Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Sky Was His Limit, by B. N. Mullik

B. N. Mullik writes the biography of Sonam Gyatso, the greatest Himalayan climber that you've probably never heard of in The Sky Was His Limit. Gyatso's climbs are the story of the beginning of Indian mountaineering, as he participated in the first class of Tenzing Norgay's Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and thereafter an impressive string of early Indian expeditions, including Nanda Devi, Annapurna III (first ascent), Cho Oyu (first Indian ascent), and all three Everest expeditions in the 1960s. His determination, positive attitude, and physique placed him at the vanguard in all of his climbs, outlasting his teammates and supporting them even if it meant leaving the summit untrodden. His natural ability at high altitude guaranteed his placement on the summit teams on each of the Everest climbs. Gyatso is Sikkimese (the first to climb Mount Everest), and he worked both as a police constable in the outlying districts and an instructor of mountaineering, eventually opening his own institute at Gangtok. He was deeply dedicated to his family and to his faith and never failed to greet others with a smile.

Gyatso was the only climber to participate in all three Everest expeditions. Because he participated in each of the summit climbs, he was the first person to climb above 27,000 three times. When he reached the summit in 1965, he became the oldest person to climb the mountain at 42. (It's amazing how people used to call 42 "past one's prime" for high-altitude climbing!) Each of his summit attempts were quite dramatic, and he was fortunate to reach the summit on his third try, as he ascended the Southeast Ridge in a terrible storm and climbed from the Balcony the next day with a frostbitten (and thawed) back. He credited his ascent to the three Sherpa climbing instructors from his school who supported him on his trip to the assault camp even in the teeth of a terrible storm.

This book is a lovely tribute to a regional and national hero. It focuses on his love and dedication to family, friends, and career, as well as his joy of sharing the mountains with others. You can read more about the first Indian Everest expedition in Brig. Gyan Singh's The Lure of Everest, the second in Maj. John Dias' The Everest Adventure, and the third in Com. Mohan Kohli's Nine Atop Everest (which I hope to get to soon!).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Everest: The Unfinished Adventure, by Hugh Ruttledge

I'm embarrassed to admit that I've just now read the official narrative of the 1936 Everest expedition, Hugh Ruttledge's Everest: The Unfinished Adventure. It did not occur to me that an expedition that was so thoroughly defeated might actually have a enjoyable text to relate its misfortune. I noted in my post for Everest 1933 that Ruttledge writes in a more approachable, modern style, and he continues the trend here. He admits that there were some petty differences among climbers, even relates a few incidents, and lets fly that the team made double marches on the return journey to save money! (If you're looking for something like In the Hall of the Mountain King, you're bound to be disappointed, however.) Even John Hunt in 1953 was able to summon up a gentleman's collar to relate a unnaturally prosaic, yet heroic account in his Ascent of Everest. As such, The Unfinished Adventure makes a pretty good precursor to Bonington's Everest: Southwest Face in both form and style, with a great team fighting against weather that won't let up, some dissension in the ranks, and a boatload of appendices covering the minutiae of an unsuccessful climb. 

The climb gets off to a good start, but constant heavy snow and multiple blizzards put an end to their climbing after they establish Camp IV on the North Col. It seems like this climb should have been the ascent. The team includes an all-star cast, including Shipton, Smythe, and Wyn-Harris, all of whom had been above 27,000 on the North Face in 1933, and a roster nearly full of climbers with recent Himalayan experience. In Darjeeling, Ruttledge even receives a weather forecast that predicted ideal weather and a likely late monsoon. The team brings a more efficient oxygen apparatus than previously (including both open- and closed-circuit units), and a plan for a camp at the foot of the First Step---the placement of the modern day summit assault camp. If only Mother Nature had acquiesced...

