Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Forerunners to Everest, by Dittert, Chevalley & Lambert

Forerunners to Everest, by Rene Dittert, Gabriel Chevalley, and Raymond Lambert, tells the story of the two Swiss Expeditions to Everest in 1952. The Swiss got away with making the first serious attempt on Mount Everest on the Nepalese side, and I found it fascinating to read climbers experiencing Everest's "trade route" for the first time. In the spring, the climbers made it as far as 28,200 feet; when they returned after the monsoon, they did not make it much higher than the South Col. The Western Cwm (their "Valley of Silence") was much grander than they expected, and they spent a great deal of energy searching out a feasible route up to the South Col from the Cwm.

The narrative reads a bit like modernized version of some of the early British expeditions. In the spring, the expedition shows up to do some climbing with a fairly good plan for equipping camps, some nice equipment (including some stellar reindeer hide boots), but little idea what they are getting into. Additionally, they test out their oxygen equipment on the mountain, only to find it inadequate. These guys are excellent mountaineers, but they learn the hard way that there are no feasible locations for a camp on the Geneva Spur. They probe on either side of it and eventually climb through its center in the spring, ascending from the Cwm to the Col in one difficult push. It takes an accident in the fall to convince the expedition leader to place some camps in the Lhotse glacier before a traverse to the Col over the Spur. In both climbs, Raymond Lambert and Tenzing Norgay set out for the summit climb, though in the fall, they are accompanied to their high point by their support crew that was meant to set up their high camp. In the spring, they are turned back by exhaustion, in the fall, by unrelenting winds and cold.

In addition to Forerunners, there are a number of other books that provide firsthand information about the 1952 Swiss climbs: Andre Roch's Everest 1952, Tenzing Norgay's Tiger of the Snows, Ernst Reiss' Mein Weg als Bergsteiger, and Norman Dyhrenfurth's Himalaya. Happy reading!

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