives a glimpse into the climbing careers of Bonington's Boys, including Dougal Haston, Hamish MacInnes, Mick Burke, Doug Scott, and Nick Estcourt (see Clint Willis' The Boys of Everest). It also is an interesting look at Bonington's initial logistics for the Southwest Face and his conclusions about the climb that would lead him to make several changes for the successful 1975 climb (in Everest: The Hard Way). I feel that I've missed out a bit in reading these two books out of order, but I remember enough to realize that many of his proposed changes worked out in 1975. The book has a number of Appendices written by each of the people put in charge of important aspects of the preparation for the climb, such as food, gear, and filming. Modern me was a bit taken aback by Jimmy Roberts' swipe at the upcoming Japanese Ladies' Expedition in his section on Sherpa support. Bonington's writing in the narrative is analytical, if a little self-centered, but generally entertaining. There are a number of typos in the book, but the quality of the prose makes up for them. There are photographic illustrations, both color and black and white, throughout the book, from many photographers. I appreciated especially some of the more dramatic stills by Doug Scott.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Mountains of the Middle Kingdom, by Galen Rowell

I finally get some Everest writing out of Galen Rowell in his Mountains of the Middle Kingdom. He writes the first comprehensive mountaineering in Tibet book since China allowed foreign climbers back into the country. He happened to be in the position to write it as he had probably been the first person to travel to mountains across the range of the country since pre-war days. He covers both specific mountains and mountain ranges, including Mustagh Ata, the Tian Shan, Inner Tibet, Chomolungma, Minya Konka, and Anye Machin. Naturally, the book is both a history and a showcase for his photo portfolio, as he is one of the most famous mountaineering photographers in history. The sections are subdivided, first giving the early history of climbing in the areas and then a section on his own experiences in the 1980s in the same area. Additionally, at the end of the book he includes a chronology of mountain climbing and exploration of the areas covered. I find his writing in this book mature and fair-minded, as he covers many perspectives for often controversial topics.

Regarding Mount Everest, Rowell gives a brief, fairly accurate summary of the history of climbing the mountain from the north up to 1975. Notably, he favors the Chinese climbing Everest in 1960, stating the opinion relatively early in the Western turn-around in opinion. His own story is of his trekking to the mountain along with Harold Knutson. He asks his liaison officer, Wang Fu-chou (secretary general of the CMA), how high they are allowed to climb, and Wang, doubting either their ambition or ability, states that they may climb as high as they wish as long as they return in three days. In two days, they make it up to the North Col and back down to Camp III, and have an easy stroll home on day three, making theirs the highest climb on the route by Americans since Woodrow Wilson Sayre's illegal attempt in 1962 (in Four Against Everest). He mentions in his writing his and others' contact with Tom Holzel, who was beginning his search for Mallory as well decries the desecration of Rongbuk Monastery by earlier expeditions' garbage. He talks about recent evidence of Mallory, including Wang Hong Bao's discovery of an "English" dead high on the mountain and about paraphernalia from the 1924 attempt possibly above the Second Step. In the first Everest chapter, his photos focus on the locations associated with the early treks to Everest. The second focuses on Chomolungma as well as the ruins of Rongbuk, and includes a couple photos from their return travels, including Tingri and Gyantse. Other Rowell books I've covered include High and Wild and Mountain Light

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Happy Birthday, Everest Book Report!

Everest Book Report is one year old today! It's been a busy year: I've read and reviewed 207 books on climbing Mount Everest, and I'm well on my way to making my literary ascent of the gargantuan pile of published Everest literature. The blog has come a long way as well: in September 2010 I had 4 page views (Thanks, Mom!), and last month I was up to 1,329. Over the past year, Everest Book Report has had viewers from 82 countries as well, including Mauritius, Tunisia, and Mongolia. In my searching, I've found an additional 226 books that fit my criteria for reading, and I imagine there are at least as many that I have not yet found. Current project completion date (to keep it conservative): September 2014.

This blog has changed in several ways since I began it. I envisioned it originally as a daily reading journal, but I found that I spent almost as much time writing as reading. In reaction, I started occasional updates with a laundry list of books I had read, and found that the blog had little use for others. My current format, of one book per post, written as a review seems to be resonating more with readers, and I look forward to developing the blog to further benefit fellow readers. Please let me know what you'd like to see! In the future, I hope to make this blog a comprehensive resource on the Everest literature, and I'll also see what I can do to keep up with the current publications without blowing my relatively small book budget. Happy reading!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Everest from Sea to Summit, by Tim Macartney-Snape

I began my blog 364 days ago with a solo journey in Reinhold Messner's The Crystal Horizon, and I've decided to finish up the year with another solo trip, Tim Macartney-Snape's Everest from Sea to Summit. Macartney-Snape becomes the first person to climb the entire height of Mount Everest under his own power in 1990, trekking from the Bay of Bengal to Everest Base Camp in Nepal and climbing the mountain while carrying his own gear. Macartney-Snape's book is both a labor of love and a manifesto. He uses the climb to reflect upon his view of man's relationship to nature and to fellow man and creates an allegory of his attainment of the highest point on Earth to show the potential of society to progress towards maturity. He discusses, with some wisdom, about things such as ecological preservation, population growth, spiritual renewal in nature, and the motivations for mountaineering. These discourses are sprinkled throughout his journey, as though they were the subjects of his thoughts during his daily travel.

