Saturday, April 30, 2011

Boswell the Biographer, by George Mallory

Boswell the Biographer, by George Leigh Mallory has nothing to do with climbing Mount Everest. I had my doubts, but I saw it in Salkeld's and Boyle's Climbing Everest: The Bibliography with something to effect of "Mallory interest" as an explanation of its inclusion, so I decided to give it a chance. The book was published in 1912 while Mallory was a teacher at Charterhouse, and I thought I might at least glean some biographical details about Mallory. Mallory stays on topic, however, and reveals nothing of himself beyond some thanks to friends for encouragement to write the book in his preface.

The book is still somewhat interesting. It isn't a biography of Boswell, but a defense of his character. Boswell is famous for his Life of Samuel Johnson, the first modern biography, in which the author includes personal traits, conversations, and familiar details excluded in biographies of the time. Boswell was a passionate, though flippant, character who never quite got his life together. (Perhaps there is a tenuous Mallory parallel here...) Mallory argues that he struggled against the influences that could have easily dragged him into mediocrity, and that he possessed an inborn drive that helped him to rise above himself into greatness. (Also something to think about...). As far as books about Boswell go, this one might have been just a little bit early. Ten years after its publication, the bulk of Boswell's papers, including his journals, were discovered in Dublin, giving deep insights into the character of the man. I'm sure Mallory could have had a field day going through them! Next post, I'll be bringing you the biggest book yet published on the biggest mountain.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

High Adventure, by Sir Edmund Hillary

Sir Edmund Hillary turns from a passionate, but unknown, amateur climber into the world's most famous mountaineer in his High Adventure. The book isn't so much an autobiography as a directed tale of how his first trip to the Himalaya, along with some New Zealand climbing friends, cascaded into his climbing Mount Everest as part of the British expedition. He gives a short introduction to his early life and tells a few details about his New Zealand Mukesh Parbat expedition before leading into his and Riddiford's joining Eric Shipton's 1951 reconnaissance of the southern approach to Mount Everest. Riddiford had sent Shipton a letter requesting that some of his team be able to join the reconnaissance, and Shipton, having pleasant memories of New Zealander Dan Bryant from his 1935 Everest post-monsoon reconnaissance, invited two of them along so long as they could catch up and pay for their own food.

The climbers and their porters had a very difficult trip through Nepal during the monsoon. Normally, the locals don't travel during this time, because the rivers flood, washing away bridges and making crossings perilous. Additionally, the leeches were out in force. After they reached Sherpa country, the weather dried a bit, and they got down to the difficult task of climbing into and assessing the Khumbu Icefall at Everest's southwest flank. In September, the snow was deep and unconsolidated, so after an initial attempt, the expedition split into two parties to do some exploration while the weather cooled and the snow hardened. Shipton took Hillary with him to explore the eastern approaches to Everest, while the other party (including Riddiford, Ward, and Bourdillon) looked over the west. On their return, the combined parties pushed through to the Western Cwm, and made the assessment that it was possible to climb Everest from this route. Hillary noted, however, that they would have to alter their threshold of acceptable danger, both for the climbers and the porters, if they were to spend any time on this route.

Shipton took a liking to Hillary during the reconnaissance, and he invited him back for the 1952 Cho Oyu training climb, along with Hillary's friend George Lowe. The Swiss had been granted permission for Everest in 1952, and the British, somewhat put off, took the opportunity to train on a high Himalayan peak in the vicinity. The Cho Oyu climb was overshadowed by the possibility of an altercation with Chinese communist forces, since the most feasible route up the mountain was beyond the Nangpa La on the Tibetan side. A small party, including Hillary, made a token effort on the route, but Shipton was unwilling to move the full expedition into Tibetan territory, and the climb was soon over. The expedition split up, and several groups made forays into unclimbed areas. Hillary and Lowe climbed the formidable Nup La beside Gyachung Kang and traveled over the Rongbuk glaciers to get a look at the old Everest stomping grounds, and then raced back before the monsoon made the Nup La unclimbable. He later accompanied Shipton to a high pass east of Everest looking into Tibet, completing three-quarters of a circuit of the mountain in a single season. (It would not be until 1981 that Ned Gillette and Jan Reynolds, in Everest Grand Circle, completed the first single-season circuit of the mountain, though they were not able to actually cross the border, but made two stages of their trip.)

Both Hillary and Lowe were invited to join the 1953 Everest expedition on account of their excellent performance on the previous trip in addition to the good impression they made on Eric Shipton. I learned from this book that Hillary's climbing mentor, Harry Ayres, was also originally invited on the climb, but somewhere along the way was dropped from the roles. Col. John Hunt took over leadership of the expedition after some back room dealing by the Himalayan Committee, though hindsight says that he did the job quite well. Hillary took a proactive role on the mountain, both showing off his drive and endurance and requesting to help as much as possible. I found it interesting that even though he was officially just a climber, he took part in the meeting along with Hunt and deputy leader Charles Evans in which they decided who would comprise the summit teams. Of course, Hillary's efforts paid off, and he and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to ascend the world's highest mountain.

