Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dead Lucky, by Lincoln Hall

Lincoln Hall is the author of several books about mountaineers and Everest, including Dead Lucky, the tale of his own near-death experience high on the mountain. Hall has come a long way since writing White Limbo, which details in a fun and passionate style his first Everest climb 22 years earlier by a new route and without supplementary oxygen; his writing in Dead Lucky is more reserved, mature, and analytical, and yet I found it both engaging and entertaining.

Hall's brush with death occurs during the controversial 2006 climbing season, in which 10 people died, including David Sharp, who faced quite similar circumstances to Hall. Dead Lucky focuses on the personal experiences of the author, and it does not give thorough analysis to any of the other events on the mountain. Because Hall was there, however, his book does provide a unique perspective.

Hall climbed the traditional North Col-Northeast Ridge route to the summit as a client of the 7Summits commercial operation and also a cameraman for a documentary about the potential youngest summiteer of Everest. As both the editor of a national outdoor magazine and an author, he could not commit time to the climb until he knew for sure that he would be going. Sponsorship for his portion of the trip came through only two months before departure, and he scrambled to prepare his body for the punishment it would receive.

He finds the commercial expedition life to be a stark contrast to his earlier climb. I found it quite interesting to read his analysis of the commercial life, responding with both intellegence and humor. He was considerably more gracious to his fellow climbers than Greg Child in Postcards from the Ledge.

The conclusion and the epilogue made the book for me. I'll share just a little bit that I couldn't hold back:

"It is the tragedies more than the triumphs that maintain Everest's aura. The mountain is a mirror, where climbers look to find themselves. They discover their fraility, take heart from their strengths, drink deep of the insights. But if the mountain was to have a perspective, it would be that humans are the dust on the surface of the mirror---readily wiped away by storms, hardly relevant in scale, ephemeral in the scope of the mountain's existence. "

For a good introduction to Lincoln Hall's Dead Lucky, see The Mountain Library.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


I'll be driving cross-country to my new home over the next several days. Posting may be spotty for a while. Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Epics on Everest, edited by Clint Willis

Epics on Everest is one of a number of adventure compilations by Clint Willis. He has put out several on mountaineering, and this one is a special tome published for the 50th anniversary of Everest's first known ascent. I've read a couple of his collections all the way through before I started this blog, and I've found that they're generally pretty enjoyable. Beware, however, that Willis generally chooses the most exciting parts of the books he includes; if you plan to later read the books through, reading the chapter in the compilation may spoil your read.

Willis picks a pretty good list to read. It's overall accessible, entertaining, and a fair showing of the literature you're likely to find on a bookstore shelf. His authors, with the exception of Wilfrid Noyce, are all fairly recent, and include a number of well-known climbers, including Anker, Bonington, Boardman, Boukreev, and Venables. With the books, Willis includes three articles, by Boardman, Bonington, and David Roberts. Since I have or will be covering the books, I'll talk about the shorter works here.

Peter Boardman writes about his experiences high on Everest during the 1975 Southwest Face expedition in his "All the Winds of Asia." He was the youngest climber in the group and made it onto the second summit party, along with Pertemba and Mick Burke. He tells the story of his summit day from the top of the fixed ropes, to the summit, and back to Camp VI and intertwines the narrative with his impressions of the moment both at the time and afterward. Unlike Bonington's Everest: The Hard Way, the official expedition account, Boardman's narrative gives a first-person perspective both to the second climb and to the events that led the death of Mick Burke. In Boardman's later book, The Shining Mountain, he shows that he was clearly affected by Mick Burke's death and that he overall felt that something did not sit right with him about the Everest expedition. I don't really see much of that here, and I wonder if it took him a long time to think it through before the events of this expedition took hold of him.

David Roberts gives an analysis of the climbing relationship between Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler in his "Messner and Habeler: Alone at the Top." Roberts gives a short narration of their expeditions together (including their climb of Everest in 1978 without bottled oxygen), a mini-biography of each, and an analysis of their motives and abilities. He also includes quotes from an interview with Habeler; I think this article would have been perfect if he had scored an interview with Messner as well. It is very well done, however, and I think his analysis is overall pretty well justified. I liked reading a critique of Messner written during his career, since I was unaware of him at the time and most of what I've read about him looks back to his mountaineering days. Within the next couple months, I plan to read Messner's Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate and Habeler's The Lonely Victory back-to-back to get a impression from both sides of the Everest climb that ended their partnership. 

Chris Bonington's "Absent Friends" relates his 1985 ascent of Everest via the South Col and the many memories stirred on the mountain. I can only imagine the bittersweet moment of finally arriving at the top of the mountain that you have spent most of your career climbing with friends who are now long passed. His is a climb in memoriam, and it's sad to think that Bonington's successful career as a professional climber and expedition leader came at the expense of so many lives, including on Everest Tony Tighe, Peter Boardman, and Joe Tasker. You can also read about Bonington's 1985 expedition in his Chris Bonington's Everest. Additionally, Ed Webster includes some more amusing details of the expedition in his Snow in the Kingdom, including Webster's and Bonington's losing at poker to Dick Bass in base camp. On a side note, Bonington briefly became the oldest person to ascend Everest when he reached the top.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mountaineering Adventures, by Matt Doeden

Matt Doeden's Mountaineering Adventures was not on my top ten list to read before I move on Wednesday, but I'm running short of time, the book is short, and the library where I'm moving does not have it in their catalog. I'm sorry to say that I will not be bringing you Sir Hugh Boustead's The Winds of Morning, as planned. I'll have to find another copy at a later date.

