Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Man Who Skied Down Everest, by Miura & Perlman

Yuichiro Miura and Eric Perlman tell the story of Miura's speed skiing descent from the South Col to the Western Cwm in The Man Who Skied Down Everest. Miura was a competitive speed skier, often coming close to the world record for fastest descent. He decides to explore the possibilities of speed skiing off-course, and after a quick descent on Mount Fuji, he sets his sights on the Himalaya. His contacts tell him the best skiing would be on Manaslu, but he also finds that, unless he has the money to pay for the trip himself, only a ski descent on Mount Everest will land him enough sponsors to get to Nepal. Miura is a novice at both expeditionary climbing and planning, and he faces a steep learning curve during his attempt to reach the world's highest ski run.

Despite his lack of experience, he manages to achieve quite a bit. He slowly lures sponsors to his side, gathers a team to help him organize the trip and climb to the South Col in the pre-monsoon season of 1970, and eventually signs a media contract with a film company to cover the balance of his expenses. (The film is also called The Man Who Skied Down Everest.) He survives his many experiments with his diet, and gets to the mountain the fittest of his team. The Sherpas even tell him he must have been a Yeti in his past life. He makes many ski runs around Everest and climbs Pokhara Peak as acclimatization, and then heads up the Western Cwm to check the condition of his run (the snow gully between the Lhotse Glacier and the Geneva Spur). While there, he can't help himself, and he constructs a ramp to do some ski jumping. He heads up to the Col to make his run. His descent is less-than-graceful, as the parachute he designed to slow his progress does little to help him in the rarefied air of the high Himalaya. After a terrifying fall, he screams to a stop just above the bergschrund, bruised but otherwise uninjured.

Throughout the book, Miura quotes the Samurai master Musashi's treatise on the art of Bushido, the way of the warrior. Miura can trace his lineage back to the times of warring clans, and its clear that he tries to recapture a bit of his heritage by facing his opponent (his ski descent) like the warriors of old. I'm not certain that I agree with his methodology or application, but I respect his urge to connect with his family roots and his questing to discover the depth of his devotion. It's notable that after his Everest run, Miura survived both the fastest speed skiing fall (at an earlier competition) and the highest, on Mount Everest.

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