Overall this is a fun read. It's a much more personal account than Hunt's official The Ascent of Everest, and my personal favorite of the 1953 books, though I haven't read Tenzing's Tiger of the Snows yet. I appreciated getting a singular perspective from someone who took part in all the climbing parts of the expedition, including the reconnaissance and the Cho Oyu climb, and from someone who played such a pivotal role on the eventual ascent.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mein Welt die Berge, by Leo Schlömmer

If you, like me, aren't yet satisfied with what you've read about the 1971 International Everest Expedition, you might try Leo Schlömmer's Mein Welt die Berge. His biography, which includes a number of climbs in the Alps and around the world, also has a pretty significant section on his participation in this controversial expedition. The expedition was to be Norman Dyhrenfurth's next big success on Everest. Like the 1963 American expedition that he led, the climb was to have a double objective, this time of upper West Ridge left unclimbed by the Americans and the completion of the Southwest Face climb started by the Japanese in 1969 and 1970. Schlömmer, along with Don Whillans, Dougal Haston, Naomi Uemura, Reizo Ito, Gary Colliver, and John Evans, was part of the Southwest Face attempt. The expedition was fraught with petty fighting that was exacerbated by nearly universal illness and then ignited by the death of Harsh Bahuguna into a row of nastiness that set the standard for Everest controversy until 1996. The resignation of several climbers ended the West Ridge attempt and infighting and illness put the finishing touches on the Southwest Face.

In all this mess, Schlömmer is a noted moderate. While his is certainly no fan of Don Whillans or his Scottish friend, he continues climbing after the worst of the controversy. He sympathizes with Wolfgang Axt, who was blamed by some for the death of Bahuguna, and says that Axt and Bahuguna were good friends, and while Axt stopped climbing after Bahuguna's death, he never quit the expedition, as purported. Schlömmer also seems to have an interest in the American members, Colliver and Evans, I imagine because his last great adventure before Everest was a trip to El Capitan in Yosemite. I watched out for a particular moment at the end of the expedition that I read about in Dougal Haston's In High Places, in which Schlömmer ascends to help with the route, but is told that he's only a burden if he can't carry his own personal gear to the high camp. He chooses to descend. In Schlömmer's book, the author dodges the issue a bit, saying that Dyhrenfurth purports that he needed a Sherpa to carry his gear starting at Camp II, while he insists that he carried all of his own stuff as high as Camp IV, and then only requested that some of his things be carried from there. Perhaps Schlömmer is justified in saying that the Britons were hogging the route, but then again perhaps Haston is justified in saying that no one else was fit enough to do the work. I'm not about to be the judge!

I enjoy reading about this expedition because there seem to be so many versions of the truth out there. In addition to Schlömmer, a number of climbers have written about the trip. In English, you'll find it in Peter Steele's Doctor on Everest (though he doesn't include much on what happens high on the mountain), Dougal Haston's In High Places, and Pierre Mazeaud's Naked Before the Mountain. I wish I read Japanese, because more than anything, I would love to read Naomi Uemura's perspective on the expedition, as he stayed high on the mountain, hefting supplies to the top of the route for the Britons, but only gets passing mention in anyone else's books. Because I only had very limited amount of time with this book, I unfortunately only read the Everest material. I hope to get access to another copy soon.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Burgess Book of Lies, by Adrian & Alan Burgess

For the story of a hard-climbing and hard-drinking set of identical twins, try The Burgess Book of Lies. The pair form a formidable team on the mountain, and the book details their development from a pair of talented and driven misfits to non-conformist, but philosophical and intelligent high-altitude mountaineers. The chapters are written alternately, and they cover many of the significant climbs and events in their lives, first in Britain, then the Alps, and then around the world.

You may remember the Burgess' climbing on Everest from one of several sources. They appear in Joe Tasker's Everest: The Cruel Way, in which they participate in his 1980/81 winter West Ridge attempt without Sherpa porters or supplemental oxygen. They return to the mountain a year later, Al for the 1982 Canadian ascent / soap opera (in his Everest Canada) and Aid for Peter Hillary's attempt on Lhotse (in Hillary's Ascent), during which their expeditions become entangled and they end up climbing together anyway. They try once more for the top in 1989 via the South Col route, Adrian making the summit, on the same expedition as Tom Whittaker (in Whittaker's Higher Purpose). Additionally, Jon Krakauer includes a short biography of the twins in his Eiger Dreams.

This book is a treasure trove for stories of Everesters climbing in other, less auspicious but quite exciting places. They climb in the Alps with Tut Braithwaite, Alan Rouse, Doug Scott, and Paul Moores, are accompanied by Don Whillans to McKinley (where they are arrested for stealing 500 beers), meet up with Jim Bridwell in Argentina, and make a winter ascent of Annapurna IV along with Roger Marshall. They write about the unsung power of Braithwaite, give Paul Moores some much-needed literary coverage, show a sentimental side of Whillans that is often overlooked, and are considerably more kind to Marshall than the average writer. As much as anyone, the Burgess brothers are at home in the mountains, and they seem as comfortable on a vertical face in the Alps as in a tea house in western Nepal. They write much about their Sherpa friends, and Alan especially seems to enjoy their company more than that of most western climbers.

The book is a fun read, and often an exciting one. When they are younger, its seems like they face more danger in the pubs than on the rock walls, but as they mature, they face some daunting Himalayan challenges with a level-headedness rare among hard climbers. At the same time, they maintain a level of fitness that allows them to push hard when the opportunity arises for some daunting climbs. On a side note, I was most impressed by their base camp home brewing operations in their later expeditions---an excellent weight-saving solution for having beer for the length of an expedition!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lure of the Himalaya, by Dr. K. C. Bhanja

If you ever want to compare the travels of the early Everest expeditions, try Lure of the Himalaya, by Dr. K. C. Bhanja. His book is a geographical take on the trips to and up Everest (1921-1933), and he compares the trips and the stops they make, from Darjeeling to Camp VI. The book resembles a descriptive travel guide, and Bhanja gives details gleaned from the Everest accounts about each of the villages visited, including climate, resources, and the state of the population. I found it an interesting read, because this is the first book I've read that covers the expeditions together and compares their journeys way station to way station, rather than relating them chronologically.