Doeden's book is a mix of good and bad. It's a small tome that gives young readers an introduction to the mechanics, tools, and history of mountain climbing. After a quick recount of Hillary and Tenzing's final climb to the top of Everest, Doeden gets into the mechanics of climbing, discussing how expeditions work, the dangers of climbing and what to do about them, as well as the equipment used by climbers. I don't know how children will feel about it, but I found Doeden's style a bit short and repetitive, for example: "Mountain climbers stay at camps during long expeditions. They set up tents and unpack supplies at camps. They often cook food at their camps."

Doeden's early mountaineering history is a bit suspect, especially as regards Everest. He states that Mallory led the 1924 climbing team, and that Norton and Somervell turned back because they could not breath well. Perhaps these are half-truths, but they are still misleading. Totally wrong is Odell's viewing Mallory and Irvine for the last time from Base Camp as well as the Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition discovering how high they climbed when its climbers found Mallory's body. Besides Everest, Doeden's statement that four of Whymper's teammates fell and died on the descent of the Matterhorn does not quite represent the fact that Whymper's and Croz's parties joined forces when they encountered each other on the mountain.

I appreciated Doeden's prose on Junko Tabei. Few books that I've read, children or adult, give her much space. I think this is largely due to there being no biography of her in English nor any translations of the many books on her in Japanese. Doeden gives the main details of her expedition (consisting of all women) to Everest, including the avalanche that nearly ended the expedition. Overall, Doeden's modern history of climbing chapter is quite well-researched, including entries on Reinhold Messner, Tomo Cesen, and Pete Athan's Millennium Climb of Everest.

He also has a chapter on both the 1996 Everest and 1995 K2 disasters. Doeden again oversimplifies here, and he groups Hall's and Fischer's groups as single expedition. Additionally, he gets the facts mixed up for the K2 disaster and says that Hargreaves summitted with her team of six climbers, and that she and a teammate died during the descent. His bit that follows on current climbing isn't too bad, and he ends with a list of resources for further research. Overall, I'm not sure I'd recommend this one.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Assault on Mount Everest 1922, by Brig. Gen. Charles G. Bruce, part 2

For the first entry on The Assault on Mount Everest 1922, click here.

Mallory and Somervell return to the North Col to climb the North Ridge without bottled oxygen with Norton and Morshead. Their advanced camp is considerably lower than expected, and after a night at 25,000 feet, three of the climbers ascend to just below 27,000 feet. They pick up Morshead on their return, and head back to the North Col. I had read several times before about Mallory's quick move that saved his falling companions on their descent, but I did not realize that in his own account of the close call, he chooses not to name who saved whom.

Mallory's description of their climb is followed by a section by Captain Finch regarding the second attempt with bottled oxygen. Finch's writing style is altogether more direct and he comes off at times as self-centered. I was a bit amused by his comparison of Tibetan music to the awful noises of the jazz band back home. His preference for climbing with supplemental oxygen is clear and he campaigns hard for it. He, Geoffrey Bruce, and Tejbir, a Gurkha officer, place a slightly higher camp with porter support than the first party, and even after a night and a day spent fighting a blizzard, two of them climb with bottled oxygen the following morning both higher and closer to the summit than the first crew. In his conclusions, Finch shows, based on climbing speeds, that the benefits of supplemental oxygen far outweigh the bulk and burden of the apparatus. He also talks about other supplies, and I was surprised to read his belief that cigarette smoking helped regulate the climbers' breathing while camping high on the mountain.

Mallory writes next about the fatal third attempt and also gets to write some conclusions of his own. He does a good job of carefully crafting his narration so that both he and his climbing partners elude blame for their being caught in an avalanche that killed seven men. I wonder just how much they truly believed there was so little risk in their traveling up to the North Col after such a snow storm and how much they let their desire to climb the mountain cloud their judgment.

I was happy that the authors of this book were allowed to disagree in their overall conclusions, and I agree with Mallory that it makes the book considerably more interesting. Finch and Mallory differ in many ideas, especially as regards oxygen and the number of camps above the North Col that should be used in future attempts. Ultimately, it was Mallory who returned to the mountain, in 1924, and for the most part his ideas were put into use. The 1924 expedition succeeded in climbing much higher on the mountain; it's too bad Mallory did not come back down the mountain to write about it!

Somervell writes next, about acclimatization, the colour of Tibet, and its culture. I was most interested in the third section, because he writes at length about Tibetan music. He gives a fairly good overview of both folk and religious music, and I appreciated both his discussions on the scales and intervals used in the music and his descriptions of the instruments used.

Longstaff follows with an update on the natural history of the area the expedition traveled. He talks mostly of their troubles making a collection when there was such a wide swath of land in which they could not kill any animals. It did not overall sound as bad as a Teddy Roosevelt safari, but I found it a bit painful from a modern perspective to read about Geoffrey Bruce killing and skinning a Red Panda for the museum's collection.

