Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Everest Adventure, by Maj. John Dias

Maj. John Dias writes about the 1962 Indian expedition to Mount Everest, India's second, in The Everest Adventure. After initially good progress, the climb becomes a war of attrition, with more bad weather than good, and few good days together throughout the month of May. Amazingly, the summit team spends six days at the South Col and above, including three days at or above their assault camp on the Southeast Ridge. Because the weather reports are consistently bad, the team ends up climbing the Lhotse Face and above even in marginal weather to ensure that the route is pushed before the arrival of the monsoon. They reduce their summit teams from two to one, and even have the summit team arrive at the South Col at the same time as those who establish the camp there. Everest, however, provides no weather window. After two storm bound days at the Col, the team get a brief respite to establish their assault camp, followed by two more storm bound days. After the climbers head up painfully slowly in a morning lull, another storm hits, this time with the wet, sticky snow of the monsoon. They trudge back down the mountain in an anoxic, snail-paced narrow escape. Ang Tharkay, their sirdar, admits that he has not seen weather this bad since the 1936 British expedition. The British, of course, made it no higher than the North Col.

This is a good book about a great climb, even if the climbers did not make the summit. In both the first and second Indian Everest expeditions, the teams work hard, are well-organized, and have great leadership, but meet with terrible luck high on the mountain. (You can read about the first in Brig. Gyan Singh's Lure of Everest.) Dias' prose is direct and thoughtful, and there are copious photographic illustrations. I once again learned the scale of Everest, this time with a photo of some climbers standing in front of the "bump" on the South Col, that is actually the size of a several-story building. (This promontory actually stretches just above 8000 meters, and was first climbed in 1956 by some of the support crew for Reist and von Gunten's summit assault, according to Eggler's The Everest-Lhotse Adventure.) This expedition also has the second fatality on the Nepal side, with Nawang Tshering meeting the same fate, in a similar location, as Mingma Dorje of the 1952 Swiss autumn attempt (as told in Chevalley's portion of Forerunners to Everest). I was surprised to find out that they coaxed Ang Tharkay out of climbing retirement to be sirdar. He had not been on an expedition since Shipton's 1951 reconnaissance of Everest, in which he, unfortunately for his career, declared the route they discovered impossible for laden men. I wish Dias had included a little more detail on his change of heart. Overall, this book tells an exciting story that is not well-known. It's a short book, but worth a read. I'll be sure to get to Kohli's Nine Atop Everest, about the successful third expedition, in the near future!

No comments:

Post a Comment