Though Bhanja is very good with his facts, his beliefs are somewhat unusual. In his introduction, as proof of the lure of Himalayas, he says that Jesus visited the Himalayas during the ages of 14-29, and then returned to Jerusalem to fulfill his ultimate mission. Leh is a very holy city, because both Jesus (on his way home from Tibet) and Buddha passed through. Bhanja seems as interested in the supernatural as the geographical,and he gravitates towards the inexplicable aspects of nature in his descriptions of locations, such as a tree known to produce leaves with Tibetan characters on them or a lake that only ever partially freezes. In his history of Himalayan climbing, he attributes Mummery's death to supernatural forces, rather than an avalanche.

In addition to his beliefs, his writing style is also a bit odd, such as his explanation for why someone would climb Everest: "Never vacant is mind; in like manner, man's spirit knows no rest---it has a tendency to unfold itself by unveiling Nature not only in the laboratories while seeking for the unity in diversity, that is to say, forcing her to reveal the laws that rule her varied manifestations and phenomena, but also in her very abode where men prefer to come face to face with her glories, no matter if it would necessitate coming to grips with her raging elements. It is this inspired strivings after the expression of Nature's sanctuaries that constitute an expression of the spirit of man."

All that said, Bhanja writes a good discussion of the early Everest expeditions. I wouldn't read this book for a condensed telling of the trips. If you, like me, have read the early accounts and have wondered how their treks to the mountain differed, then this is your book. Town by town and pass by pass, Bhanja tells how each of the expeditions faced the challenges of the long journey to the base of Everest. Of course you might take his descriptions with a grain of salt, because if one expedition had trouble with a populace, then it is a bad town, or if one of the expeditions met a sand storm at a particular location, then it is a place of sandstorms. His descriptions of the climbing on Everest are right on, and he gives elevations for camps and contrasts the efforts of the expeditions. Because this is a place-centered book, Bhanja doesn't include much in the way of interpersonal details or logistics. He's a particular fan of Frank Smythe and includes many quotes from his writing. Additionally, he never misses an opportunity to promote his other books, including Darjeeling at a Glance, and Wonders of Darjeeling and the Sikkim Himalaya.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Irvine Diaries, by Herbert Carr

Herbert Carr brings together a mix of biography, travel diary, family history, and adventure mystery in his The Irvine Diaries. Carr feels there has been an overemphasis on George Leigh Mallory in the retelling of Mallory and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine's climb into the clouds on June 7, 1924, and he seeks to remedy the error with an in-depth look at the young adventurer Irvine and the publication of his two travel diaries.

Because Irvine's life was relatively short, his biography is a quite thin as well. Irvine's brother relates some family history before talking about their childhood. Carr then talks about Irvine's school years and his association with his schools' rowing clubs. Even on his trek to Everest, he was keen to know how the races turned out. Irvine did fairly in school, but was notable for his physical strength and stamina. Before leaving for Everest, he also competed quite well in ski racing. He was know throughout his life for his scientific tinkering, and he even managed to send off some fairly complicated invention ideas to the War Office.

The diaries include Irvine's trips to Spitsbergen and Everest. His college's trip to Sptisbergen was supervised by both Noel Odell and Tom Longstaff, both of whom noticed his strength, drive, and mechanical aptitude. On the trip, expedition members manage a sledging traverse of the island in less-than-ideal conditions, carrying out survey work and climbing a couple peaks. On the Everest trip, Irvine becomes the go-to man for anything that breaks, and from Darjeeling all the way to Camp VI he works to repair and recreate the oxygen equipment, coming with a number of improved designs. I was amazed what a losing battle he was fighting with leaking, unreliable canisters, and the generally awful delivery system. That he got several systems working and saved enough gas to make an oxygen-supplemented assault speaks to his determination. I also learned from this book that "Sandy" refers to his fair complexion, and that he was affected horribly by the ultraviolet radiation on the upper reaches of the mountain.

Though I appreciated reading Irvine's diaries, this book didn't contain quite as much information on the young climber as I had hoped. It didn't really discuss how he came about to be chosen for the expedition or talk about his preparations for the expedition. I was curious about how much, if any, climbing he did before leaving on the expedition and also wanted to know a bit more about his boat journey along with other expedition members to India. Though Irvine overall writes a bare-bones diary, I was fascinated by his gradual transition from calling George Leigh Mallory "Mallory" to by the time they reach the mountain, calling him "George." Additionally, he eventually switches to calling Geoffrey Bruce "Geoff," and has clearly made a couple good friends before his trip into eternity. At the end of the book, Carr discusses the several memorials to the two climbers, including a stone monument at Irvine's alma mater, a stained-glass window, and a memorial travel grant to young adventurers.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Sky's The Limit, by Anna Magnusson

Anna Magnusson tells the story of Vicky Jack, the first Scottish woman to complete the Seven Summits and the oldest British woman to climb Mount Everest, in her The Sky's the Limit. Vicky Jack's biography is told from a non-mountaineer's perspective, and is the story of a driven woman who makes a career in the gender-biased world of HR consultancy, climbs all 283 Munros (Scottish peaks over 3000 feet elevation), and then scales the highest peak on each continent. For the armchair mountaineer, this book is an interesting peak into the world of the commercial mountaineering expedition.

