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.

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