Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Canadians on Everest (2006), by Bruce Patterson

Bruce Patterson tells the story of the 1982 Mount Everest expedition that put the first Canadians on the summit in Canadians on Everest. The expedition was a frightening example of the petty politics that tear a team apart, though enough of the team remains to place on the summit two Canadians, Laurie Skreslet and Pat Morrow, and four Sherpas, Sungdare, Lhakpa Dorje, Pema Dorje, and Lhakpa Tsering. Additionally, there are four deaths on the expedition in two separate incidents in the Khumbu Icefall. If you can believe it, the expedition went through three expedition leaders before the climb, and the person who secured the climbing permit gets kicked off his own climb. Soon after the expedition Al Burgess and Jim Palmer released the official expedition account, Everest Canada, that seeks to cover all the bases, but only thoroughly tells one side of conflict. Patterson, the journalist dispatched to the mountain to cover the expedition, due to book contracts, was only able to release the other side of the story in 1990, in the original edition of this book, released by Detselig Enterprises. I did not realize (I should have done my homework!) until I got to the Acknowledgments at the end of the 2006 edition, by Altitude Publishing, that what I read is actually an abridgment of the original with an updated Epilogue. Whereas Burgess relates his own experiences and quotes from the expedition diaries of others (focusing on the climbers he already knew), Patterson wrote and took notes the whole expedition and made it a point to get to know the climbers. His book focuses on Laurie Skreslet, Jim Elzinga, and Bill March, and it overall has a different flavor to the storyline than the official account. Perhaps he didn't realize it, but Patterson overlooks the intertwining of the Canadian expedition with Peter Hillary's Lhotse team, especially towards the end.

The book is well-written and entertaining. It gets a little journalist-dramatic at moments, but not often---there's little need, as the story is exciting enough already! It's one of the better journalist-on-Everest books, as Patterson strikes the right balance between a personal story and disaffected coverage. You can read other perspectives on the climb in (besides the official account) the Burgess twins' The Burgess Book of Lies, Peter Hillary's Ascent, Pat Morrow's Beyond Everest, and for brave kids, Laurie Skreslet's To the Top of Everest.

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