The book is a classic. This isn't a book about a summit so much as a trip into the unknown. It puts things into perspective when the authors discuss scientific opinions given before they leave that they would not survive a climb into such thin air. I'm not sure I would want to put my life on the line to prove an expert wrong! Because of the tone of the work, I'm not sure this is a work for an adventure reader, but I would highly recommend it as a work of history and debate between great climbers.

On a side note, if you enjoy reading Mallory's contributions to this book, his collected Everest writings have recently been published by Gibson Square Books under the title Climbing Everest.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Assault on Mount Everest 1922, by Brig. Gen. Charles G. Bruce, part 1

The Assault on Mount Everest 1922  is a chronicle of the first climbing attempt upon Mount Everest, written by the expedition leader, Brig. Gen. Charles G. Bruce. I'm very excited to be reading from a first edition of the work, borrowed from a public library. Though I'm happy that the book has since been reprinted many times, and many more people have access to the work, I find something extraordinarily aesthetically pleasing in reading about a 90-year-old expedition from a 90-year-old book. Like Ruttledge's Everest 1933, I'll be breaking this up into two posts to go into a little more detail and to give it some of the attention it is due.

As in Ruttledge's work, Sir Francis Younghusband provides an introduction. This introduction is considerably more concrete in its objectives, and the author introduces the expedition members and talks about the role played by the Everest Committee of the Royal Geographic Society in the planning and execution of the expedition.

Gen. Bruce follows with the details of the trek. It seemed strange to me that 100 pages into the book, his narrative has taken us to Everest and back, and the party has dispersed and gone home before anyone gets to write about the actual climbing that took place. I wonder if this work, even if sold to general audiences, was intended to serve as much as an extended report to members of the Geographical Society as it was a full-length narrative. I regret, now that I'm halfway through them, that I've read these early accounts out of order, for in many ways they are a generative set. Having a decent familiarity with the early history has helped me through the early books' climbing references, but my limited study does not help nearly as much when these early works reference the earlier treks to and from the mountain. For example, when Ruttledge discusses that the 1933 expedition is helped en route by "Father William," so named by the 1922 trek, I was a loss until I have now read the 1922 account. Perhaps one day, these early books will be important enough to history to have annotated versions. I was amused to hear about the Rongbuk head lama's telling Bruce that he was a reincarnation of an important lama and Bruce's response that the old lama must not have done a very good job if he came back as a Britisher.

After giving details of the trek in, Bruce provides a quick narration of the climb from his perspective at Base Camp, including the establishment of camps, the two high climbs, and the third tragic attempt. I had read in Isserman & Weaver's Fallen Giants that Bruce spent time in Kathmandu as a political representative, which explains why on the return trek he received a letter of condolence from the Maharajah of Nepal (who, amazingly, was a member of the Royal Geographical Society). The Maharajah sent his sympathies both to Bruce and to the families of the seven men who died in the avalanche on their third attempt. Additionally, he states that their deaths reinforce the Nepali belief that anyone who attempts to climb "The King of Heights" is inviting the wrath of the god and goddess Shiva and Parvati. I get the feeling that his message also insinuates that the Maharajah, personally, sees nothing wrong with climbing Mount Everest, even from Nepal, but that if anything went wrong in his country, such as a famine or outbreak of smallpox, after such an expedition, he might find himself culpable if he overrode his political council and gave permission to such an affair. This would make considerably more sense to me than the only reason for an expedition not being able to travel in Nepal being a "closed door" policy agreed upon by India and Nepal.

On the way back to Darjeeling, the expedition members take a couple weeks to do some exploring before they are expected back. Most notably, Captain Noel and John Morris take a trip into the Arun Gorge to see how the river manages to descend so far in so little space. Additionally, Captain Noel stays behind as the party leaves Tibet, both to get more photos of Tibetan folk life and to develop the pictures he has already taken before descending to the warm and moist lower elevations of Sikkim. Both of these adventures get more space in Captain Noel's The Story of Everest, his book on his eleven-year relationship with the mountain. I am amused that I feel like I learned more about Morris's experience on Everest from the present book than from his personal memoirs, Hired to Kill. Also on the way back, Bruce finds it necessary to punish one of the porters who spent several days so inebriated that he could not do his job by giving him a 100-pound load on a relatively strenuous day's trek. I found this particularly amusing, because only a couple pages earlier, Bruce discusses the amazing work done by teenage girl who carried a 160-pound load on a slightly shorter trip! The punished man also found his situation funny, and spent the day in good spirits.

I was very happy to read that Gen. Bruce considered the expedition a resounding success. Though the climbers did not reach the summit, they camped at a higher elevation than anyone else had previously climbed, and then continued climbing the next day, so that each of the first two assault parties attained a new record altitude. He also mentions that the two most important things to improve for the next attempt should be lighter and more windproof clothing and a better oxygen apparatus.

And now for the awkward moment in the book! The following chapter, by George Mallory, tells of the first attempt by the party to climb Mount Everest. It seemed to me that he has trouble introducing his narrative, but once he gets into the actual climbing, the prose becomes more direct and interesting. In his introduction, he even manages to rattle on for one-and-a-half pages in a single sentence! If he could pull that off in a breath, he should have no trouble with Everest! Mallory, Somervell, and a porter work ahead of the others to reconnoiter a route to the North Col. After searching the base of the Col as well as passages to the South of it, they choose a path on the northern side up a snow slope that should provide reasonable going for laden porters. This time, when Mallory reaches the Col, instead of storm clouds, a beautiful Himalayan panorama greets him. Their route found, it's time to return lower to gather the climbers and get climbing!