Macartney-Snape's climb on Everest is quite amazing. He initially decides on a solo trip up the West Ridge, with a contingency of the Southeast Ridge for bad snow conditions. He negotiates with a Swiss team to help them string a route up the Lho La in exchange for mutual use, and ascends it early on. He later climbs up to the Western Cwm to set up a fall-back camp in case he descends a different way than his ascent or ends up climbing the Southeast Ridge. He then sets out again quite heavily laden to ascend the Lho La and the Western Shoulder over three days to drop equipment at an assault camp at the top of the shoulder, and then as long as it's a beautiful day the next morning, he downclimbs into the Western Cwm to mix things up. His eventual summit climb via the Southeast Ridge is perhaps less exciting, but his commentary on the route is quite interesting, and his level of fitness impressive. I can think of no one who manages to cover so much ground on Everest in a single climb.

The book and Macartney-Snape's quest make for an interesting discussion on solo feats. While Reinhold Messner had the entire North Face of Everest to himself, Macartney-Snape faced a crowd in Nepal, and shared responsibility for stringing the Lho La and ended up climbing the Khumbu Icefall using a route that had been safeguarded by others. Goran Kropp, in Ultimate High, faced down a larger crowd in 1996, but found his own way through the Icefall, though he began using the established route after his initial solo foray. Macartney-Snape trekked from the sea with an entourage of drivers, film crew, wife, Sherpas, and liaison officers, though he was the only one to walk the entire distance to Everest. Goran Kropp biked from Copenhagen, carrying and towing all his own gear, and only had intermittent contact with his girlfriend and film crew until the trek from Kathmandu. Messner road in a truck to Everest Base Camp in Tibet, as Chinese protocol demanded at the time. Whereas Messner, being the only climber around, had no need to think about the "purity" of his solo experience, both Macartney-Snape and Kropp would have to consider what sort of support they would allow to suit their personal goals. Though its clear that Macartney-Snape wanted his effort to be solitary, he recognized that the goal he stated to both the public and his sponsors was to be the first to climb every meter of Everest's height, and that every bit of self-sufficiency he could eke out was primarily for his own conscience and ego.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The author's thoughtfulness and physical stamina inspired me. Whereas some people go to Everest to escape their daily lives and bring home a trophy, Macartney-Snape seems to be more at home the closer he gets to the mountain. If you like this book, you should also check out Macartney-Snape's 1984 climb of the North Face of Everest in Lincoln Hall's White Limbo.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Canadians on Everest (2006), by Bruce Patterson

Bruce Patterson tells the story of the 1982 Mount Everest expedition that put the first Canadians on the summit in Canadians on Everest. The expedition was a frightening example of the petty politics that tear a team apart, though enough of the team remains to place on the summit two Canadians, Laurie Skreslet and Pat Morrow, and four Sherpas, Sungdare, Lhakpa Dorje, Pema Dorje, and Lhakpa Tsering. Additionally, there are four deaths on the expedition in two separate incidents in the Khumbu Icefall. If you can believe it, the expedition went through three expedition leaders before the climb, and the person who secured the climbing permit gets kicked off his own climb. Soon after the expedition Al Burgess and Jim Palmer released the official expedition account, Everest Canada, that seeks to cover all the bases, but only thoroughly tells one side of conflict. Patterson, the journalist dispatched to the mountain to cover the expedition, due to book contracts, was only able to release the other side of the story in 1990, in the original edition of this book, released by Detselig Enterprises. I did not realize (I should have done my homework!) until I got to the Acknowledgments at the end of the 2006 edition, by Altitude Publishing, that what I read is actually an abridgment of the original with an updated Epilogue. Whereas Burgess relates his own experiences and quotes from the expedition diaries of others (focusing on the climbers he already knew), Patterson wrote and took notes the whole expedition and made it a point to get to know the climbers. His book focuses on Laurie Skreslet, Jim Elzinga, and Bill March, and it overall has a different flavor to the storyline than the official account. Perhaps he didn't realize it, but Patterson overlooks the intertwining of the Canadian expedition with Peter Hillary's Lhotse team, especially towards the end.

The book is well-written and entertaining. It gets a little journalist-dramatic at moments, but not often---there's little need, as the story is exciting enough already! It's one of the better journalist-on-Everest books, as Patterson strikes the right balance between a personal story and disaffected coverage. You can read other perspectives on the climb in (besides the official account) the Burgess twins' The Burgess Book of Lies, Peter Hillary's Ascent, Pat Morrow's Beyond Everest, and for brave kids, Laurie Skreslet's To the Top of Everest.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mount Everest, by Sven Hedin

In 1923, Sven Hedin released Mount Everest in response to the recent climbs on the mountain by the British. The tome is a collection of articles about Everest and its environs, including several commentaries on the expeditions in response to the news coming from the mountain. I read the German edition, though there are concurrent editions in Swedish and Czech. Hedin is well-versed in the history of exploration of the area, and he uses his knowledge to show that the British were perhaps not the pioneers they professed to be. In one article, he quotes manuscripts he viewed in Italy and Germany by Jesuit missionaries that profess strikingly similar itineraries as the British Mount Everest expeditions and even describe a mountain far taller than any other around it when they are in the region. Hedin additionally cites the mapping of the Everest region by Buddhist scholars at the behest of Jesuits in Peking in 1717, which later worked its way into D'Anville's 1733 Asian atlas. The author certainly has it out for these supposed experts, and he jibes them for anything from their big gaffs of claiming to be the first Europeans to travel the area and first to map it to a mildly unflattering bit of syntax by Wollaston in their newly released Everest: The Reconnaissance 1921. The final article is about the geological formation of salty lakes in Tibet, with Hedin trying to work out their origin.