I was surprised when I realized this is only my second Seven Summits book (Robert Mads Anderson's Summits being the other). Jack picks a fairly logical order to her lists, climbing Elbrus, Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Vinson, McKinley, Carstenz, and the Everest. Her first aim was to climb the highest mountain in Europe, initially thinking it was Mont Blanc. Though Elbrus is quite high for a first tall mountain, the cable car to the accommodations near the top makes it a matter of hoping your body adjusts, and then one day of climbing. Kilimanjaro is a bit more difficult, as it is generally a multi-day climb, and its a big elevation change from bottom to top. Jack decides to work on altitude and then cold. On Aconcagua, she does well with the altitude and helps a friend in a nasty retreat from the park. She scales Vinson in beautiful weather, though she faces a tremendous blizzard on her return to Patriot Hills. She also meets David Hempleman-Adams (author of Toughing It Out) while waiting for the flight to Antarctica. Jack nearly doesn't climb McKinley when her expedition leader thinks she has altitude sickness near the summit, and then almost doesn't return because of a fall. I was amazed at the way she was smuggled to Carstenz Pyramid through the open-pit mine. It seemed like quite the scary experience---both the smuggling and the hands-off leadership of her most technical climb to date.

And then she tries Everest. She signs up with Henry Todd to make a spring 2003 attempt via the South Col. Reading this seemed like a good opportunity for me to put Michael Kodas (author of High Crimes) to the test. Jack, as Kodas predicts, had a near-miss with her oxygen, and she turns around at the Hillary Step and runs out of gas at the South Summit for a hypoxic, hallucinatory retreat to the South Col. Michael Kodas 1, Grant 0. Jack, however, thinks that the oxygen was a simple mix-up, and that her Sherpa might have grabbed the wrong bottles when they returned to the balcony. After he finds out the bottles are empty, the Sherpa high tails it to the South Col, leaving her to figure out the way back on her own. She returns the next year, again with Henry Todd, and this time makes it to the top for a thankfully uneventful summit experience.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Climb, edited by Clint Willis

Climb is one of the many adventure compilations put together by Clint Willis. This one is a bit of a greatest hits book, with a lot of famous authors, and seems to focus a bit towards the American climbing scene. There are several Everest-related authors, including David Roberts (co-author of several Everester biographies including Ed Viesturs' No Shortcuts to the Top), Greg Child (Postcards from the Ledge), John Long (The High Lonesome and others), Jim Wickwire (Addicted to Danger), Hamish MacInnes (The Mammoth Book of Mountain Disasters, etc.), Andrew Grieg (Kingdoms of Experience), Galen Rowell (Mountains of the Middle Kingdom and other photo books), John Roskelley (Stories Off the Wall). Jim Wickwire's chapter, from Addicted to Danger, tells of the loss of a young friend and climbing partner, Chris Kerrebrock, on a trip to Denali that was meant as a shakedown trip for a Great Couloir attempt the following year. They both fall into a crevasse soon after their drop-off, and Wickwire is unable, with a injured arm, to dislodge Kerrebrock, and faces an epic retreat and impossibly long wait for rescue. Only one chapter in Climb, however, deals directly with Everest: Greg Child's contribution from Postcards from the Ledge, "How I Almost (Didn't) Climb Everest."

In this chapter, he goes to Everest to film an old friend, Tom Whittaker (author of Higher Purpose) in his first attempt to climb Mount Everest with a prosthetic leg in 1995. They make it up to the Northeast Ridge together, but Whittaker has to turn back, and he encourages Child to continue on without him. As he ascends, Child catches up to Bob Hempstead (whose trip to the top to become the highest rope-slinger in the world is covered in David Noland's Travels Along the Edge) in time to see him slip and fall down the mountain on his back, head first, coming to a stop at the edge of the snowfield, just before the really big fall to the bottom of the mountain. Child finds a rope, and pulls him to safety along with Ang Babu Sherpa, and they again head for the summit.

Greg Child is possibly my favorite climbing author. He approaches Everest with a bit of a disdainful eye, but he makes the most of it and through intelligent humor manages to make the story enjoyable in spite of the insanity around him. Maybe Michael Kodas (High Crimes) could get a couple lessons from Child in not taking things so personally while still dishing out the details. Child still talks about the thefts, the suicidal fools, and the generally lawlessness, but manages to stand apart from it. (He really is a different breed than the average Everest climber). I highly recommend Child's book, Postcards from the Ledge, from which this is excerpted. The Mountain Library recently released a review of it in case you'd like to learn more.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

High Crimes, by Michael Kodas

Michael Kodas tells of the darker side of climbing Mount Everest in his High Crimes. Kodas is a reporter for the Hartford Courant, and he relates the story of the controversy surrounding the death of Nils Antezana on the Southeast Ridge of Everest in addition to the tale of his own troubled expedition climbing on the other side of the mountain, both in 2004. In addition, Kodas weaves in a load of bad news about the mountain, from guides to clients to Sherpas, and also tells of his return to witness the controversial 2006 climbing season. There is so much information on Everest in this book, that I feel somewhat overwhelmed trying to cover it in a blog post.

Nils Antezana was a relatively wealthy client who hired a less-than-qualified guide, Gustavo Lisi, to lead him up the mountain to become America's oldest summiteer. The pair, along with two Sherpas, make a painfully slow ascent on a sketchy day, and on the way down Antezana is left to his fate after a deathly slow retreat. Kodas probes the question of responsibility for Antezana's death, and also writes about Antezana's daughter's attempts to put the pieces together to find out what happened to her father.

On Kodas' own expedition, the Connecticut Everest Expedition, the team is rocked by petty fighting, assaults, thefts, threats, and abuse. Their leader, George Dijmarescu, changes from a friendly, happy citizen of Connecticut to veritable Frankenstein's monster of an expedition mate, causing one member to quit, and the author and another to turn back early to avoid being under his care high on the mountain. Both Dijmarescu and his wife, Lhakpa Sherpa, have ascended Everest several times, and they make for a colorful, if highly controversial pair.

