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.


  1. Hi Grant, I like your blog. I enjoy reading non-fiction books about Everest. I came back from a 'lecture/presentation' by Ian Woodall and I wanted search for more information about the controversies surrounding the SA expedition of 1996. Great blog, I like the info!!! I will coming back for more.

  2. I completely agree with your review - this is the first book on Everest that I've been disappointed in.