Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Lost Explorer, by Anker and Roberts

Conrad Anker tells of his finding the body of George Mallory, and David Roberts tells the story of Mallory in The Lost Explorer. The book has alternating chapters on Anker's participation in the 1999 Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition to the north side of Everest and Roberts' brief, but well-researched biography of Everest's tragic hero. Though Anker was the climber to come across Mallory's body, he was often at odds with the leadership of his expedition, and his writing, in part, seeks to clarify both his position on several issues and the way events unfolded from his own perspective.

Anker, even if humbled by his discovery, clearly was unhappy with the way events unfolded on the expedition. He mixes harsh criticism for his teammates' actions with fairly nice compliments for their drive and character into a tale that ends up making no one look good. Anker's underlying thesis is that he is the real climber and the guy who repeatedly saved the day (found Mallory, made the summit, saved a teammate, rescued a Ukrainian to boot), while these other guys were nice but foolish. Perhaps Anker didn't get the attention he felt he deserved in the subsequent media coverage of events. He certainly did not come off as the expedition golden boy in the official expedition book, Ghosts of Everest. I found some of Anker's complaints silly, such as the aesthetic loss of dispatching news direct from the mountain rather than later distributing a book, like they used to. (The early expeditions did, in fact, dispatch news in the middle of climbing the mountain; it just took longer to get around the world. Norton, snowblind after his world record climb on the 1924 expedition, even dictated an article for The Times to Geoffrey Bruce on the North Col while resting during his descent.) Others complaints, such as the team's selling photos of Mallory's body to the highest bidder, are much easier to justify and make for interesting discourse.

Roberts does a first-rate job of pulling together a variety of research to bring the reader up-to-date on the story of Mallory. He includes both the basics as well as some of the newer conflicts in the story of Mallory, and even spends a page refuting Unsworth's thesis that Mallory had a thing for Irvine (see Everest: The Mountaineering History). I appreciated both Roberts' explanation of the difficulty of pinning down exactly what Odell said he saw the day Mallory and Irvine disappeared and his discussion of Mallory's possible conflicts with his wife Ruth. I felt like Roberts did the man justice, while still exploring many of the mysteries left in his life story.

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