The book is a pleasure to read. In addition to Ruttledge's pleasant style, the book contains several features that add to its value. There are many photographs (unfortunately at the end this time rather than shuffled into the mix), including an early action shot of climbers in a blizzard and several taken during the 1935 reconnaissance. (Ruttledge additionally covers the story of the 1935 reconnaissance in this book.) The appendices are a mix of entertainment and technical matters, contrasting a back-and-forth between Humphreys and Smijth-Windham about a stolen bottle of chutney (or was it capers?) to a catalog of all insects collected during the journey. If you actually sort through the lists, you might get a couple gems, such as the inclusion of cocaine in the medical kit or the 28-lb "portable" receiving radio meant for the high camps. This book was considerably more light-hearted than its predecessors. I suppose you have to have a sense of humor about showing up with the most firepower and achieving the least results of any of the expeditions. After Everest showed these climbers who was boss, they attempted to climb to the North Col from the West and to ascend Changste, both of which they also failed to do. What a rout!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Himalayas, by Yoshikazu Shirakawa

Yoshikazu Shirakawa almost gets away with the faux pas of using an "s" to plural Himalaya with his book Himalayas. His enormous photo essay treats the entirety of the world's highest mountain chain as a set of distinct ranges, but he unfortunately sticks an "s" on the end of each of these as well. Otherwise, he might have made an interesting rhetorical case for multiple Himalaya. Picky authors, such as Louis C. Baume (and I suppose, myself), feel the need to point out that is no pluralizing the Abode of Snow---it is a single range, and it is almighty, even if you feel the need to argue about which mountains it describes (Karakorum? Tien Shan?). Shirakawa's work encompasses four parts of the Himalaya: Nepal, Punjab (Kashmir), Sikkim, and the Hindu Kush. He describes in his travel narratives the difficulty of creating a photo book encompassing the entirety of the range when there were so many political restrictions on where he could go and what he could photograph in the late 1960s. His perseverance served him well, however, and he got not only access but encouragement in his photography and travel in Nepal during the 1965-1969 ban on foreign visitation to the outlying areas (including the use of the King's private plane and trekking access to Everest, Annapurna, and Kanchenjunga), air access to the Afghan side of the Hindu Kush, and permission to enter Kashmir. He was thwarted, however, in his attempts to enter Garwhal, northern Pakistan, and Bhutan. His need to work on a tight schedule and a tight budget often place his life in danger, such as trekking to Everest Base Camp without proper acclimatization or flying at dizzying heights with little or no oxygen.

His photographs are a work of contrasts. Whether serrated ridgelines set against ethereal clouds or his posterized Sin City-esque black and whites, Shirakawa's images evoke both the alien harshness and natural beauty of the Himalaya's extreme environment. He possesses the rare gift, like Sella and possibly Rowell, of evoking emotion in a pure mountainscape, such as the lonely motherhood of Ama Dablam or the exuberant heights of Sharphu. The English translation of his work comes in two editions, a massive 1986 edition that includes a testimonial by the King of Nepal and a smaller quarto-sized edition from 1977. The layouts are quite different, and they actually have a few distinct photographs in each.

Everest is represented is several photographs, in Kyuya Fukada's essay, and Edmund Hillary's introduction. Hillary evokes the spirit of Mallory in his reasoning for climbing these high mountains and our respect for them. Fukada gives a short history of climbing the mountain and mentions that Naomi Muira (who ascended the mountain in 1970) presented him a summit stone. The photographs of Everest are taken from the Nepal side, with an image from Kala Pattar, a dramatic image of the Khumbu Icefall taken from Pumori, a photo of the South Wall of Lhotse, and couple from further afield. They are actually not the most evocative images of this essay, but are still some of the most striking photos of Mount Everest nonetheless---a telling indication of Shirakawa's talent. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Surviving the Extremes, by Kenneth Kamler

