Friday, July 29, 2011

When Men & Mountains Meet, by H. W. Tilman

When Men & Mountains Meet serves as a coda to Harold Tilman's Everest 1938, though the delay in the publishing of Everest meant that Men & Mountains appeared in print first. The book details Tilman's post-Everest adventures, both on mountains and in the battlefield during the lead-up to and fight of World War II. The book begins with an expedition in the summer of 1939 to the Assam Himalaya, to climb and (apologetically) to survey in a blank in the map east of Bhutan. He travels with three Sherpa (including two Everest verterans, Wangdi Norbu and Nukku), and they only make it to base camp before they are thoroughly incapacitated by illness. He and Wangdi Norbu, thinking it's only malaria, work when they can, but are generally laid low most or all of the day. The illness progresses, and only three of them are able to make a difficult escape.

Tilman then moves on in the book to his attempts of the Zemu Gap, near Kanchenjunga. He states that a new survey needs to be made (and has since been made) of the area, since the gap has been misidentified, and is actually incredibly harder than and higher than earlier accounts profess. He attempts it once from the south in 1936, and is turned back by a 200-foot ice cliff near the crest. He returns, along with Pasang Kikuli (of Everest and K2 fame) in 1938 while trekking through Sikkim on his way home from the Everest climb he led. He gives a little more detail here than in Everest 1938 about other party members' actions after they fanned out towards the end of their trek across Tibet. He is especially detailed about his own successful crossing of the Zemu Gap, from the North this time.

He has a number of exciting war stories and interactions, mainly because he spurned promotion over service that would keep his interest. He serves in the Middle East, North Africa, Albania, and Italy, and seems to have mastered the retreat that defeats the more powerful foe. His units are generally under supplied, outnumbered, and survive through their geographical knowledge, cultural interactions, and well-planned tactics. Overall, some great war stories from theaters that don't get as much attention as Western Europe and the Pacific.

This book is a fun read. Tilman's ironic, sarcastic, and often self-depricating wit appears throughout, and adds a great deal of personality to his direct style. Everest doesn't play a huge role in this book, nor do mountains, but he brings up Everest often enough in the climbing sections (such as comparing the monsoon snows' effect on climbing Everest versus Kanchenjunga), and anytime hostilities die down a bit, he scrambles up a mountain wherever he happens to be during wartime. I hope you enjoy it!

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