His commentary on the climbs is a bit of fresh air from the propaganda machine of Younghusband. Whereas Younghusband expounds the heroic in his many writings, such as  The Epic of Mount Everest, Hedin provides a cold dose of criticism. His first article, written before the serious climbing commenced, cited the climb by the Duke of Abruzzi's expedition on Bride Peak, in which the party had to turn around almost at the summit at 24,000 feet due to the impossibility of venturing further. The British are over-proud to think that they can scale a peak of 29,000 feet! He also doubts the efficacy of a bottled-oxygen system, especially given its capacity-to-weight ratio at the current time. He, justifiably, complains that the British are saving Everest for themselves, and that there are a number of well-trained mountaineers from other countries who are equally or more capable of making an attempt. He has to retract some of his statements in later articles when her responds to the 1922 news of the British making it to 27,300 feet using supplementary oxygen and 26,700 without. He still withholds praise however. He remains doubtful that the British will make to the top anytime soon. Why not just use an airplane?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Greatest Adventures of All Time, edited by Sullivan & Andreas

Robert Sullivan and Robert Andreas present a showcase of The Greatest Adventures of All Time, and by that they mean the greatest adventures of the Twentieth Century. This volume was put out by Time LIFE books at the end of the century, I believe to highlight our fascination with adventure over the past 100 years. Sullivan, in the introduction, seeks to separate adventure from exploration using the concept of George Mallory's quote "because it is there." Adventure has no purpose beyond glory or excitement and is committed to regardless of financial gain, as in Ernest Shackleton's apocryphal newspaper advertisement: "Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success." The book contains expeditions based around water, land, ice, air, and space, and it sticks to the most famous explorers, including Shackleton, Heyerdahl, Peary, Armstrong, and Amundsen, with a couple surprises such as Matthew Henson, possibly the first man to stand on the North Pole. Each of the topics contains short histories of the expedition goals in addition to the adventurer profiles. Also, Will Steger is highlighted as a modern adventurer.

Regarding Everest, the authors include profiles of two climbers, Sir Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner, in addition to a short history of climbing the mountain. The climbing history focuses on Mallory and Irvine, with an optimistic view of their climb. When the history makes its way to 1953, the section transitions into an extended interview with Hillary, "the World's Greatest Living Adventurer." The questions are meant for a general audience, and lead Hillary through his life and adventuring career roughly chronologically. The interviewer also asks Hillary about the recent commercialization of Everest, about Rob Hall (also a New Zealander), and the 1996 Everest mess. Messner gets a quick profile that talks a little bit about his career and highlights his 1980 solo climb of Mount Everest. The information presented is reliable, though general. Throughout the book, there are copious color photographic illustrations, including a suave current photo of Hillary and and a telephoto of Messner as a tiny dot ascending the North Col.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Many Mountains to Climb, by Stacy Allison

Stacy Allison, the first US woman to climb Mount Everest, turns her climbing life into allegory in Many Mountains to Climb. She takes episodes from her life, in approximate chronological order, and reflects on the lessons to be learned from each, based on the title of the chapter. She focuses especially on her two Everest expeditions, one in 1987 to the North Face under Scott Fischer and another under Jim Frush and Don Goodman during the 1988 post-monsoon circus in Nepal. The climbs conveniently contrast, with poor organization, teamwork, and weather in the first and a good overall climb (at least for her) in the second. Her advice is a mixture of personal, relationship, and corporate, and seems to be distilled from her many speaking engagements.

I'm not sure I liked this book terribly much. Though the book had order based on the time line of Allison's life, I felt that the reflections lacked focus or some sort of overarching principal that brought them together. Each of the sections has a number of different suggestions for the reader that loosely fit under the heading of the chapter, and she only rarely goes into detail on them. In contrast, Gary P. Scott's Summit Strategies has a set of ten lessons that are meant to build upon one another and are specific and detailed. Her narrative, on the other hand, was well-written and quite a bit more personal and personable than in her autobiography, Beyond the Limits. Though there's considerably less detail in this book than her biography, the writing is more natural and I hope a better reflection of the author's personality, since in Beyond the Limits, she seems to have several, some unpleasant.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Story of Everest, by W. H. Murray

W. H. Murray gives the history of climbing Mount Everest up to 1953, including his own participation in the reconnaissance of 1951, in The Story of Everest. In the first US edition, Murray updates his initial edition, which covered only up to the 1952 Swiss climbs, to include a chapter on the successful 1953 ascent under Col. John Hunt. He provides a climbers' perspective on the early history of the mountain, and his prose is clear and to-the-point. It is certainly better than Leonard Wibberly's The Epics of Everest, released about the same time, who trades drama for analysis. He covers all the expeditions from 1921 to 1953, giving the historically significant climbs several chapters each. He includes a brief summary of Maurice Wilson's attempt, but ignores Klaus Becker-Larsen's illicit foray into Tibet; Earl Denman still had not fessed up to his 1947 shenanigans at the time of The Story of Everest's publication.

