Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Mountaineers Anthology Series, Vol. IV: Everest, edited by Peter Potterfield

Mountaineers Books have released a number of titles on Everest, and Peter Potterfield provides a sampling in the fourth volume of The Mountaineers Anthology Series. This is one of a number of titles that takes advantage of the 50-year anniversary of the first ascent of Mount Everest. It includes excerpts from Mountaineers' previously published works on the mountain, covering the range of the mountain's expedition history. I've read three of the books before I started this blog, Shipton's Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition 1951, John Hunt's The Ascent of Everest, and Tom Hornbein's Everest: The West Ridge. I've covered four of the books on this blog already: Reinhold Messner's Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate, his The Crystal Horizon: Everest - The First Solo Ascent (my first post!), Jochen Hemmleb's Ghosts of Everest, and his Detectives on Everest. I plan to get to the rest of the books in this anthology before the end of the year, including Peter and Leni Gillman's The Wildest Dream (about George Mallory), Frank Smythe's Camp Six, H. W. Tilman's Nepal Himalaya, Jim Whittaker's A Life on the Edge (already waiting on my bookshelf), and Walt Unsworth's Everest: A Mountaineering History (just ordered it, very excited!). There are three parts, however, that are unique to this book in print: Tom Hornbein's Foreword, Peter Potterfield's Introduction, and a Mountainzone article by Dave Hahn about the Death Zone rescue he and his teammates made in 2001.

Hornbein's Foreword is essentially a truncated history of climbing Everest. He states that moutaineers' relationship to the mountain has matured and shows how the approaches, both physical and psychological have changed over the years. I was intrigued by his final section on "Everest as Literature," since that is pretty much why this blog exists. He states that Everest literature has grown apace the boom in climbing it, and calls it "a growing mountain of words." I'm glad I'm not the only one to see the metaphor; I wonder sometimes, however, if I'm the only one purposely reaching for the summit.

Potterfield also gives a history of climbing the mountain, though of a different flavor. His is a bit more nuts and bolts, with altitudes reached and climbers' names. He brings up the 1996 disaster and explains that so much has been written about it that he saw no reason to reprint any of it here. He also talks about his own small role in the story, when Scott Fischer called him to join his expedition after Fischer found out Krakauer had moved on the Rob Hall's Adventure Consultants group. He also talks about his role in the 1999 expedition that discovered George Mallory's body, publishing dispatches on his Mountainzone website and greeting the climbers at the Friendship Bridge upon their return to Nepal with warnings of the circus they're about to meet and plenty of beer.

Dave Hahn, along with two climbing partners and two Sherpas give up their summit bid to help other climbers down who spent a night out exposed high on the mountain in his "Emotional Rescue." The story is covered in Hemmleb's Detectives on Everest, but Hahn provides a first-person perspective to events. Below the Second Step on the Northeast Ridge, Hahn's team comes upon three Russians in duress. The administer food, drink, and drugs in addition to one Sherpa giving up his oxygen to the men. Afterward the men begin moving down under their own power, and Hahn's team finds out their teammates are on their way to help them. Hahn and friends continue their way up the mountain. Just below the Third Step, they come across Andy Lapkass and Jaime Vinals in deep trouble and realize their summit bid is over. They provide the weakened climbers with their remaining supplies and share their oxygen with the pair. Hahn's teammates help Lapkass down, and he becomes responsible for Vinals. His man is going nowhere fast, and after hours of dogging him down the ridge, they are only at the top of the Second Step. Their expedition leader, Eric Simonson, calls on the radio, and Hahn puts it to Vinals' ear so that he can hear clearly that if Vinals doesn't start moving fast, Hahn must abandon him for his own safety. Vinals' head clears after hearing the news, and they head down at a much more reasonable pace, with more and more helpers as they descend the mountain. Of the five they helped, only one (one of the three Russians) died.

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