Kodas reports on the many crimes that occur on and around the mountain and tells of the questionable actions of several of the guides. He tells of the questionable actions by several well-known guides, including Henry Todd, Jon Tinker, and Harry Kikstra. He also gives examples of thefts on the mountain that put climbers in serious jeopardy, as well as exposes the "sin city" that is the north side's Base Camp. On the 2006 season, he reports on the death of David Sharp as well as the rescue of Lincoln Hall (You can read his Dead Lucky for more details.), and shows that things have not improved in the two years of his absence.

Overall, I found this book overwhelming. I think the Antezana story or the Connecticut expedition would have made pretty good books on their own. Heaping the additional angry mess on top of that as well as the 2006 season made it difficult for me to really give anything worthwhile thought, and when I was finished reading, I felt more disillusioned and frustrated than educated. I realize there's a lot to say with everything that's happened on the mountain, but to me the book came off more as a rant than a thesis. Additionally, unlike either Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air) or Ken Vernon (Ascent and Dissent), Kodas does not really acknowledge the messiness of being both an expedition member and a journalist on his 2004 trip to the mountain. The information in this book is worth reading, especially if you're shopping for an expedition to join and are considering a cheaper expedition, but it might be good to take your time and really give some of what Kodas writes some thought.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Quest for Adventure, by Chris Bonington

Chris Bonington sizes himself up against a range of modern adventurers in his Quest for Adventure. He includes trips across the globe, including journeys on mountains, across oceans, through deserts, in the air, and to the moon in this anthology. Bonington, thankfully, chooses original prose and analysis over the tradition of excerpting the work of others, and he works lessons from his 1975 Southwest Face expedition into his evaluations. In addition to an introduction to himself, the goals of the book, and the adventures ahead and a conclusion that seeks to distill all the adventures down into something they share, there are two Everest-related chapters: one on the 1953 British ascent of Everest, and a chapter about Messner's solo ascent of Nanga Parbat.

I truly enjoyed reading a fairly thorough analysis of the first ascent of Everest by another famous Everest leader. Bonington gives his take on logistics, strategy, climbers, in addition to several smaller facets of the climb. I especially appreciated his comments on Hunt's strategy and leadership. Bonington's focus on the leadership of the expedition included a specific (with names named) telling of what went on in the Himalayan Committee that caused Shipton's ouster and Hunt's placement as leader as well as analysis of many crucial moments in Hunt's leadership of the climb, including during the preparations, his leading from the place of action during the climb, and his role in Britain after the climb was finished.

The chapter on Messner's climb of Nanga Parbat includes plenty of Everest material even if it is focused on another mountain. Bonington includes comparisons to Wilson, Denman, and Larson before heading into a biography of Messner that centers on Messner's relationship to Nanga Parbat, including the 1970 climb in which he lost his brother, his attempts to return, and his eventual solo ascent in 1978. Bonington includes Messner's two Everest climbs in short prose, telling that Messner heard of his acceptance to climb Nanga Parbat while on his first trip to Everest in which he climbed along with Peter Habeler without supplementary oxygen. Bonington also ends the chapter writing about Messner's solo ascent of Everest in 1980, and contrasting it to the large, military-style expeditions that had made it to the top so far.

Monday, April 11, 2011

At Grips with Everest, by Stanley Snaith

Stanley Snaith writes the first English-language history of Himalayan climbing for young readers in his At Grips with Everest. The book was published in 1938, and includes expeditions to Everest, Kanchenjunga, Nanda Devi, and Nanga Parbat. This history focuses on the sharp end of the expeditions, giving general highlights of the lead up to the assaults and then telling of the hard climbing in dramatic detail. Snaith does make some assumptions in his dialogue and also has a little messiness in his details, but it's overall a good telling. On Everest, he includes all expeditions, including the 1938 expedition and the 1933 fly over, except for the 1935 reconnaissance.

The Everest expeditions are a large part of this book. Snaith sets the stage with Noel's 1913 illegal dash towards the mountain, and works his way through the climbing expeditions chronologically to the 1936 expedition. The fly over and Maurice Wilson's fatal attempt appear in a following chapter, and the 1938 expedition gets a mention in a postscript. Perhaps Snaith is the author responsible for the erroneous idea getting into the Everest literature that Wilson's fasting cure was some sort of Yoga, since it's the earliest book I've yet read that says so, and certainly not the last. (Or maybe there's a newspaper out there somewhere that's to blame.) I was somewhat relieved that T. Howard Somervell said in his introduction to this book that he had not read it, since Snaith goofs a bit on Somervell's climb, stating that he nearly choked to death while waiting for Norton to finish his climb rather than on their descent. At Grips with Everest doesn't quite rack up as many drama points at Younghusband's The Epic of Everest (thank goodness!), but it does have some uncomfortable moments for the modern reader who is racially sensitive. After all this, I feel like I should reiterate that the book is overall pretty decent in its telling of the story of Everest!

This is actually the first book I've read that's included the 1933 air survey of Everest. I haven't bothered to read the two expedition accounts yet, because I've yet to come to a conclusion about whether they have anything to do with climbing Everest. It was nice to get a short introduction: I didn't realize that they were actually attempting a survey of Everest and its environs to the South, that they had permission to do so, that there were two flights (one illicit), and the amount of danger the pilots and passengers chose to face. I'm perhaps still up in the air about whether to include these two books in my reading; I think it would have tipped the scales if the aerial reconnaissance photos of the upper Southeast Ridge that the 1953 expedition utilized came from these guys rather than the Indian Air Force. Any thoughts?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sharper Edges, by Andy de Klerk

I wanted to learn more about what in the world happened to the 1996 South African Everest expedition, so I located a copy of Andy de Klerk's biography, Sharper Edges. I was disappointed in the information I sought, but I found a great book none the less. De Klerk was one of three climbing members that resigned from the expedition at Lobuche after series of events that made De Klerk, Andy Hackland, and Ed February seriously question the competence of the expedition's leader, Ian Woodall. Of the 200 pages in this work, the expedition, perhaps rightly so, gets a paragraph. De Klerk diplomatically put the expedition's falling apart up to personal differences, but he says that Ed February was considerably more disappointed and is still bitter that Woodall used the tide of goodwill and nationalism in the new South Africa for his own ends. Other Everest references include De Klerk's expedition to Gasherbrum IV with Everest climbers Steve Swenson, Charley Mace, and Steve House, as well as a climbing trip to Cameroon with Everester Greg Child.