The quality of the material is sound. He takes some easy answers for the early climbs, such as saying that George Finch was too sick to participate in the 1921 reconnaissance, but he makes up for it in his democratic treatment of the climbers, praising their work on the mountain without hyperbole and saying little of their reputations off the mountain. Murray takes a conservative view on the climb of Mallory and Irvine, but stands up for the strength of humankind in the oxygen debate. I was curious, based on his friendship with Michael Ward (A Thousand Years of Exploration), whether they would have similar opinions on Everest's history, but I found that they disagree on several conclusions, even regarding the 1951 reconnaissance that they jointly organized. His analysis has mostly turned out to be true, especially regarding the use of supplementary oxygen, though his weather and snow condition analysis has since turned out to be only somewhat correct. I was worried, based on the publication date, that this book would be a hastily thrown-together work meant to maximize profit, but I'm pleasantly surprised by its merit. It's not the best work out there anymore for Everest's early history, but it's worth a read if it's immediately available.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Alfred Gregory's Everest, by Alfred Gregory

Alfred Gregory finally presents a folio of his Everest photographs in Alfred Gregory's Everest. Previously he had turned over his negatives to the Himalayan Committee, and it was not until the 1990s that Gregory got to develop his own negatives and present his work on the 1953 initial ascent of Mount Everest. The collection shows the artistic as well as the photojournalistic view of this historic climb. There are many of the famous photographs associated with the climb, such as an exhausted Bourdillon and Evans upon their return from the South Summit, as well as a number of rarely-seen beautiful images, such a photo of ice pinnacles near Base Camp. Of course, there are no summit photographs in this work, but Gregory accompanied Tenzing and Hillary to their summit assault camp, and his work covers all but the final climb of the expedition. There is a foreword to the book by Jan Morris, who discusses the significance of the climb and the roles of the Everest journalists, including Morris, Gregory, and Tom Stobart. Gregory, in his introduction discusses his many trips to the Everest region and how it has changed over the 40 years between the climb and the publication of his folio. He also tells a couple interesting stories about the climb that eluded other chroniclers, such as listening to the FA Cup Final while at Lake Camp or a tale of a collapsing serac in the Khumbu Icefall.

The book is a a huge improvement over The Picture of Everest, the photo book released soon after the climb. The original was quite grainy, though there was some color printing. (Alfred Gregory's Everest is all black and white.) I can understand why Gregory would consider the current volume the first exposition of "his" work. He states in this book that the Times was primarily responsible for the early development of the photo negatives and that it was the first time they had worked in the 35 mm format. In addition to these two, Gregory's family released a posthumous full-color Alfred Gregory: Photographs from Everest to Africa in 2008. You can also read more about the joys of camera work on the 1953 ascent in Tom Stobart's autobiography,  Adventurer's Eye, or more about the joys of journalism during the climb in Jan (James) Morris' Coronation Everest.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tenzing Norgay and the Sherpas of Everest, by Tashi Tenzing

Tashi Tenzing, grandson of Tenzing Norgay, writes biographies of a number of famous Sherpas, many of them family, in Tenzing Norgay and the Sherpas of Everest. Tenzing tells the story of climbing Mount Everest from the point of view of the Sherpas, based on interviews with the surviving members of the early expeditions and cultural and family histories. The result is a refreshing take on an often-told tale and a timely tribute to the unsung heroes of the mountain. In addition to the biographies, Tenzing chronicles the changes in Sherpa culture and families resulting from Himalayan mountaineering and discusses Sherpa climbers' motives and attitudes. Tenzing Norgay's biography features prominently in the book, but I appreciated most getting to know many of the lesser-known Sherpas, whose names appear often in mountaineering books, but who remain essentially anonymous to outsiders once off the mountain. Also, Tenzing includes the stories of his own climbs on Everest, including a 1993 climb he organized himself and a 1997 commercial expedition.

The book covers a multitude of Everest climbs, based on the Sherpas' biographies. It is a fitting role reversal to read details of the experiences of the local climbers and porters, while the foreign climbers often have mistakes in their personal information in the text. I found three climbs particularly interesting: Tashi Tenzing's two expeditions and a 1991 Sherpa / US climb in which the traditional climbing roles were reversed, with Pete Athans and other Americans providing porter support to Sherpa climbers. Tenzing's first expedition was an Australian national expedition that included Mike Groom (Sheer Will), Brigitte Muir (Wind in My Hair), and his cousin Lobsang. Groom and Lobsang make the summit, but tragedy strikes on the descent. Tenzing's second climb was as part of the 1997 Adventure Consultants' "Dream Team," a group consisting of Ed Viesturs, David Breashears, Guy Cotter, and Tenzing, meant to show that the business of climbing Everest is still on after the mess of 1996. I didn't realize before this that Breashears' Nova footage was actually shot under the auspices of Adventure Consultants. Overall, this is a great read and a long-needed book about the "other guys," who generally do the hard work of Everest climbs.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wanda Rutkiewicz: A Caravan of Dreams, by Gertrude Reinisch