Kenneth Kamler gives a medical perspective in Surviving the Extremes: A Doctor's Journey to the Limits of Human Endurance. He describes the reaction of the body to extreme environments, including the jungle, the high seas, the desert, underwater, high altitude, and outer space. For the chapters on the jungle, underwater, and high altitude, he draws primarily on personal experience for his survival situations, and for the others he relates the personal experiences of others. I found that the two types of chapters had entirely different characters, with his personal experiences focusing on the wilderness medicine he had the privilege to perform and his patients, while the other chapters were somewhat more hollow, relating merely the physiological reactions of the body to the stresses it faces under such conditions along with some of the things the protagonists did to survive. In the high seas chapter, he talks about Steve Callahan's (see Callahan's Adrift) fishing exploits and his trouble with the solar still during his 76 days in a life raft, but overlooks the weeks of treatment he received in a local hospital after his rescue. I think the strength of this book is Kamler's on-site extreme environment medical practice stories, and I found I was looking for more on-site medicine stories in the secondary source chapters, such as a Jerri Nielsen story (who operated on herself for cancer at the South Pole) or similar. The stories of survival he includes are harrowing, however, and throughout, he provides detailed descriptions of the body's response to the extremes and what the modern adventurer can do to mitigate such risks.

Kamler has spent several seasons on Mount Everest (chronicled in his Doctor on Everest). He writes a bit about the day-to-day workings of a high-altitude hospital in this book, but he focuses on his worst-off patients, including Pasang, who fell 80 feet down a crevasse onto his head; Konga, who contracted pulmonary edema; and the 1996 disaster survivors Makalu Gau and Beck Weathers, both with severe frostbite. He discusses the body's response to high altitude, as well as how the bodies of Sherpas and other high-altitude natives have adjusted to their home environments. I found it fascinating that their muscles have developed to store significantly larger quantities of oxygen and that they don't have lactic acid build up in their system. I'm a bit curious if the muscle storage mechanism is what develops to give lowlanders the long-term acclimatization that lasts over months or years. I appreciated Kamler's admitting that he could think of no medical reason why Beck Weathers should be alive and his focus on the will's contribution to human survival in seemingly insurmountable circumstances.

Monday, September 19, 2011

More Heroes of Modern Adventure, by Bridges & Tiltman

T. C. Bridges and H. Hessell Tiltman released More Heroes of Modern Adventure after the success of their initial volume of adventure stories. This volume avoids the major adventurers (save the Everest crew), and sticks to an odd lot, focusing on Americans, of people who have done exciting things. The Royal Geographical Society would largely turn their nose at much of this crew, as many pursue the ends of the for fame or fortune, or simply as part of a job. The stories are at times a bit jumbled, told in 30s newsprint style, and are sometimes entertaining merely for their inclusion, such as "The Saviour of Death Valley," (a local who ends up rescuing the fools who wander into Death Valley) or "Dodging Death in War-Stricken China" (about a man who sells arms to Nationalist troops and then leads a brigade while drawing a very nice paycheck). A lot of these read as an extended human-interest story, with the element of danger hammed up.

The Everest piece (published in 1930) is a better reflection of the American perception of the climbs than of the climbs themselves. Though they get most of the facts correct, much of the analysis is fraught. According to the book, one of the main problems of high altitude climbing on Everest is not eating enough food (Actually, Norton came to the conclusion that the climbers were severely dehydrated more than anything.), both Mallory and Irvine were "crackpot" cragsmen, running out of oxygen isn't a problem at high altitude because climbers can acclimatize just fine, and so forth. I don't recommend seeking this book out for its Everest material. If you can get into the style and try not to analyze too much in the stories, the book itself can be an entertaining bit of nostalgia. After all, who doesn't want to read about blowing up icebergs or driving the fastest car ever?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