Everest aside, this is a wonderful read. De Klerk turned down a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford to study philosophy to follow his passion for climbing. It seems to me, based on this book, that he's traded a formal education in philosophy for an applied one. Throughout the book, De Klerk considers the inner aspects of climbing, including motivations, emotions, and passions. A phrase that particularly resonated with me was "there really is nothing to find on the summit of a mountain other than yourself," though this by any means is not the deepest philosophical statement in the book. Sharper Edges is an episodic take on De Klerk's life, with chapters focusing on different important parts of his life, whether close friends like Ed February, climbs, or family members. Because he was a consistent climbing partner for a good part of De Klerk's life, Ed February gets a lot of coverage in this book. De Klerk climbs around the world, and the book includes many climbs in his home turf of South Africa, as well as in Mali, Cameroon, Alaska, Canada, the Karakorum, Patagonia, and the Alps. Additionally, De Klerk is a BASE jumper, and he writes about both the inner game of BASE jumping as well as many of his jumps. If you can find a copy, read this book.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Photographic Record of the Mount Jolmo Lungma Scientific Expedition (1966-1968)

In case you didn't get enough with Another Ascent of the World's Highest Peak, about China's 1975 ascent of Everest via the North Col, there's always A Photographic Record of the Mount Jolmo Lungma Scientific Expedition. It's a creepy Cultural Revolution era photo book showing the scientific achievements of 1966-1968 in the Everest region, including survey work of and on the mountain, strategically released in 1974. If the mantra of Another Ascent was that women are every bit as good as men and can do anything that men can do, then A Photographic Record's mantra is that Chinese scientists are every bit as good as western scientists and can do anything that they can do. The book shows in very spartan terms (only pictures with captions) the scientific discoveries made by the two-year research program, including surveying, geology, paleontology, geology, glaciology, meteorology, biology, and geophysics. Some of the photos, such as the annotated slides of microscopic projections of the rocks found on Everest, are very effective; others, like the picture of two guys staring in awe at a rock suspended by some ice, are more amusing than educational.

There are plenty of photos of Mount Everest in this book, from a wide variety of Tibetan angles. The distances also vary, from about 50 miles due north of the peak, to photos taken from 8,100 meters on the upper reaches of the North Ridge. In addition to climbing on Everest, the crew tests the limits of the Nepal border, including photos of survey crews staring down from the Lho La, to a biological survey of the Kama valley. There is one photo in particular that impressed me: a wide-angle shot of the full length of the East Rongbuk glacier, from the North Col to exit at the end of Changtse's North Ridge, taken from high on an adjoining mountain. I had no idea Changtse was such a long mountain! On a side note, I found it interesting that they did not use the name for Gyachung Kang in its photos, but merely gave its height.

This book is more useful for the historian than the climber, though Everest gets plenty of page space. The propaganda in this book isn't laid on quite as thick as in Another Ascent. The message is troubling, though the presentation is often superficially amusing, such as a group of people smiling broadly and pointing to passages in their books of Chairman Mao's writings, or a happy group of Tibetans being presented with his portrait. I really only recommend this book to the die-hard Everest readers, because it is somewhat hard to find, and its value to most audiences leans more towards a curiosity than a treasure.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

High Exposure, by David Breashears

I always enjoy reading an honest autobiography like David Breashears' High Exposure. The director of the famous Everest IMAX movie, Breashears has had a long relationship with Everest, and he uses his writing as an opportunity for self-analysis. He includes a range of information on himself, from his estrangement from his father and his difficulties with his wife to his successes as a filmmaker and his climbing of Everest. Up to the publication of the book, he had been to Everest in 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1996, and 1997, climbing to the top four times. Every time he climbed on Everest, he had a video camera in his hands.

High Exposure has a number of Everest book connections. In addition to growing up around Jon Krakauer in Colorado and, of course appearing in his Into Thin Air (and the many other 1996 Everest books), Breashears becomes good friends with Dick Bass and helps him climb the last of his Seven Summits. In 1984, he climbs with Ang Dorje, who would have led Brook and Donnelly's trek to Base Camp in The Windhorse if he had not perished on his way to the summit. (Breashears later buries him as well.) In 1983, he summits along with Ang Rita, who would later be Goran Kropp's sirdar in Ultimate High for his tenth ascent. He also filmed the expedition in 1986 in which Tom Holzel and Audrey Salkeld, in their First on Everest, search for Mallory and Irvine. Also on the North Col, he films Brian Blessed, author of The Turquoise Mountain, in his attempt to connect with the spirit of Mallory. Breashears seems to be the guy who knows everybody, but managed to hide behind the camera.

He starts his career as Everest's videographer through a "lucky" chance. He accompanies the 1981 American Kangshung Face expedition as the cameraman's assistant, and he ends up being the only one of the film team willing to put his neck out to carry a camera up the dangerous Lowe Buttress. His teams wins an Emmy for their cinematography. In 1983, he was only supposed to film as far as the South Col, but no one else was willing to carry the broadcast gear for their live video from the summit. After that, he seems to be the guy who films Everest. Projects just keep coming his way, including the IMAX movie and a NOVA special. He does set up two of his own projects, a personal video diary of his own climb of the North Col route (which is stopped by deep unconsolidated snow) and a 1994 alpine attempt on the the eastern buttress of the Kangshung Face climbed by Ed Webster, Robert Anderson, Paul Teare, and Stephen Venables in 1988.

