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!