Friday, March 11, 2011

In the Ghost Country, by Hillary & Elder

I wanted to continue reading about Peter Hillary, so I picked up his In the Ghost Country, an intricately woven autobiography and polar narrative. Hillary's life is broadcast across his vision in the sensory deprivation of the great white of Antarctica as he a two others try to "complete" Captain Scott's tragic journey. His life story is told as it recurred for him in the frozen south. Though his remembrance is anything but chronological, the parts come together to create the complex life of a mountaineer who has seen too much death.

Hillary's polar journey is a torturous affair. The three travelers each pull a gut-busing 400-pound sledge to start, and the wind is rarely in their favor for kiting. His sensory deprivation is aided by his companion's lack-of-interest in communication, which also threatens the journey as a whole. In this book, Hillary's trip comes off as much as a trip through the dream world as a slog to the South Pole.

During these trips through Hillary's subconscious, he is kept company by many of his dead companions, including his family and many climbing partners. He spends a good deal of his visions remembers trips to Everest, including the 1982 Lhotse trip, the 1984 West Ridge, the 1989 South Pillar, and his 1990 South Col ascent. Other visions include his childhood, his role in the 1995 K2 disaster, his nearly fatal trip to Ama Dablam, and his mother. I found it strange after reading Hillary's Ascent, how similarly worded are the events that overlap in both books. Some of the memories even include strangely similar passages to Sir Edmund's section of the book, such as the sensory details noticed when visiting the Aspinalls or the climb of Mount Fog.

Overall, this book is a nice change of pace from the average adventure biography. In addition to his interesting intertwining of the stories, Elder stylizes his prose to be more in tune with the adventure reader (though I found it occasionally over-the-top) and folds in quotes from literature, including The Odyssey, Kafka, and more. A little something for everyone!

1 comment:

  1. I also learned from this book that famed balloonist and aviator Steve Fossett first tried his hand at the seven summits before turning to aviation. He had enough of Everest at Camp I.