That Untraveled World, by Eric Shipton

Eric Shipton writes his autobiography in That Untraveled World. He chronicles a life fulfilled in the exploration of faraway places, from Kashgar and Kashmir to Patagonia and the Galapagos Islands. He purports that he is no one particularly special and that his life of adventure came from a mixture of one-in-a-million chances and people's overestimation of his abilities. I think he's being quite modest, but I can't fully decide if he's genuine in his belief or merely posturing for posterity. Shipton is known for his asceticism during his travels, but it seems more that he was trying to prove a point on expedition costs rather than "suffering" for its own sake. He seems to enjoy his travels quite a bit, and if drinking the occasional rakshi instead of champagne and searching out local friends rather than servants is self-punishment, then I'd be glad to suffer along with him! He supports the modern developments in climbing technique and equipment, but he mentions that the recent upsurge in competitiveness on the mountain is both dangerous and ultimately unfulfilling for the climber. He gets quite a lot out of climbing, but he finds even more enjoyment out of exploring, and he gets the rare opportunity to range over many unmapped areas in both Central Asia and South America.

Shipton overall has very little to say about Mount Everest in this book. When he first brings it up, he mentions that there are already a number of books written about the expeditions that he joined or led (1933, 1935, 1936, 1938, and 1951). He talks a little bit about each with some macro analysis and an occasional anecdote, though he gives the 1935 and 1951 reconnaissances decent page space. (Of course, they are explorations!) I thought he brought a good point up about the unwieldy amounts of baggage on the early trips, namely that the sheer complexity of the logistics on these expeditions increased their apparent importance. He supports the idea that with a longer span of relatively settled and warm weather, several of the early expeditions likely would have made the summit. He says of Wager and Wyn-Harris in 1933, that if they had the open-circuit oxygen apparatus used by Hillary and Tenzing in 1953, even in the given conditions they would have made the top. For a lengthier telling and analysis of the Everest expeditions by Eric Shipton, read his Men Against Everest. Also, he wrote the official tome for the 1951 reconnaissance: The Everest Reconnaissance Expedition, and Tony Astill wrote a lovely volume about the 1935 reconnaissance of the north side of Mount Everest led by Shipton: Mount Everest: The Reconnaissance 1935.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sivalaya, by Louis C. Baume

Louis C. Baume provides a reference text for the exploration and climbing of the 8000-meter peaks in Sivalaya. For each of the peaks, he writes a general introduction, a list of maps of the area, a chronicle (chronology) of exploration and climbing of the peak, a bibliography, and a drawing of the peak with the route of the first ascent traced upon it. In addition, he writes a general introduction to the Himalayas that focuses on the formation of the mountains, the history of their survey, and the orthography of the place names, including the many names of Mount Everest (55, to be exact). The book is dated now (published in 1979), but it is still a handy reference for the early climbs and explorations of the high peaks.

Baume's Mount Everest material is quite handy. In addition to the orthography of its 55 contested names, there are a number of relatively unique data in the book. In his introduction, he paraphrases Sir Oliver Lodge's Why I Believe in Personal Immortality about his paranormal vision of Mallory and Irvine's death high on Everest. He includes a number of maps in his list, and rates their usefulness. The chronicle includes a number of abortive attempts to set up an expedition, including by Lord Curzon in 1899 and General Bruce in 1908, both through Nepal, and Marta Brevoort's declaration in 1876 of her interest in an attempt. Although his bibliography is by no means exhaustive, he still manages to include some books not found in Salkeld and Boyle's Climbing Mount Everest: The Bibliography. I overall appreciated reading this book. I feel like it clarified my jumbled impression of the history of climbing Makalu, and it was a handy refresher for the early history of exploring the Karakorum. It's easy to navigate for a quick reference, and if you're weird like me, it makes an entertaining through-read. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Wildest Dream, by Peter & Leni Gillman

Peter and Leni Gillman write the authoritative biography of George Herbert Leigh Leigh-Mallory in The Wildest Dream: The Biography of George Mallory. David Pye's George Leigh Mallory was a stirring tribute and labor of love, but it had a limited perspective. David Robertson, as a member of the Mallory clan, released a well-written, but one-sided view of his life in George Mallory. Dudley Green does justice to the spirit of the man in Because It's There, but ignores uncomfortable information. The Gillmans sort through all the sources, including sour information, and illustrate a complex and fascinating individual whose full character is often lost in hero biographies. They relate the full breadth of Mallory's life and legacy, from his family's early history (including the derivation of his full name) to his children's growing up without a father.

