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!

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