Ever since I read about Göran Kropp in Krakauer's Into Thin Air, I've wanted to read more about him, yet somehow I've waited until now to get around to Kropp's Ultimate High. Kropp takes climbing Everest to a new level: riding his bike from his home in Sweden to Kathmandu with a trailer for all his gear, carrying everything he'll need for the mountain on his back from Kathmandu to Base Camp, climbing the mountain unassisted and without supplementary oxygen, and then walking / riding back home. During his climb, he gets tangled into the 1996 Everest mess, though because of his schedule, he is recovering at base camp from his first attempt when things start looking ugly.
Kropp, in addition to climbing mountains, knows how to gossip! When he is interviewed by Elizabeth Hawley in Kathmandu, he mentions that Carlos Carsolio, who was also on his climbing permit, came close, but did not actually summit K2, as claimed. About the events of the 1996 season, he includes a lot of details and hearsay that did not make it into other books. He mentions that Linda Wylie spent a great deal of time in Anatoli Boukreev's tent in Base Camp. He mentions that Sandy Hill Pittman and David Breashears' spouses were having an affair together, and that Pittman had a token snowboarder for her tent. According to this book, Pittman is the icon of everything that is wrong on Everest, and just might be the bride of Satan. He calls the South African camp the psychiatric ward, and says that he helped some of the team figure out how to walk on ice. In the process one slipped and knocked themselves unconscious. You may also remember from Ken Vernon's Ascent and Dissent that Kropp put up the South African journalists after they were prevented from entering their own camp. I did not realize that he also put up Charlotte Noble, the South African team's doctor, for a night, but had to kick her out when she started climbing in the Icefall the next morning. I had no idea she even made it to Base Camp.
Gossip and intrigue aside, Kropp does some amazing climbing. After scouting his own route through the Khumbu Icefall and making some acclimatization trips up the mountain, he is the first to approach the summit, but arrives at the South Summit too late to continue on safely. After the dust settles from the tragedy of May 10th and 11th, he makes another attempt as far as the South Col, but is stopped by two days of jet stream winds. He then returns once more, this time climbing to the summit, but barely summoning the energy to get back to Base Camp. All this is the equivalent of ascending two Everests and another 8000-meter peak in less than a month! Also amazing, Kropp's sirdar, Ang Rita, makes his 10th ascent of the mountain, later gaining the moniker, "Ten-Time Ang Rita."
Kropp is very careful to document the assistance he did receive. On Everest, after he turned back from the first attempt, he realized his freeze-dried rations were not going to build him back up for a second try and turned to eating the fresh food being cooked for his film team and girlfriend. He also admits to eating a piece of cheese offered to him by Scott Fischer in the Western Cwm and having the ceremonial food during his team's puja. On his way down the mountain from his third, successful, attempt, he uses the normal route through the Icefall, because he is too smashed to return using his own. He gets an amusing bit of assistance on his bike trek in, when he stops at a "hotel," and is offered the services of the madam's daughter in addition to a complimentary room. He takes the room only.
For someone so critical of others on the mountain, Kropp needs to analyze his own actions a bit more. He complains that Pittman spent $2000 for a helicopter ride away from Pheriche after the disaster, yet he spends $5000 to have someone fly by and take summit photos of himself. He makes an amazing journey and effort, seemingly as a response to the way Everest is being commercialized and trashed, yet he brings a team of people with him who do not bike there or carry in their own food. Also, he complains about people disrespecting the god of the mountain by having lovers in their tents, but I imagine his girlfriend was doing more for him than rubbing his feet.
Though I am blown away by Kropp's adventure, I'm not sure I like this book all that much. I was somewhat disappointed by the incidental coverage of his bike journey and also by the reconstruction of the events of May 10th and 11th through the popular media, rather than sticking to his personal perspective from Base Camp. At other times, however, he gets too personal, especially regarding a certain commercial expedition client. He didn't spend much time talking about his climb on the lower reaches of the mountain, such as his solo trips through the Icefall or any of his acclimatization runs. On a side note, one of the climbers successfully sued Kropp for libel because of this book. This adventure deserves a better book!