Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tenzing Norgay and the Sherpas of Everest, by Tashi Tenzing

Tashi Tenzing, grandson of Tenzing Norgay, writes biographies of a number of famous Sherpas, many of them family, in Tenzing Norgay and the Sherpas of Everest. Tenzing tells the story of climbing Mount Everest from the point of view of the Sherpas, based on interviews with the surviving members of the early expeditions and cultural and family histories. The result is a refreshing take on an often-told tale and a timely tribute to the unsung heroes of the mountain. In addition to the biographies, Tenzing chronicles the changes in Sherpa culture and families resulting from Himalayan mountaineering and discusses Sherpa climbers' motives and attitudes. Tenzing Norgay's biography features prominently in the book, but I appreciated most getting to know many of the lesser-known Sherpas, whose names appear often in mountaineering books, but who remain essentially anonymous to outsiders once off the mountain. Also, Tenzing includes the stories of his own climbs on Everest, including a 1993 climb he organized himself and a 1997 commercial expedition.

The book covers a multitude of Everest climbs, based on the Sherpas' biographies. It is a fitting role reversal to read details of the experiences of the local climbers and porters, while the foreign climbers often have mistakes in their personal information in the text. I found three climbs particularly interesting: Tashi Tenzing's two expeditions and a 1991 Sherpa / US climb in which the traditional climbing roles were reversed, with Pete Athans and other Americans providing porter support to Sherpa climbers. Tenzing's first expedition was an Australian national expedition that included Mike Groom (Sheer Will), Brigitte Muir (Wind in My Hair), and his cousin Lobsang. Groom and Lobsang make the summit, but tragedy strikes on the descent. Tenzing's second climb was as part of the 1997 Adventure Consultants' "Dream Team," a group consisting of Ed Viesturs, David Breashears, Guy Cotter, and Tenzing, meant to show that the business of climbing Everest is still on after the mess of 1996. I didn't realize before this that Breashears' Nova footage was actually shot under the auspices of Adventure Consultants. Overall, this is a great read and a long-needed book about the "other guys," who generally do the hard work of Everest climbs.

1 comment:

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