Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Together on Top of the World, by Phil & Sue Ershler

Together on Top of the World tells the story of Phil and Sue Ershler, the first couple to climb the Seven Summits together. Phil Ershler is a mountain guide and a noted Himalayan climber, who was the first American to summit Mount Everest via the North Face. Sue Ershler is a sales executive who accompanied her husband on a couple continental high-point climbs and decided that they should finish the list together. Together, they face a number of challenges, both on their climbs and regarding Phil Ershler's health. They alternate narration throughout the book, and their tales intertwine to show a driven and supportive couple willing to push each other to do the right thing and achieve their personal dreams.

There are a number of Everest tales in this book. Phil Ershler makes two attempts on Everest before successfully climbing the North Face via the North Col in 1984. He writes about his experiences with the 1981 American Expedition to the North Face under Lou Whittaker as well as his try in 1983 with Dick Bass and Frank Wells via the South Col, in which he attempted the summit without supplemental oxygen. I don't know what it is about him, but he doesn't get much coverage in other books that cover these climbs, except perhaps Jim Wickwire's Addicted to Danger and Lou Whittaker's Memoirs of a Mountain Guide, even though he makes significant contributions to both climbs. (I, admittedly, have not yet read Bass & Well's Seven Summits yet. Yikes!) His 1984 post-monsoon climb is quite an effort. His team becomes dependent upon finding a tent left by the descending Australian team (see Lincoln Hall's White Limbo), and after not finding it and a bivouac, his summit team descends. After another rope's abortive attempt, the scrabble together the three strongest climbers, Wickwire, Roskelly, Ershler, for a last push. Together, Phil and Sue Ershler make two attempts, both via the South Col in 2001 and 2002. Note: Phil Ershler summits Everest in 2002 on the same morning as Sean Swarner, author of Keep Climbing

In contrast to many other books, the authors' climbs together are joyous times. Most of the drama of this book is off the mountain, and it makes for engrossing reading throughout. I hope that their relationship is every bit as good in person as it is on paper, because it seemed like the epitome of martial bliss. Enjoy!

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