Gertrude Reinisch writes a tribute to one of the most accomplished female mountaineers in history in Wanda Rutkiewicz: A Caravan of Dreams. Reinisch displays the many paradoxes in the life of Rutkiewicz, who was torn between city life and mountaineering, love and ambition, and her hardcore principles and the realities of many of her climbs. Rutkiewicz had gathered a pile of papers and photos to one day write her autobiography, and after her death on Kanchenjunga, Reinisch, a friend and climbing partner, used these resources and others to tell her tale. At her death, Rutkiewicz had climbed more than twice as many 8000-meter peaks (nine) as any other woman, and was well on her way to achieving all fourteen summits. Additionally, she had made the second ascent of the North Buttress of the Eiger (after Messner & Habeler), and climbed the North Face of the Matterhorn in winter and the South Face of Aconcagua. Beginning in 1985, she kept a frantic pace of climbing, with an average of three expeditionary climbs every year; in 1991 alone, she made it high on the North Face of Kanchenjunga, summited Cho Oyu by the West Face and Annapurna by the South Face, and headed to Dhaulagiri straightaway only to find that the expedition had been canceled.

Wanda Rutkiewicz was one of the phenoms of Polish climbing. She started early in their expeditionary history, with the winter ascent of Noshaq in 1972, leading the 1975 first ascent of Gasherbrum III, and an attempt on Nanga Parbat in 1976. On international teams, she became the first Pole and the third woman to scale Everest in 1978 and the first woman and Pole to climb K2 in 1986. Her Everest ascent was a post-monsoon climb via the South Col under Karl Herligkoffer and Pierre Mazeaud's joint leadership, though she was appointed Deputy Leader. Her leadership became a point of contention within the expedition, and she was accused of not carrying her weight, but she pushed herself hard, filming as high as the South Col and reaching the summit. Like Jerzy Kukuczka, (My Vertical World) after some initial fame she had better luck attracting sponsors for her climbs, but she never had more that enough for the most basic of expeditions, and her gear was often cited as atrocious. On her later climbs, she found herself making devils' deals regarding filming compensation, where she would receive the money to pay for the expedition only if she made the summit. I can only wonder if she had just such a contract for her 1992 Kanchenjunga climb that cost her her life. The book is a realistic tribute, with both praise and criticism for this great climber who pushed the limits in more than just her climbs. It has color photographs (mostly by Rutkiewicz) throughout, and short contributions from a number of her associates towards the end. I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Everest: Triumph and Tragedy on the World's Highest Peak, by Matt Dickinson

Matt Dickinson writes a tactile tribute to Mount Everest for young readers in Everest: Triumph and Tragedy on the World's Highest Peak. Dickinson creates an interactive book, with prayer flags, commercial expedition paperwork, a recreation of Maurice Wilson's diary, and other objects to remove and examine that make this more than the average kids' read. The book covers the history of exploring and climbing the peak as well as the story of joining a commercial expedition to reach the top. The author is a self-professed Everest fan (and real-life summiteer), and he believes that the mountain belongs to everyone, and that its appeal is universal. Instead of a straight telling of Everest's history, Dickinson opts for a sectional focus on interesting aspects of Everest and its climbing history, such as its mapping, the 1953 ascent, notable expeditions, Mallory / Irvine, and its natural and political surroundings. His commercial climb includes sections on equipment, camps, team interaction, and the 1996 disaster that he witnessed (in his The Other Side of Everest).

The book is a handy resource. His information is truthful and thoughtful. I appreciated his inclusion of the commercial expedition documents from Eric Simonson's International Mountain Guides service, as I had read about but never seen things such as physician's releases or body disposal election forms. This is one of the most mature takes on the task of climbing Everest that I've seen for young audiences, and I appreciated his balance of frankness and fondness for the subject. Additionally, his discussion of the complexity of many of the issues surrounding the mountain's history and climbing is a rare find among children's literature. I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Annapurna to Dhaulagiri, by Harka Gurung

Annapurna to Dhaulagiri, by Harka Gurung, records a decade of mountaineering in Nepal, from 1950-1960. The book is a government document released by the Ministry of Information in Kathmandu, and it summarizes the expeditions that had so far climbed in the country and their accomplishments. The title is, of course, a reference to the first and last 8000-meter summits to be climbed in Nepal, and it reinforces (for me) the short time it took to climb all eight summits (and 13 of the 14 total in the Himalaya) for the first time once Annapurna had been ascended. Also of note is the few expeditions that occurred. 1955 had the most climbing expeditions, with fifteen, covering the far west of Nepal to Kanchenjunga, which is less than the number of expeditions to Mount Everest in any given year recently. 1956, in contrast, had only two: to Everest / Lhotse and Manaslu.