The conclusion to this report can be found here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The High Lonesome, edited by John Long

John Long's The High Lonesome is a collection of solo climbing stories on both rock and ice collected from climbing journals and a couple books. The book contains three Everest-related articles, about the climbs of Reinhold Messner, Alison Hargreaves, and Maurice Wilson. Additionally, several other Everest-related writers contribute, including Greg Child, Pierre Beghin, Annie Whitehouse, Mark Twight, and Wilfrid Noyce. Another author, Ivan Ghirardini, makes a cameo in Ned Gillette's and Jan Reynold's Everest Grand Circle, when they come across him at his base camp below Makalu, waiting for an extension for his winter climbing permit. Of these, I have read and will be writing about the stories excepted from magazines, because I will be covering the books in their entirety at a later date.

Alison Hargreaves' article for The Alpine Journal recounts her unsupported ascent of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen in the spring of 1995 from the north. It's a bit of a general telling, but it does give an impression of the overall personality of Alison Hargreaves. We are lucky to have this document, since days after writing it, she climbed to the top of K2, never to return. I got a feel for her sense of organization and her work ethic, and a slight feeling that she felt more alone than she actually was. (Besides Russell Brice, the expedition leader, and her business agent in London, Richard Allen, no other name makes it into her article!) Two months ago, I reviewed Rose and Douglas' Regions of the Heart, a pretty good biography of her. There is also a book by her husband, Jim Ballard, that I have not yet read, One and Two Halves to K2.

Lawrence Millman contributes an article originally found in Summit magazine about Maurice Wilson: "Our Man in Everest: Maurice Wilson Surfaces Every Few Years, Only to Be Dutifully Reburied." I was hoping for an extended article on the "after" life of Maurice Wilson and the people who have recommitted him to the glacier, but instead this is a semi-decent article of biography on Wilson with a paragraph at the end about his reburials. Millman gets the basic ideas right on Wilson, but his facts are occasionally squirrel-y, such as his flying all the way to Darjeeling (actually, Bombay), or his hiring two Sherpas at the Rongbuk monastery (actually, Darjeeling) to help him climb. Additionally, he did not provision himself on the mountain with merely rice-water, as Millman purports, nor did he disguise himself a Sherpa (actually, a Buddhist monk) on his trek through Tibet. Maurice Wilson has a couple books written about him, both out-of-print and somewhat expensive, including Dennis Roberts' I'll Climb Mount Everest Alone and Ruth Hanson's Maurice Wilson: A Yorkshireman Climbs Everest. I've previously reviewed Harry Roskolenko's Solo, which contains an excerpt of Roberts' work.

You may remember Pierre Beghin from his participation (his two companions summitted) in a one-day climb and descent of Mount Everest in 1986 via the Japanese and Hornbein couloirs. This climb is profiled in Fanshawe and Venables' Himalaya, Alpine-Style, among other places. His article for the American Alpine Journal covers his earlier solo post-monsoon ascent of Kanchenjunga in 1984. It's a short article (three pages), covering the approach, his setting up camps, his first attempt, and the eventual ascent. I realize he made it back down, but I felt "left in the dark" as he ended the article on the summit with night approaching.

Mark Twight made tracks on Everest in a simul-solo climb with a friend in 1988 up an unclimbed route. His "Solo on the Charmoz" is an article for Climbing magazine. It tells of his solo alpine ascent of a difficult ice route on the Grands Charmoz. Towards the top, the ice is rotten, and he descends in a blizzard, often rappelling of single anchors to stretch his resources. His style is more modern and somewhat conversational, and it's a quick and enjoyable read.

Tomorrow, an Everest classic!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Everest 1933, by Hugh Ruttledge, part 2

For my report on the first half of this book, click here

The second half of the book details the assaults and results of the expedition. I found it exciting to read a first-hand account of young Shipton and Smythe climbing a mountain together. Smythe comes off as quite the climber in this book, both from the words of Ruttledge and his own, as he authors the chapter on the second assault. I find it interesting the way Mount Everest says "no" to some people, as a rock collapses under Smythe at his high point, and then a wind storm (or the jet stream?) descends upon him on his way down the mountain, blowing him from his stance on several occasions.

I'm curious what became of Wager and Wyn-Harris, of the first assault team. They both did their duty on Everest with a high degree of professionalism and strength. Based on the books I've read so far, they both walk off of Everest and into anonymity. Perhaps they lost interest in the Himalayas after their grand effort. I hope to read Boustead's memoirs before I move; maybe I'll get an update! On their climb, they discover an ice ax belonging to Irvine, and Ruttledge discusses its significance as well as the many possibilities of their climb.

Throughout the expedition, the weather remains marginal. The climbers lower considerably their standards of working weather, and they head out in anything that provides a decent chance of advancement. It even takes two attempts before the climbers are able to establish the camps on the North Ridge. Even so, Camp VI is established considerably higher that the previous attempts, and it gives the summit climbers a bit of an advantage over the 1924 crew, but in the end both the weather and the snow conditions on the mountain (read: weather), prevent anyone from reaching the top.

