Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hall & Ball, Kiwi Mountaineers, by Colin Monteath

Colin Monteath's Hall & Ball, Kiwi Mountaineers is a personal memoir of two of New Zealand's most famous mountaineers, known both for their dedication to high-altitude climbing and their early participation as Himalayan climbing guides. It is a large book with color photographs throughout, and it tells of the life and adventures of Rob Hall and Gary Ball, from climbing and guiding in the New Zealand Alps, to work in Antarctica, to climbs in the Himalaya. I had heard of this storied partnership from books such as Ed Viesturs' No Shortcuts to the Top, and I had always assumed that they grew up together as childhood friends; I was surprised to find out that they came to know each other relatively late in their short lives, and that they made their mark in history in a short, but fast-paced climbing partnership. Hall and Ball were much more than their combined climbs and climbing business, and Monteath does an excellent job of detailing their legacies.

Both climbers started their careers in the climbing business in the Southern Alps and progressed to working in Antarctica, though separately. Gary Ball lived hand-to-mouth as a climbing guide, and worked his way up to a guiding business partnership with Russell Brice and Nick Banks, with a several years of worldwide climbing adventures thrown in. Rob Hall, as a teenager, began working in the climbing gear industry, working his way up to manager of a firm before setting up his own business. Both made forays to Antarctica, guiding scientists or instructing them in arctic survival, while making climbs whenever they got a chance. Hall made a name for himself by making two difficult ascents in the Himalaya as a teenager, of Ama Dablam and Numbur. Ball pushed for a New Zealand trip to the Soviet Pamirs, and ascended Pik Kommunizma. They met because of this trip---as a part of the cultural exchange, New Zealand was to host Russian climbers to the Southern Alps, and Hall helped organize the International Climbing Meet that the Russians attended. Hall organized a trip to Annapurna I, where he was injured in a parapente accident at base camp, and had to turn over his next trip to Hidden Peak to someone else. Ball, however, recognized Hall's talent for organization, and when Ball happened to get permit for K2 after the death of a his friend Roger Marshall, he looked to Hall to help him get the climb off the ground while he (Hall) was again in Antarctica.

Their partnership brought them back to the Himalaya again and again. When Ball made the offer of K2 to Hall, Hall already had an expedition to Mount Everest in the works. They turned it into a double adventure, along with Lydia Brady and Bill Atkinson, for attempts on both mountains. Unsuccessful on K2, they headed to Everest with a frayed, but intact group for the 1988 post-monsoon circus, sharing a permit with the Czech-Slovak expedition slated for an alpine ascent of the Southwest Face. Unwilling to attempt the suicidal climb of their permit-mates (all the summit climbers would eventually die, with one reaching the top), they were rejected for climbing a different route, but made an attempt on the South Buttress anyway, trying to stay out of the way of the crowds. They were turned back by harsh weather, but Lydia Bradey stuck around and made an illegal summit via the South Col, her teammates leaving Base Camp to distance themselves from her actions. (Hers was the first by a woman without supplemental oxygen.) Hall and Ball returned to Everest in 1989, this time with Peter Hillary, for another unsuccessful attempt via the South Col, though they were able to rescue a climber on the Lho La after their return to Kathmandu by racing around to the Tibet side via the Friendship Highway and help from the Chinese authorities. Finally, in 1990, they made it to the top along with Peter Hillary, with a live radio broadcast from the summit, in which Hillary was even able to talk to his father.

Their later career had varying degrees of success. Directly after the Everest climb, they set out to climb the seven summits in seven months, reaching the top of Mount Vinson in Antarctica with six hours to spare. They used this stunt to launch their worldwide mountain guiding careers, which was extraordinarily successful, with Ball's positive attitude and flair and Hall's meticulous organization. They made successful guided trips to Everest in 1992 and 1993, and used the money from the guiding to make a number of private expeditions, including returning to K2 and a trip to Dhaulagiri that cost Ball his life. Hall brought Ed Viesturs into the business to help with the Everest guiding, and they repeated their success in 1994, but had to turn clients back at the South Summit in 1995. The 1996 Everest guided expedition ultimately cost Hall his life, but he racked up an impressive number of ascents in the Himalaya beforehand, climbing Lhotse directly after an Everest trip, and chartering a helicopter from Lukla for a quick trip to Makalu after another.  Monteath gets much of his information about the 1996 disaster from other writers, though he relies heavily on Mike Groom's Sheer Will, which provides a different perspective than most. This was a fun book to read---though he packs a lot of information into a short space, Monteath writes a pleasurable memoir for these two extraordinary climbers.

No comments:

Post a Comment