He adds a couple of details to the 1996 Everest literature. He of course tells us plenty of what was going on in his head during the ordeal, including moments of fear, sadness, anger, and self-doubt. He relates the position and posture of Rob Hall's body below the South Summit. He tells us that Ed Viesturs got quite drunk with the remains of the Adventure Consultants crew after the tragedy in an effort to cope. He also explains why he chose the climbers on his expedition, and relates why and how he told Sumiyo that she would not be able to climb to the summit. Breashears was haunted by the hands of Beck Weathers, both because his own hands are his lifeline on the mountain, and because he knows he will have to bare his hands several times on his summit climb to change the film in the IMAX camera. His 1997 NOVA crew was able to remove Bruce Herrod's body from the Hillary Step and collect his camera for his girlfriend.

I overall enjoyed this book. He writes about more than Everest, including filming trips to Ana Dablam, Nameless Tower, Lhasa, and the Andes, but there was so much Everest material, that I chose to focus my writing on it instead. I think it's time to watch some of his movies!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

British Mountaineers, by Frank Smythe

Frank Smythe writes a very short history of British mountaineering in his British Mountaineers. I honestly don't have much to say about this one. I sat down to write about it yesterday, but I couldn't come up with anything worth writing, positive or negative. Smythe begins his history with the early ascents of Mont Blanc, and works his way forward through the Alps (notably Whymper's ascent of the Matterhorn) to the Everest expeditions, as well as future prospects in rarely traveled places. He also includes a personal adventure from the Schreckhorn (near the Eiger), in which he and two climbing partners survive a descent in a horrible storm and he is struck by lightning. He names plenty of names in the book, but due to its length, he is unable to go into detail about anyone save Whymper and Mummery. Interestingly to me, he mentions that there already too many mountaineering books.

His Everest writing comprises a short chapter. He hopes Everest will be climbed without supplementary oxygen and states that the weather is the greatest difficulty on an Everest expedition. He recounts the history of the expeditions so far, though the 1935 reconnaissance and the 1936 expedition get no specific coverage. Smythe also writes a bit about the attempts made on other Himalayan peaks, including Kanchenjunga and Nanga Parbat. At the end of the book, he brings up Everest again, and implies that you're no better than a Nazi if you try to climb it with oxygen. (After all, they use dynamite for fishing!) This was, by the way, written during World War II.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Faces of Everest, by H. P. S. Ahluwalia

Faces of Everest is a directed history of climbing Everest by Indian mountaineer and climber H. P. S. Ahluwalia. It covers every expedition that has attempted the mountain up to 1977, and is a pretty good summary of the original national siege-style bottled-oxygen climbs that were the norm until then. 1978, of course, turned over the apple cart with Habeler and Messner's ascent without supplementary oxygen. You may remember Ahluwalia from his 1965 ascent of Everest as part of the 1965 Indian expedition. He wrote about that experience, as well as his near-fatal injury during the Kashmiri war and his subsequent long recovery in his book, Higher than Everest. One of the assets of this books is Ahluwalia's personal research, especially his delving into the archives of the Survey of India at Dehra Dun and his interviews with climbers.

Ahluwalia dispels several myths about the early history of Everest, and I especially appreciated finding some of this out from a well-respected Indian writer. He shows a comparison of the 1733 D'Anville map and the 1926 Survey of India map of the Everest region, which are strikingly similar. The D'Anville map bases its information about the region of Tibet on a survey requested by Chinese lamas at the behest of Jesuit missionaries. The D'Anville map includes a mountain, or possibly a range named "Tchoumou Lancma" (which is quite phonetically close to the Chinese Qomolangma) in approximately the correct location. It's too bad no one has ever turned up the original Chinese survey. Additionally, though it's a great story to think of Radhanath Sikhdar running into Andrew Waugh's office (the Surveyor General) to proclaim the discovery of the world's highest mountain, Ahluwalia tells us Sikhdar was posted to a different office in Calcutta in 1849, the same year that surveyors were making the observations of the peak. (This might not be correct. Online sources state that Sikhdar was transferred in 1851, and did his Everest computations there.)

Faces of Everest helped me fill in a lot of the holes in my Everest expedition knowledge. He includes full reports for all the expeditions, and that means I got to learn quite a bit about several expeditions that don't have much written about them in English, including the 1973 Italian, the possible 1952 Russian, the 1969/70 Japanese, the 1975 Japanese women's expedition, and 1971 and 1972 international expeditions. I worry a bit about the details, since he does get some details incorrect about other expeditions, such as the 1976 Joint British & Nepalese Army Expedition, and Maurice Wilson's attempt. He includes details of the three Indian expeditions to Everest, including his own, and he also gives good coverage to the two Chinese expeditions of 1960 and 1975. In addition to his history, Ahluwalia includes appendices on climatology of the region, lists of accidents and ascents, and a short timetable history. The photographs in this book (including his own), by the way, are an interesting set, and worth a look.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Men and Mountaineering, by Showell Styles

Showell Styles gives us an anthology of now classic writing in his Men and Mountaineering. The book was written in the late 1960s, and Styles covers the full range of history, from Edward Whymper to Royal Robbins. Everest gets good coverage in this one, with five chapters, as well as an article by Everest summiteer Dougal Haston about his first climb of the North Face of the Eiger. Three of the Everest chapters are book excerpts: H. W. Tilman's "Notes on the Abominable Snowman" from his Everest 1938, an excerpt from Woodrow Wilson Sayre's Four Against Everest covering Sayre's and Roger Hart's night in the open below the North Col after a fall, and Hillary's chapter about his and Tenzing's summit climb from Hunt's The Ascent of Everest. I reread the last one just to make sure I haven't forgotten the true events after reading all the wacky versions of this story they put in children's books. (I'm happy to report that I only goofed once: Hillary reports that he actually did heave on the rope during Tenzing's climb up the Hillary Step. I apologize to whomever I corrected!) The other two Everest chapters were a pleasant surprise. The first covers the last days of the 1924 expedition, as reported by the expedition's climbers in The Times, and the second is an article from Summit magazine written by Norman Dyhrenfurth about the final days of the 1963 American expedition.