The authors focus on the personal Mallory in this book. They tell much of his life through his letters and writings as well as a broad spectrum of the letters and writings of his friends and family. I thought they did a spectacular job of navigating the murky waters of his rumored homosexuality (see Walt Unsworth's Everest: The Mountaineering History for an extreme example), analyzing a number of first-person sources and coming to a logical, and surprising conclusion. By including so many perspectives throughout the book, the authors reveal more of his personality than I've previously encountered, including insecurities that he revealed in his letters to Young and his awkward relationship with Cottie Sanders. Even with his correspondence with Hinks, the permanent secretary to the Royal Geographical Society, the authors focus on the parts that describe his thoughts and feelings, rather than quoting lines that might have more bearing on the climbs. I think perhaps that Dudley Green overall paints a better picture of the professional Mallory, but I believe that a person's personal legacy and humanity is ultimately more important.

The authors of course cover his expeditions to Mount Everest. They do not reveal any startling new information here, largely because the sources have already been so thoroughly sifted through. They do track down the mysterious "Stella" from the letter found in his shirt pocket after his death and provide some insights into his role in the choosing of climbers for the 1924 expedition. The coverage on Everest is thorough and fair, and I enjoyed reading it. The Gillmans put the expeditions in the likely perspective of his life, with prescient analysis of his decisions to participate in each, and a focus on his family during each of the trips. I feel like I understand George Mallory more as a human being now than I did previously, and I hope you will as well!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Everest: The Struggle to Reach the Top of the World, by Geoff Tibballs

Geoff Tibballs writes a young adults' history of climbing Mount Everest in Everest: The Struggle to Reach the Top of the World. As a British author, Tibballs has a very British-centric view of Everest's history, with inclusions such as Rebecca Stephens (first British woman to summit), Alison Hargreaves, Stephen Venables, and Brian Blessed. Overall, it is written well, with only small errors that likely came from his sources or are typos---"Nunda Devi". (He includes a bibliography.) The print is quite small, I imagine to keep the book within page restrictions and include the wealth of photographic illustrations present. A couple of the illustrations are mislabeled, such as the "First Aerial Photographs of Everest" or "Hillary on the Summit of Cho Oyu." I appreciated, however, his search for some pictures that don't normally get used.

Tibball's history is thorough in the beginning, and picks winners towards today. He includes all the official expeditions up to 1953, Maurice Wilson, but not Earl Denman or Klaus Becker-Larsen. He is good a picking pertinent information, though he couldn't help including a relatively long section on the Abominable Snowman. He gives a good amount of space to the 1953 assault and tells the story well. In his later history, I'm not sure the Americans would appreciate having their climb lumped into the section "Chinese Footsteps" along with Wang Fu-Chou and Chu Yin-Hua or Junko Tabei would like to be know for having been "set" on the summit rather than climbing to it like her male counterparts. Tibballs includes Miura's ski descent, Boninton's expeditions, Messner / Habeler, the Kangshung Face expeditions of the 1980s, and a section on "New Ways to Conquer" regarding Everest stunts. Notably, women climbers are left "In the Footsteps of History," the following section. Oops. It's a shame---I'd like to recommend this book for its thoroughness, but it kept getting on my nerves, both for little mistakes or misjudgments and for chauvinism. Its publication year, 1998, also puts it a year ahead of the finding of George Mallory's body, and yet it somehow left out the 1996 disaster that was probably on a lot of its current readers' minds. My search continues for the perfect young readers' Everest history.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

No Magic Helicopter, by Carol Masheter

Carol Masheter becomes the oldest US woman to climb Mount Everest in No Magic Helicopter: An Aging Amazon's Climb of Everest. She turns her passion for endurance sports and occasional climbing into a focus on high-altitude mountaineering in her mid-fifties, climbing several mountains in the Andes before summiting Aconcagua and Cho Oyu. She is 60 before she calls Guy Cotter at Adventure Consultants to sign up for Everest. Her expedition climbs in the pre-monsoon season of 2008 from Nepal, and they face a number of difficulties related to the Chinese Olympic Torch Relay on the other side of the border. Her fellow clients include two mother-daughter pairs seeking records and a handful of men. Notably, Lydia Bradey, the first woman to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen (who was also banned from climbing in Nepal for several years for her efforts), is one of her guides.