This is a bare-bones resource, and as such, is not particularly useful for Mount Everest research. Major expeditions, such as the 1953 Everest ascent get a page. (The 1951 reconnaissance, notably, gets more space.) Small expeditions may get a paragraph, or less. The information is accurate, however, with a few obvious typos. On Everest, Gurung naturally covers the 1950 and 1951 reconnaissances, the 1952 attempts, the 1953 ascent, the 1956 Swiss double ascent, and the Chinese and Indian expeditions of 1960. He sticks to the skeptical western view of the time regarding the Chinese ascent. He is almost less skeptical of the existence of the Yeti, which he discusses in an Appendix as cogent material regarding the expeditions that had come specifically to search for the beast. He also includes a select bibliography and another appendix that lists the peaks over 7000-meters and the year and nationality of their ascents, if there is one. The most interesting feature of this book (I believe) is Gurung's personal photography and drawings of the major Himalayan peaks, with some well-done (traced?) line drawings, and several color photographs.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Day to Die For, by Graham Ratcliffe

A Day to Die For tells the story of Graham Ratcliffe, a member of Henry Todd's team who was also on Mount Everest's South Col on May 10, 1996 during the storm that killed eight people. By a twist of fate, he and his fellow clients arrived on the Col just as the storm was attaining its full force and the first of Scott Fischer's and Rob Hall's expedition members were returning to their tents, and yet knew nothing of the tragedy unfolding right next to them until the next day. Ratcliffe tells the full story of his relationship to Mount Everest, including his 1995 ascent via the North Col / Northeast Ridge, the 1996 disaster, his subsequent South Col attempts from Nepal in 1997, 1998, and 1999, and his later haunting fixation on and research into the events of 1996.

His 1995 ascent sounds like a happy time and hard climb. He makes his summit climb during the pre-monsoon season in great weather along with Anatoli Boukreev and Nikolai Sitnikov under Henry Todd's Himalayan Guides service. He socializes with Tom Whittaker (Higher Purpose) and Alison Hargreaves (Regions of the Heart) and also manages to catch an early ride home with Paul Pfau's American team, that happened to include George Mallory, climbing in memory of his grandfather. During a Christmas climb on Aconcagua, Ratcliffe realizes no Brit had yet climbed Everest from both Tibet and Nepal, and he quickly books a second climb with Henry Todd.

His 1996 climb is an enlightening take on Henry Todd's expedition as well as a mature front-row seat view of the tragedy that killed or injured members of three other teams climbing from Nepal. A previous account from Henry Todd's team was written by Mark Pfetzer (Within Reach), but Pfetzer was quite young at the time, and his narrative gives little information outside his own actions. Brigitte Muir, another teammate, has also written a book about her Seven Summits climbs, Wind in My Hair, but I have not yet read it, and can't comment on it. Cathy O'Dowd and Ian Woodall, the only other outside observers on the South Col to publish a book about their climb (Free to Decide), focus, like Pfetzer, on their own experiences in their writing, but occasionally mention the other teams to take jabs at them. Ratcliffe, though he focuses on his own experiences as well, looks out at what transpires around him, and he explores both his own culpability in the events as they unfold and the interrelation between his team and others on the mountain. It takes him several years of simmering, as well as a chance encounter with some disturbing information, before he realizes that there was likely more to the tragedy than an unexpected storm.

Ratcliffe seems like more of a dedicated than talented researcher. After finding his kernel of information that he believes will change the narrative of the 1996 tragedy, he jumps into the detail work while waiting to get to the readily available books and resources that would later provide him many of the clues to solve his mystery. I'm also not sure why he felt he needed to know all the details before he asked any of his fellow 1996 climbers any questions. Many of the letters and conversations he quotes make him sound more confrontational than curious. It felt to me that he was trying to set up a court case against someone rather than seeking the truth. I would have been loathe to respond to such inquiries as well. His efforts ultimately lead to the truth of the matter, but it seemed to me a grand effort for little consolation. The book kept my interest throughout, and I enjoyed reading it---I just feel bad that his methodology might have actually hampered him or prolonged his travails. If Into Thin Air and The Climb left you unsatisfied, this book is definitely worth your time.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What It's Like to Climb Mount Everest . . . and Other Extraordinary Stories, by Jeff Belanger

Jeff Belanger probes the experiences of people in difficult situations in his What It's Like to Climb Mount Everest, Blast Off into Space, Survive a Tornado, and Other Extraordinary Stories. His book for young teens tells the story of real people who have either challenged themselves or faced challenges, such as surviving a shark attack, walking across the United States, or flying with the U. S. Air Force Thunderbirds. The stories are all recent, and are told in first person. Belanger gives each tale several pages, and the protagonists are able to speak in some detail about their experiences, especially about their thoughts and feelings during their ordeals. There are color photographic illustrations throughout, and each section contains a short update or biography of each of the main characters at the end.

The Everest section details the story of Mark Inglis, the first person to climb Mount Everest with two prosthetic legs. The book actually covers both his climb on Mount Cook that cost him the lower half of his legs to frostbite as well as his later climb of Everest. He climbs Everest from Tibet via the North Col and Northeast Ridge in the pre-monsoon season of 2006. Most of the thoughts he shares could be true for any climber on Mount Everest, such as the challenges after the Second Step being as much or more mental than physical or his being overwhelmed at the sight of the mountain from the Pang La. He shares about the difficulty of descending, however, as his artificial legs are designed for uphill or flat walking. Also, he breaks a leg in a fall, but is able to patch it up with duct tape for later repairs lower on on the mountain (possibly the only advantage of a prosthesis on Mount Everest). For a more detailed account of his trip up the world's highest mountain, try High-Tech Legs on Everest, by Inglis and Sarah Ell.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I'll Call You in Kathmandu: The Elizabeth Hawley Story, by Bernadette McDonald

