Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Everest-Lhotse Adventure, by Albert Eggler

The best way to get noticed when you're the second to do something is to one-up the first guy, and that's exactly what the Swiss do in Albert Eggler's The Everest-Lhotse Adventure. The team not only gets two summit pairs to the summit of Everest, but they also send a pair to the summit of Lhotse, the first to climb the world's fourth-highest mountain. They climb Everest in 1956 via the Western Cwm and the South Col, with some variations on the original British route (or should I say original Swiss route...). Lhotse is tackled from a high camp near the crest of the Geneva Spur (set up for the ascent of Everest), and the summit climbers follow a convenient couloir from the upper ice-field to just below the summit.

Just about everything goes in these guys favor. The weather is extraordinarily tame by Everest standards, and the route is only shut down for a total of three days during their siege. For the most part (excepting their sirdar), the climbers and high-altitude porters remain healthy. The Khumbu Icefall allows passage in a record five days. The weather holds for three separate summit assaults. Even when a rope of four Sherpas fall 750 feet down the Southeast Ridge to the South Col, no one is hurt. It almost seems like Everest is apologizing for holding them back in 1952!

This is a whole new team, however, (excepting one) and according to the text, they get along magnificently. Eggler, the expedition leader, makes sure to balance the work-loads so that all can have said that they contributed equally, and none were held back to be the pre-selected pair for the summit. The team rigs a steel-cabled winch for the Lhotse Face to expedite loads and save energy. Additionally, several of the team are trained in explosives and use them to safeguard the route through the Icefall. The summit pairs spend the final night slightly below the level of Hillary and Tenzing's camp and have plenty of trouble with snow drifting over their tent. The first pair, Schmied and Marmet, get a relatively comfortable night's camp, excepting their four a.m. wake-up when Marmet has been buried by snow. They are off relatively early after that, and the marginal weather turns for the better as they ascend. After they ascend and return, the second pair, Reist and von Gunten, have already occupied the high camp. The second pair have a less comfortable night, as the tent has torn and the bivy sack has blown away. They make it up none the less and return fit. Earlier, as teams were stocking the Geneva Spur camp, a pair of climbers, Reiss and Luchsinger ascended Lhotse.

The book is a good read. Eggler gets a fair balance between providing technical information and writing a page-turner. Considering the scope of the expedition, it's a relatively short work. I wonder if everything was actually as rosy as Eggler makes it out to be. Everyone seemed almost too happy and hard-working! Perhaps these guys were actually super-mountaineers, but I get the feeling this was a bit of a revised history. Either way, their accomplishments, both logistical and athletic, are first-rate!

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