The three newspaper articles used in the chapter on the 1924 expedition are a refreshing bit of reading from both George Leigh Mallory and Edward Norton. Because they had to write (or dictate) these articles at the spur of the moment with limited time, they come off sounding considerably more natural that their other published writing. Though Mallory does manage to get in one of his famous semicolon sprees, his writing overall resembles more his letters than his book chapters. He writes after the establishment of the camp on the North Col and the subsequent rescue of the four stranded porters, and relates both their progress as well as their plan-of-attack. Norton dictates the next dispatch, as he is snow blind, and tells of the first two attempts and the plan for the third. In it, he acknowledges Odell's superior fitness, but agrees with Mallory that Irvine would be more helpful with the oxygen equipment. The last dispatch was written by Norton after Mallory and Irvine disappear into the mists on the Northeast Ridge, telling of his receiving the signal that they have been given up for dead.

The article by Dyhrenfurth relates the second series of summit assaults from the American expedition in basic, but entertaining prose. He, however, relates in dramatic detail the destruction of Camp 4 W, including Unsoeld's making radio transmissions as his tent is being blown down the mountain. Overall, his account comes off as a strange mixture between the official account (Ullman's Americans on Everest), and Tom Hornbein's Everest: The West Ridge. I found it a bit strange that Dyhrenfurth did not include Unsoeld's or Bishop's severe frostbite at the end---it seemed a bit to much "happily ever after" to me.

I also read Dougal Haston's Eiger climb just for fun. His writing is in a similar, dreamy style to his later autobiography, In High Places, though not quite as well-developed. He and his partner, Rusty Baillie, make an ascent during sketchy ice conditions, though they are not hampered terribly by rock fall. They catch up two Austrians, also low on the classic route, and team up with them for the climb. Near the top, they are passed by a fresh crew who were able to use Haston's group's steps through the difficult ice sections. Thank goodness for an uneventful climb!

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Magic Bird of Chomo-Lung-Ma, by Sybille Noel

Despite its title or history, The Magic Bird of Chomo-Lung-Ma, by Sybille Noel has almost nothing to do with climbing Mount Everest, unless perhaps you'd prefer to ride a magic drum or a sunbeam to the summit. I had heard that Captain John Noel's wife, Sybille, had collected Tibetan folk stories while her husband was busy filming the Everest climb of 1924. I was a bit incredulous about this book, but I brought it home to read after finding out that Noel included an introductory chapter on her journey. I know that she traveled to and from Tibet along with the Everest party, but in this book they get but a single passing mention, and her husband gets no mention at all. Perhaps this is an appropriate Everest book for April Fools Day.

In addition to the tale of her trip, she includes the tale of the contest between Padma-Sambhava and Pombo Lama in her introduction. Padma-Sambhava is the saint who is believed to have brought Buddhism to Tibet; Pombo Lama was the head of the traditional animist religion already there. To prove whose powers are superior, Pombo Lama challenges Padma-Sambhava to a race to the top of the tallest mountain in the world. Pombo Lama has a magic drum that will carry him wherever he wills it, and he begins to ride to the mountain. Padma-Sambhava decides it's time for a nap, and though his followers fret, he sleeps through the night, for he knows that his righteous powers will prevail. As the sun rises the next day, Pombo Lama is nearly there, and Padma-Sambhava is only just waking. When the first rays of the sun filter in through the window, Padma-Sambhava is instantly transported by a sunbeam to the top of the mountain, where he takes up dominion over Tibet upon a golden, jewel-encrusted throne. Tibetans believed that the throne was still there, and the throne was the likely objective of the (Here comes the reference!!!) Mount Everest Expedition.

In addition to the introduction, I also read the first folk story, the only tale that deals directly with the world's highest mountain. "The Magic Bird of Chomo-Lung-Ma" is fantastic tale of a selfish girl, her two loyal brothers, and a handsome suitor. The suitor knows of a glorious bird that drops jewels from its feathers and lives in the mountain of Chomo-Lung-Ma, and he seeks it out to present it to the girl as a gift of proposal. This bird happens to be the prince of evil in disguise, and he manipulates the characters to suit his villainous intentions. It's a long and interesting story, with plenty of twists, and I had a great time reading it. Since I am one that rummages around in books looking for interesting facts, I decided to see what the story tells us of Tibetans' knowledge of the world's highest mountain. The story properly describes the broken glaciers leading from it, the hermit dwellings just before the mountain, the feeling of "glacier lassitude" described by the early expeditions, and perhaps even the great depth of the crevasses in the initial climbing of it. I was impressed by overall how much specific information made it into this folk tale.

I highly recommend this book for the stories. Though I didn't read this one through, since it only marginally has anything to do with this blog, I honestly had a lot of fun reading what I did. If the other tales are anything near as well planned and written as the first, then The Magic Bird of Chomo-Lung-Ma is classic of folk literature.