Ruttledge, thankfully, continues the book after the climbing is done, and we get to hear about the return journey back to Darjeeling. The group heads back in two groups, and then splinters further as members head off to further adventures or run ahead to get back to work. Ruttledge and the main party take a more southern route to avoid high meltwater rivers, and also take a detour for a chance to walk off the map. Ruttledge also has a chapter of summary and conclusions, and brings up the weather as his main enemy.

At the end of the book, there are chapters on the medical aspects of the expedition, the flora and fauna encountered, and the weather. MacLean discusses both acclimatization and the various diseases faced on the expedition. Shebbeare gives an overall general account of the animals and plants, and Wager discusses the lack of knowledge about the weather on Everest and makes suggestions for the future. Additionally, there is a 3-D photograph of the mountain at the end of the book, and I'm sorry to say the library edition I read no longer has the glasses to see it that were originally provided.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Everest 1933, by Hugh Ruttledge, part 1

Hugh Ruttledge's Everest 1933 (or in America, Attack on Everest) is such an important book in the history of Everest, and there's so much I'd like to write about, that I think it's worthwhile to give it two posts. It documents the return of the British following Mallory and Irvine's walk into the clouds and a grand adventure for a new generation of British climbers. Ruttledge overall has a more direct and descriptive style than Norton, and I've so far found the book considerably more accessible and entertaining than the 1924 account. I think Ruttledge does a great job of providing a sense of place and conveying with good humor the hard work done by the early expeditions.

Sir Francis Younghusband provides the introduction to the book, and he gives a history of the development of the concept of climbing the world's highest mountain. At times, he over-dramatizes, but his idealism is catching, and I believe some of what he says gets at why I read Everest books in the first place. He talks of the concept of Everest "as a symbol of the loftiest spiritual height of man's imagination," and he goes on to say:

"This record of the Everest climbers' undaunted efforts has come to be an inspiration not only to mountaineers and geographers, but also to that far more numerous host of humble yet ambitious strivers after the topmost pinnacle of achievement in the varied branches of human activity. It has even given new heart to many a lonely invalid struggling through all adversity to keep his soul steadfastly set on the highest. Its appeal is universal."

Friends have asked me "Why Everest?," and I often reply that there are more books written about Everest than any other mountain, and because of the relatively accessible nature of the climbing, a wide range of interesting people end up climbing it. I don't usually admit, however, that there's also a bit of idealist in me that likes to read about people striving to achieve their utmost. Also, like Younghusband says, I find a bit of allegory in the striving to climb the world's highest mountain, and I like that at times I find myself thinking, "If there are people silly (determined?) enough to put their lives on the line to climb a mountain, then I can certainly handle some more effort in (fill in the blank)." Because of this project, I read about people climbing Everest almost every day, and their effort, by extension, has become my mantra; instead of "Om mani padme hum," I'm daily reciting "Camp I, Camp II..." It's certainly not for everyone!

Back to the book! Ruttledge starts with a historical introduction to the climbing of Everest. He talks in some detail about each of the expeditions preceding his own, including the reconnaissance of 1921, the expedition of 1922, and that of 1924. I found most interesting the account by Charles Bell of his meetings with the Dalai Lama in December of 1920 and how he came to persuade great leader to allow an expedition to Everest. Along with the chapter is a photograph with the routes of both the 1924 and 1933 attempts drawn upon it.

Ruttledge, with the help of the Everest committee, gathers a crew and prepares to depart. On the ship to Bombay, other passengers are surprised to find out they were on their way to climb Everest; they were expecting a group who looked a bit more like Greek gods or body builders. Ruttledge's subtle wit comes to the fore at the end of this interchange: "They said so in the nicest way possible, and we agreed with them and deplored our lack of symmetry." The climbers and porters gather in Darjeeling, and follow much of the same route as previous expeditions. I found Ruttledge's account of their approach much more outwardly descriptive than Norton, and he focuses more on the journey and the scenery than the logistics.

Though the expedition arrives at Base Camp twelve days before the 1924 expedition, the weather throughout their siege is less than agreeable, and they ultimately get no extra time because of the early arrival of the monsoon and a series of westerly storms that precede it. They establish the lower camps in good time, and they overall have good luck with the health of their crew. Ascending the North Col takes much longer than planned, as their steps are obliterated almost nightly by storms, and they spend much time reworking their path. I was amazed to find out that they ran a telephone wire up the North Col from Camp III to Camp IV, and that Ruttledge had a typewriter carried to the Col for his dispatches. Additionally, the expedition is assisted in the lower camps by a wireless radio crew from the Indian army, and Ruttledge is able to get the news reports he is obligated to write from the North Col to England in under six hours. Quite amazing!

Up next, climbing high on Everest! Everest 1933 continues here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Moutain Light, by Galen Rowell

Galen Rowell's Mountain Light is a collection of photographs with extended captions, as well as a collection of essays on his travels and photography. The photos feature mountains of the American West, from the California Sierras to the Alaskan ranges, as well as the Himalayas, the Karakoram, and Tibet. Rowell is both a gifted climber and photographer, and he has made several trips to Everest. The book contains one stunning photograph of Mount Everest, and he talks a bit about two of his trips to the mountain. Additionally, there are several photographs of places closely associated with trips to the mountain, including Lhasa, Tingri, and the Nangpa La.

