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.

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