A character in nearly every Everest book, (who has somehow never even been to Base Camp) Elizabeth Hawley is the subject of Bernadette McDonald's I'll Call You in Kathmandu. Hawley is the de facto chronicler of Himalayan climbing within Nepal, creating files for each climb based on interviews she conducts in Kathmandu. Everest books are filled with stories of climbing leaders arriving in Kathmandu, checking into their hotels, sitting down on their beds or drawing a bath, and the phone rings; when they pick up, it is invariably Miss Hawley calling. She is both feared and respected by Himalayan climbers, as she has the journalistic power to make climbers famous and the wit and wisdom to keep them honest. She is known to be direct, thorough, badgering at times, critical, but honest. Her journalistic accounts generally lack any sort of evaluation of a climb, but she is scrupulous with the details. 

McDonald reveals much in this book that surprised me. Hawley originally emigrated to Kathmandu to report on political and practical matters in a small country in transition caught between both China and India and the U. S. S. R. and the United States. She originally had no concept of climbers or Himalayan climbing and wasn't particularly interested. She worked many jobs to support herself (as she began only as a part-time reporter for Time, Inc), including under Jimmy Roberts at his trekking agency and Edmund Hillary for his Himalayan Trust. She was able to scoop the news on the 1963 American Everest expedition through contacts at the American Embassy and later on a personal ham radio. She didn't begin to focus on climbing news, however, until her Nepalese journalistic license was revoked after a scoop on some sensitive political news.

Hawley's records on climbing in and around Nepal are thorough and exciting (well, at least for the researcher!). Thanks to the partnership of Richard Salisbury, her records are now available on CD-ROM, with updates available for download at the Himalayan Database website. McDonald is careful to frame Hawley's biography around the bigger picture of Kathmandu and to include a wealth of climbers' experiences with her. The book, unfortunately, poo-poos many of the myths about Hawley's personal relationships with climbers, but her humorous comments about these men more than make up for the disappointment. I, personally, appreciated McDonald's compare /contrast of Hawley and Audrey Salkeld. I would take either of their jobs, as chroniclers and historians of high-altitude mountaineering, in a heartbeat, and I was enthralled to read what they think of each other. I hope you enjoy this book---I found it fascinating.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Man Who Skied Down Everest, by Miura & Perlman

Yuichiro Miura and Eric Perlman tell the story of Miura's speed skiing descent from the South Col to the Western Cwm in The Man Who Skied Down Everest. Miura was a competitive speed skier, often coming close to the world record for fastest descent. He decides to explore the possibilities of speed skiing off-course, and after a quick descent on Mount Fuji, he sets his sights on the Himalaya. His contacts tell him the best skiing would be on Manaslu, but he also finds that, unless he has the money to pay for the trip himself, only a ski descent on Mount Everest will land him enough sponsors to get to Nepal. Miura is a novice at both expeditionary climbing and planning, and he faces a steep learning curve during his attempt to reach the world's highest ski run.

Despite his lack of experience, he manages to achieve quite a bit. He slowly lures sponsors to his side, gathers a team to help him organize the trip and climb to the South Col in the pre-monsoon season of 1970, and eventually signs a media contract with a film company to cover the balance of his expenses. (The film is also called The Man Who Skied Down Everest.) He survives his many experiments with his diet, and gets to the mountain the fittest of his team. The Sherpas even tell him he must have been a Yeti in his past life. He makes many ski runs around Everest and climbs Pokhara Peak as acclimatization, and then heads up the Western Cwm to check the condition of his run (the snow gully between the Lhotse Glacier and the Geneva Spur). While there, he can't help himself, and he constructs a ramp to do some ski jumping. He heads up to the Col to make his run. His descent is less-than-graceful, as the parachute he designed to slow his progress does little to help him in the rarefied air of the high Himalaya. After a terrifying fall, he screams to a stop just above the bergschrund, bruised but otherwise uninjured.

Throughout the book, Miura quotes the Samurai master Musashi's treatise on the art of Bushido, the way of the warrior. Miura can trace his lineage back to the times of warring clans, and its clear that he tries to recapture a bit of his heritage by facing his opponent (his ski descent) like the warriors of old. I'm not certain that I agree with his methodology or application, but I respect his urge to connect with his family roots and his questing to discover the depth of his devotion. It's notable that after his Everest run, Miura survived both the fastest speed skiing fall (at an earlier competition) and the highest, on Mount Everest.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summit Strategies, by Gary P. Scott

Gary P. Scott helps you climb your personal Everest in his Summit Strategies. The book is one of a number of books in the genre I have heretofore ignored in my Mount Everest reading, that of the self-help or inspirational reading. (No excuses---most of them are not expensive or hard to find!) Scott breaks down his advice into ten lessons, framed around the story of his experiences as a member of the 1991 American Everest Expedition that scaled the South Col-Southeast Ridge route. Each of the lessons, with titles like "Overcome Your Fear" or "Believe in Yourself," is explained through the climbing experiences of Scott and others. At the beginning of each section, there is an inspirational quote, and at the end, Scott provides bullet-points of advice on how to apply the lessons to your own life and efforts.