The photograph of Mount Everest is from an angle that I don't get to see very often. The image was taken during Rowell's 1985 leadership of an expedition to the West Ridge from the Tibet side of Everest. Well above the Lho La, he takes the photograph of the upper North Face and pinnacle. There are three climbers, small as dots, crossing the upper snow buttresses of the West Ridge, and clouds are quickly enveloping the mountain. The rocky terrain of the upper mountain is very clear, and the Yellow Band stands out well. The sky is nearly black, and the overall feel is one of foreboding.

In the caption, Rowell talks mostly about his taking the photograph, but he does bring up a little bit of history. He talks about how Odell saw the two black dots move up the mountain as Mallory and Irvine climbed the Northeast Ridge, and he thought that it was an image he'd like to recreate. He also mentions that his expedition, like Mallory and Irvine, would be attempting the summit without oxygen. I'd like to correct that bit on Mallory and Irvine, but I'm not going to hold it against him, since I'm sure he has enough to think about keeping up with professional level climbing and photography.

Earlier in the book, Rowell mentions that he trekked to Everest Base Camp in 1981 as the first American trekking group allowed into Tibet. On a side trip after the tour is over, he goes to Tingri to try to capture some iconic images of Tibet. He takes an especially nice photograph looking towards the Nangpa La with a horseman in the foreground. Also, I'm not sure which trip he was on, but he takes an amazing image of the Potala with a rainbow descending seemingly into the palace.

I read only the Everest and Tibet section in this book, not so much because they played a small role in the book, but because I'm in a hurry to get through several books before I move. Both Everest and Tibet play a vital role in his earlier work, Mountains of the Middle Kingdom, and there are many splendid images of Tibet (as well as a few of Everest) in a work in which he collaborates with the Dalai Lama, My Tibet. Rowell is among the rare photographers who is able to take a portrait, rather than a landscape, of a mountain, and he has a talent for bringing life and personality to what would otherwise be just rock and ice.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sturm auf die Throne der Götter, by Rudolf Skuhra

Rudolf Skuhra's Sturm auf die Throne der Götter is a fairly easy-to-find book if you live in Germany, but it's a rare find near me. Skuhra's work is a history of expeditions to the 8000-meter peaks, but because of its relatively early publication, the book includes expeditions only to Everest, K2, Kachenjunga, Nanga Parbat, and Annapurna. This book has several editions and updates, and at the library I found his second-to-last edition, published in 1953, encompassing the years 1921-1950. His final edition includes climbs up to the year 1953, including the successful climb of Everest, and I'd like to read it some day. Skuhra separates out the expeditions by mountain and by year; expeditions to Everest occupy approximately half the book.

Skurha does a good job of turning the Everest expedition accounts into short, but enjoyable reads. He gets his facts straight, and generally keeps opinions to himself (except for one humorous bit about the Cognac shared by climbers on the 1922 attempt had to be non-alcoholic, because everyone knows alcohol is detrimental to acclimatization). He inserts some dialogue that I don't remember from the original books, but since his other information is good, I'm starting to doubt my memory. I'll be reading Ruttledge's 1933 account soon, so I'll have to go back and check what the dialogue says for that year. I found it interesting that the author includes the 1921 reconnaissance, but only gives a quick mention to the 1935 second reconnaissance.  There isn't really any analysis or interpretation in this book, so there's not a good reason to read this book if German is not your primary language. 

This is overall a trustworthy and enjoyable account of the early expeditions to Everest. If you're looking for something similar in English about the early Everest expeditions, I would recommend Eric Shipton's Men Against Everest. If you want to read something much more thorough and analytical about the early (and later) expeditions to the 8000-meter peaks, I'm big fan of Isserman and Weaver's Fallen Giants. Happy reading!

Friday, January 7, 2011

The World's Most Amazing Mountains, by Michael Hurley

I know I talked about seeking out the rare gems of my local library's collection last post, but I got in line for this book in September, and it showed up this week, so it's going in the blog! Michael Hurley gives young readers his top ten list of spectacular mountains in his The World's Most Amazing Mountains. His book includes the Seven Summits (choosing Mount Cook instead of Carstenz Pyramid or Kosciuszko), Table Mountain, the Matterhorn, and K2. Hurley gives a brief introduction to mountains, and then has two-page spreads on each of the ten mountains. He uses each spread to give a little information about the mountain, and uses each mountain to teach a little more about mountains in general. Additionally, each entry contains the location, height, first successful climb, and a bit of trivia about the mountain. There is also a summary and a glossary at the end of the book.

On Everest, Hurley talks a little bit about its formation, its name, and about the first successful climb. He mentions that Everest is a fold mountain and that it's still growing. He gives the survey and naming of the mountain a couple sentences and then mentions that Hillary and Tenzing were the first to climb Everest in 1953. In his trivia, he mentions a translation of Chomolungma I had not heard before: "goddess of the valley."

