Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Everest Canada: The Climb for Hope, by Peter Austen

Peter Austen and his crew try to climb Everest via the North Col-Northeast Ridge to raise awareness for Rett Syndrome in his Everest Canada: The Climb for Hope. The witty author of Rocky Horrors, Frozen Smiles gets serious about a little-understood disease that is the likely cause of most mental retardation in girls. After securing a permit for a post-monsoon climb in 1991, Austen partners with Canada Rett Syndrome Association to get more publicity and financial support for both of their causes. Austen and his fellow climbers are new to the big-expedition game, and they whip themselves into a functional crew, both in their training climbs and their detailed preparations. Even with dual-role fundraising, the expedition has a very difficult time finding money, bringing on an intricate web of conditional sponsorship almost at the last minute. Theirs is the first Everest climb for charity, and they take every opportunity to broadcast their cause.

Their climb goes fairly well up until the end, though the end seemed to me to come quickly. Though they are delayed a week by rock slides over the Friendship Highway, they get off to a good start yakking supplies to ABC and ferrying loads up to the North Col. There are occasional weather delays and some illness in their climbing crew of 17 (including 5 Sherpa), but they overall keep good momentum. They are distracted once by a climber high on the mountain who tears ligaments in his leg, needing a rescue. Getting him down the North Col is also a bit of an ordeal. Though all climbers make it as high as the North Col, relatively few make progress above it, and three are left to a last-ditch effort before their yak crews arrive to evacuate ABC on October 6. High winds lift them off the ground on occasion during their ascent, and they arrive at their 26,000 foot camp only to find that it has been blown away. The crew evacuates the mountain without anyone dying or any lasting injuries. Their high-altitude rescue operation also landed them some much-needed publicity both for their climb and their cause.

This is overall an enjoyable quick read. There are plenty of interesting bits and adventure, and Austen's sense of humor carries the parts, such as looking for food sponsors, that normally get tedious in climbing books. Austen professes to be a student of Everest history, but take his historical musings with a grain of salt, because much of what he writes is half-true. I was excited to find that three other Everest authors played a role in the expedition: Pat Morrow (Beyond Everest) was on the film crew, and Jaimie Clarke (From Everest to Arabia) and Alan Hobson (From Everest to Enlightenment) helped with the satellite communications and climbed.

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