Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mount Everest: The Reconnaissance 1921, by Lieut.-Col. Charles Howard-Bury, part 2

To read the beginning of this two-part entry, click here.

The second half of the book consists of chapters by several of the expedition party members on their individual responsibilities. George Mallory begins with a lengthy entry on his and Bullock's reconnaissance for the future climb of Mount Everest. I wonder how Mallory's relationship with this mountain might have changed if Dr. Kellas had lived, or even if Raeburn had not taken sick on the trek there. I feel bad for these men, but I'm glad that Mallory had the opportunity to write these chapters. His style is more modern than his expedition-mates, and his enthusiasm for the climb to come is catching. He writes an adventure into the unknown, and he's not afraid to admit that he really doesn't know what he's getting himself into as he approaches the mountain. Even the glaciers are different that the Alps! Though he's perhaps under-qualified to lead such a reconnaissance, he for the most part makes up for it with his boundless energy and curiosity. Two major blunders are forgivable, though they cause him and others a great deal of extra work: his missing the significance of the East Rongbuk glacier and loading the camera plates backwards before exposure.  Their ascent to the North Col warranted surprisingly little space in the book; I was expecting at least as big of an ordeal as the later parties faced. I believe it was over in a page! It must have been frustrating staring up at the North Ridge and seeing a relatively easy snow slope ahead, only to have winds block the way!

After Mallory, Wollaston gives an account of the natural history of the area and tells of a side excursion he made with Morshead to a famed monastery and valley about 50 miles from Everest. I had not heard of this trip before, and I enjoyed finding a small forgotten treasure in the literature of Everest. The monastery was disappointing to Wollaston, but on the trip back he got a great view of Gauri Sankar. Additionally to this story, Wollaston describes both the animals and plants of the area they covered. His writing was only a little more thorough than Howard-Bury's, but all of the information can be found in a single chapter, rather than spread over the story of a several-month expedition.

Norman Collie, the president of the Alpine Club, writes an appreciation of the reconnaissance next. I'm not sure he read Mallory's notes or even listened much to what anybody from the expedition had to say. He extols the virtues of Himalayan climbing and generally has good things to say about mountaineering in general, but for the most part misses his subject. Englishmen, however, (if you ask Collie) are the only people who will ever make good mountaineers.

Some appendices follow, including Morshead writing in a general sense on the survey of the area, Wheeler writing about his trial of photographic surveying in the Himalayas, and Heron writing on his geological findings. I was surprised to find in Morshead's piece that there were four Indian surveyors and their crews in addition to him and Wheeler. It seems like the other men did a lot of the work, and Morshead did a lot of supervising. Overall, they added 12,000 square miles to the map. I also appreciated his review of the history of mapping the area, including the efforts of Hari Ram, the Indian pundit. Wheeler seems to have done a good job with the photographic survey. His duties included a very detailed map of Everest and its environs. The weather constantly frustrated his efforts, and his map was somewhat smaller than planned. (He was not able to include Cho Oyu, etc.) Heron talks about rocks and geologic eras. I'd like to say I got more out of his writing, but beyond there being granite, limestone, and gneiss in the area, all of which is pretty old, I really didn't understand what he was saying.

If you are lucky, there will be a set of three maps in the back of this book. The first is a large-scale map of the survey work done across the area the expedition trekked. The second is a detailed map of the Everest massif, and the final is a map showing a broad outline of the geologic eras exposed to the surface of the earth. I can only imagine the work that went into these!

No comments:

Post a Comment