Overall, Hurley gets his facts straight, and he manages to keep the story of mountains going while talking about a different mountain every two pages. The book's information is altogether minimal, but relatively accurate. It seems to me that a lot of space that could have been used to either enlarge the photographic illustrations (which were overall nice pictures) or provide more of the quality information Hurley shares has been spent on trendy formatting that will likely date the book in ten to twenty years. This book is flashy and fun, but I worry that Hurley has possibly worked too hard to cater to a short attention span.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Im Banne des Everest, by Dr. Kurt Boeck

I apologize for all the foreign language titles lately, but I'm trying to ferret out all the especially rare books from the local library before I move across the country in a couple weeks. I'm certain you haven't heard of this one. A German traveler, Dr. Kurt Boeck, whom the Himalayan historians I've read so far conveniently forget tries to beat the English to the summit of Everest in the 1920s in his Im Banne des Everest. He somehow gets permission to enter Nepal (for the second time?) in 1921, and seeks permission to launch a reconnaissance upon the southwest side of Everest. As long as he is in Kathmandu, he travels around the valley to such sights as Patan, Bodhnath, and Swayambhunath. After his tour and a visit to the royal palace, he eventually finds out that the authorities are not going to let him approach Everest, but he gets permission to go to a high point north of Kathmandu to get a good, but distant, look at it. Non-German speakers will enjoy the wealth of photographs he includes, including two early snapshots of Everest and a lot of photographs of Kathmandu and Nepalis before outside influences forever changed them.

Perhaps by December 1921, traveling to a view of Everest was old news since George Mallory and Guy Bullock climbed the North Col in October, but I find it highly interesting since the first view of Everest from Nepal made by a mountaineer that I knew of was made by Tilman in 1950, and then only the very peak of the mountain. Boeck illegally takes a photograph of Everest from slightly north and far west of the mountain, and adds to the book a photograph he took earlier of Everest from Sikkim.

I found it interesting that Boeck tries to clarify the name of the mountain. He finds that Tibetan people call it Chomo Lungma, people from Sikkim call it Gauri Shankar (I don't think he gets this one right.) and people from Nepal call it one or the other of these, but have no standard name of their own. He mentions, however, that one of his Newari porters calls it Ram Lotsumo Parhar. Saragmatha, you may or may not know, was a name created by the government of Nepal in the 1960s to show that Everest is actually important enough to Nepal to have a local name. People who call Sagarmatha the traditional Nepali name of Everest are falling into a rhetorical trap created by this act of government, and don't fully understand the word's history.

This is an older book, and as such it has a couple drawbacks. It's printed in the old German fraktur script, which I find difficult to read, and additionally, on the copy I read, the ink didn't always set well on the page, and it was frustrating at times to tell which letter was actually on the page. If you're not used to older German writing, it can at times be highly formal and Boeck can go on for pages to get a single point across. At times, it seems as though the author is more interested in sharing his writing than his travels. The highlight of this book is definitely the photographs, and I found it exciting to see early photographs of Kathmandu and the illegal snapshot of Everest. He wrote an earlier book about his travels in Sikkim in 1906, and I'm curious if he has much to say about Everest in that work; I'll have to see if I can find it!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Qomolangma: Asalto al Everest, by Ricart de Mesones

I may be out of my league in my attempt to read Ricart de Mesones' Qomolangma. I've worked a job the past two years where the primary language spoken is Spanish, so this was a fun test to see what I've picked up. Apparently, I don't quite read as well as a nine-year-old, the recommended age group for this book, or more likely, most of the language I've heard from my coworkers is inappropriate for young audiences. I did get more than I thought I would out of this book, however.

Mesones wanted to organize a 1985 trip to Everest, but found out that the Chinese were closing the mountain for that year. He instead found his way onto a Catalan permit for a 1984 monsoon season expedition in exchange for raising some money and taking charge of the equipment. This was a fairly large group, and they worked on a bare-bones budget. They climb from the standard North Col-Northeast Ridge route, and after spending the majority of the summer acclimatizing, they quickly set up a series of camps and storm the mountain in the early days of August. The expedition manages to get two Spaniards and three Sherpas to the summit without the use of supplementary oxygen, who are then forced to bivouac high on the mountain during their descent as night and poor snow conditions hamper their progress. Miraculously, they all make it back down the mountain without a rescue operation. An amazing story!

Mesones perhaps isn't a student of Everest history, but he does have some interesting things to say about the Everest experience. He gets several historical details wrong in his introduction, such as the date of the first summit of Annapurna, mislabeling the Hornbein couloir, or that Tibetans call Everest Qomolanga (actually the Chinese transliteration of Chomolungma). I did find it interesting, though, to hear about their troubles cooking rice at base camp (because of the low boiling point of water) and also about the rainbow halo surrounding the author's shadow as the sun set while he was on the North Col. I think I overall missed many of the nuances of this book, but I think at least got the main ideas. It will be a long time before I read any adult books in Spanish! I hope you enjoy this one!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mount Everest, by Jill Kalz

Jill Kalz writes a lovely book for young readers in her Mount Everest. The book covers both the natural and social history of the world's highest mountain. She goes into detail about the plate-tectonic formation of the Himalaya (Thank you, Isserman and Weaver for correcting my incorrect usage: there is no such thing as the "Himalayas."), gives a good description of geological makeup of the mountain and its climate, and details its native flora and fauna. The climbing history is somewhat truncated, but then again, people have only been climbing the mountain for 90 years of its 50 million year history, so maybe she gives it too much space! She talks about the early British attempts of the 1920s, the 1953 successful summit, and then gives a general outline of modern climbing of the peak. She also discusses the human impact upon the mountain and gives some details of the Sherpas.

