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!

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