Scott believes that people must follow their passions. Each of the lessons provides advice that intends to get you closer to your life goals, beginning with choosing appropriate objectives and ending with seeking the peace of mind to enjoy your accomplishment. I appreciated his section, "Lighten Your Load," in which he discusses the potential of material possessions to hold you back from your goals, as well as his ending discussion of achieving the state of mind to enjoy what you have accomplished, rather than needing to jump immediately on another goal. For my personal Everest, the reading of and writing about all published Everest books, I took to heart his advice on finding my pace. I find that my relatively rigid credo of having a book read and a post ready every two days (except during illness or vacation) fits my need for order and reliability, but that I sometimes set aside a book I would like to read that is relatively long in favor of shorter material that will allow me to keep up the pace. In the future, I will aim to follow my reading instincts (another lesson in the book) rather than stress out about an artificial schedule.

Friday, July 29, 2011

When Men & Mountains Meet, by H. W. Tilman

When Men & Mountains Meet serves as a coda to Harold Tilman's Everest 1938, though the delay in the publishing of Everest meant that Men & Mountains appeared in print first. The book details Tilman's post-Everest adventures, both on mountains and in the battlefield during the lead-up to and fight of World War II. The book begins with an expedition in the summer of 1939 to the Assam Himalaya, to climb and (apologetically) to survey in a blank in the map east of Bhutan. He travels with three Sherpa (including two Everest verterans, Wangdi Norbu and Nukku), and they only make it to base camp before they are thoroughly incapacitated by illness. He and Wangdi Norbu, thinking it's only malaria, work when they can, but are generally laid low most or all of the day. The illness progresses, and only three of them are able to make a difficult escape.

Tilman then moves on in the book to his attempts of the Zemu Gap, near Kanchenjunga. He states that a new survey needs to be made (and has since been made) of the area, since the gap has been misidentified, and is actually incredibly harder than and higher than earlier accounts profess. He attempts it once from the south in 1936, and is turned back by a 200-foot ice cliff near the crest. He returns, along with Pasang Kikuli (of Everest and K2 fame) in 1938 while trekking through Sikkim on his way home from the Everest climb he led. He gives a little more detail here than in Everest 1938 about other party members' actions after they fanned out towards the end of their trek across Tibet. He is especially detailed about his own successful crossing of the Zemu Gap, from the North this time.

He has a number of exciting war stories and interactions, mainly because he spurned promotion over service that would keep his interest. He serves in the Middle East, North Africa, Albania, and Italy, and seems to have mastered the retreat that defeats the more powerful foe. His units are generally under supplied, outnumbered, and survive through their geographical knowledge, cultural interactions, and well-planned tactics. Overall, some great war stories from theaters that don't get as much attention as Western Europe and the Pacific.

This book is a fun read. Tilman's ironic, sarcastic, and often self-depricating wit appears throughout, and adds a great deal of personality to his direct style. Everest doesn't play a huge role in this book, nor do mountains, but he brings up Everest often enough in the climbing sections (such as comparing the monsoon snows' effect on climbing Everest versus Kanchenjunga), and anytime hostilities die down a bit, he scrambles up a mountain wherever he happens to be during wartime. I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Together on Top of the World, by Phil & Sue Ershler

Together on Top of the World tells the story of Phil and Sue Ershler, the first couple to climb the Seven Summits together. Phil Ershler is a mountain guide and a noted Himalayan climber, who was the first American to summit Mount Everest via the North Face. Sue Ershler is a sales executive who accompanied her husband on a couple continental high-point climbs and decided that they should finish the list together. Together, they face a number of challenges, both on their climbs and regarding Phil Ershler's health. They alternate narration throughout the book, and their tales intertwine to show a driven and supportive couple willing to push each other to do the right thing and achieve their personal dreams.

There are a number of Everest tales in this book. Phil Ershler makes two attempts on Everest before successfully climbing the North Face via the North Col in 1984. He writes about his experiences with the 1981 American Expedition to the North Face under Lou Whittaker as well as his try in 1983 with Dick Bass and Frank Wells via the South Col, in which he attempted the summit without supplemental oxygen. I don't know what it is about him, but he doesn't get much coverage in other books that cover these climbs, except perhaps Jim Wickwire's Addicted to Danger and Lou Whittaker's Memoirs of a Mountain Guide, even though he makes significant contributions to both climbs. (I, admittedly, have not yet read Bass & Well's Seven Summits yet. Yikes!) His 1984 post-monsoon climb is quite an effort. His team becomes dependent upon finding a tent left by the descending Australian team (see Lincoln Hall's White Limbo), and after not finding it and a bivouac, his summit team descends. After another rope's abortive attempt, the scrabble together the three strongest climbers, Wickwire, Roskelly, Ershler, for a last push. Together, Phil and Sue Ershler make two attempts, both via the South Col in 2001 and 2002. Note: Phil Ershler summits Everest in 2002 on the same morning as Sean Swarner, author of Keep Climbing

In contrast to many other books, the authors' climbs together are joyous times. Most of the drama of this book is off the mountain, and it makes for engrossing reading throughout. I hope that their relationship is every bit as good in person as it is on paper, because it seemed like the epitome of martial bliss. Enjoy!