Overall this is a very well-presented and well-researched book. Kalz's facts are all pretty sound, with only a couple moderately misleading statements, and the photographs fit in with the prose and are appropriately labeled. (It's a shame that I even bring up such things, but there are pretty frightening "non-fiction" children's books on Everest out there.) I recommend this book both for the young researcher and for the young reader who'd like to get to know the mountain, especially it's physical makeup. If your son or daughter is looking for a detailed climbing history of the mountain, however, I would instead recommend Salkeld's Climbing Everest. I think Jill Kalz, however gives a proper perspective for a general book on Everest, giving priority to the physical and natural Everest rather than its mountaineering history.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Nur die Himmel ist höher, by Helga Hengge

I wasn't quite sure how much I would get out of reading an Everest work in German, but I was pleasantly surprised by Helga Hengge's Nur die Himmel ist höher. I think it overall was a great introduction to mountaineering reading in German since it is meant for general audiences, has a conversational tone, and I was able to figure out much of the technical equipment based on context. Overall, this book took me much longer than I expected, but as my first German book I've read in 6 years, and my first on mountaineering, I guess I should have expected to go slowly. I think it also was a great warm-up for some of the more famous works, and I look forward to reading some Herrligkoffer or some Loretan soon.

Hengge aims for a 1999 pre-monsoon summit from the north side under the tutelage of Russell Brice. She is joined under the Himalaya Experience banner by Sumiyo Tsusuki (one of the ladies from the Everest IMAX film), who is there to film two of her countrymen on their climb, and a couple others. That season, the Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition is out to find the lost explorers, and Cathy O'Dowd and Ian Woodall (South Africans present during the 1996 disaster) are there on a private expedition. Overall, the north side is overflowing with climbers; Hengge highlights the social aspect of climbing in her book and recounts her conversations with many of them.

Hengge is a stylist for professional models and her perspective makes for an interesting story. She finds mountaineering a joyful experience and many times easier (less stressful) than her high-pressure job in New York. She looks pretty good and is talkative, and it's clear than many of the male climbers and Sherpas pay her special attention. She, however, has plenty of trouble getting along with Sumiyo, and she paints a very different portrait of the Japanese climber than Ken Kamler (Doctor on Everest) or David Breashears (High Exposure). She additionally provides a contrasting account of Conrad Anker, and I get the feeling Hemmleb was a little gracious to him in his Ghosts of Everest.

Overall, Hengge encounters many of the problems and experiences of a guided high-altitude climber, and this is a pretty entertaining account, both because of everything that happens around her and because of her positive attitude and determination. I recommend it both for German audiences and for those with a familiarity of German looking to learn climbing lingo. Additionally, for non-German speakers, there's an English edition available on Kindle if you have access to one.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Kingdoms of Experience, by Andrew Greig

A new generation of British mountaineers cuts their teeth on the Pinnacles of Everest's Northeast Ridge in Andrew Greig's Kingdoms of Experience. Chris Bonington and his boys' powers are waning, and Mal Duff steps in to lead the next great British challenge upon the world's highest mountain. His party vies to be the first to climb the Northeast Ridge direct in a 1985 pre-monsoon attempt.

Mal Duff originally wants to, like Bonington, lead a small semi-alpine assault without supplementary oxygen up and over the Pinnacles and to the summit. Bonington dissuades him based on his own experience in 1982, losing both Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker in his attempt, and pushes him towards a large expedition with at least a limited bottled oxygen supply. Mal Duff has only a few months to prepare for the expedition, and all things considered, he and his crew do a spectacular job, arriving with most everything they planned and enough equipment and climbers to make a fair attempt at their objective.

They have a relatively happy expedition, but communication difficulties seems to be their biggest problem. Mal Duff has so far in his career only led small expeditions, and he is used to taking a hands-off approach to leadership. With 19 climbers in this party, his style doesn't work, and people are often left to their personal objectives to work the team towards the summit. The team, especially compared to efforts such as the 1971 International Southwest Face expedition, works well together getting supplies up the mountain and pushing the route, but there are often disappointments in their objectives when a group dynamic could have served to push them up and over their stated goal. Additionally, their radio equipment muddles efforts to communicate between base camp and higher camps, and important messages often only arrive when people trek between camps.

Andrew Greig admits early on in the book that they do not reach the summit, so I do not feel I am spoiling the outcome. This book does serve as a good introduction to many of the young British climbers of the 1980s, and it is an interesting story. The deaths of Boardman and Tasker loom large in this work, as many of the climbers were their friends and climbing partners. I had a bit of trouble keeping track of everybody since this was such a large expedition, but Greig graciously includes and introduction to each of the climbers in an appendix, and I found myself referring to it occasionally. He quotes often from the climbers' diaries, and he does a great job of letting the reader in on their personal feelings, both about each other and their perspective of the expedition. Overall, a fun read!

I'm still out-of-touch with the technological world, and should be back up-and-running in a few days. Up next, a test of my foreign language skills!