This was a hard book for me to read, as it is such a change from the traditional literature of Everest. While there is danger on the mountain, everything that can be controlled or Adventure Consultants runs a sturdy program, and Masheter is provided with every possible advantage in her quest for the top, including a personal minder for all of her climbing on the mountain and oxygen above the Western Cwm. Books such as this one or Vajpai's On Top of the World provide an interesting "state-of-the-expedition" account, in which the authors, due to a certain amount of removal of the clients from the planning and execution of the logistics inherent in the Cadillac operations, are largely left to worry about themselves, their personal gear, and the trivial decisions they are allowed to make. Naturally, they still have control of whether to continue on and usually have some flexibility in their acclimatization schedule (though Masheter's is tightly controlled by the Nepalese Army thanks to the Olympics), but the mystery of the climb is somewhat lost, and the essential camaraderie of working out the route happens only behind the scenes. While Masheter's climb is no doubt the event of a lifetime and a difficult test of endurance and will, I worry that her book and others that detail recent climbs may be the death knell for the Everest Literature. When we have gone from writing about blasting the limits of perceived human capabilities in the 1920s to today's fretting about the amount of cheese on a pizza at a high-altitude lodge, where is this genre heading? Will I one day have a last book to read?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Everest: Southwest Face, by Chris Bonington

Chris Bonington writes about the 1972 British attempt to climb "the hardest route" on Everest in Everest: Southwest Face. His team's attempt followed a number of tries on the route, by the Japanese, an International group, and a European expedition, and he relates their history and analyzes their efforts before getting into the details of his own climb. After a last-moment cancellation by the Italians, Bonington and his teammates whip together a serious effort over a single summer for a post-monsoon climb that would require a bulk of technical equipment and a host of well-tested high altitude climbers. Despite a number of scuffles, the climbers get along well enough to climb together (anger management seems to be one of the biggest hazards on Southwest Face climbs), and they put in a good amount of work on the rare days of non-atrocious weather. Ultimately, storms and high winds deal the trump card, but avalanches and rock fall deal them several blows as well. Additionally, Tony Tighe disappears in the Khumbu Icefall on the last day of clearing the mountain.

This book is handy for several purposes. It gives a glimpse into the climbing careers of Bonington's Boys, including Dougal Haston, Hamish MacInnes, Mick Burke, Doug Scott, and Nick Estcourt (see Clint Willis' The Boys of Everest). It also is an interesting look at Bonington's initial logistics for the Southwest Face and his conclusions about the climb that would lead him to make several changes for the successful 1975 climb (in Everest: The Hard Way). I feel that I've missed out a bit in reading these two books out of order, but I remember enough to realize that many of his proposed changes worked out in 1975. The book has a number of Appendices written by each of the people put in charge of important aspects of the preparation for the climb, such as food, gear, and filming. Modern me was a bit taken aback by Jimmy Roberts' swipe at the upcoming Japanese Ladies' Expedition in his section on Sherpa support. Bonington's writing in the narrative is analytical, if a little self-centered, but generally entertaining. There are a number of typos in the book, but the quality of the prose makes up for them. There are photographic illustrations, both color and black and white, throughout the book, from many photographers. I appreciated especially some of the more dramatic stills by Doug Scott.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Mountains of the Middle Kingdom, by Galen Rowell

I finally get some Everest writing out of Galen Rowell in his Mountains of the Middle Kingdom. He writes the first comprehensive mountaineering in Tibet book since China allowed foreign climbers back into the country. He happened to be in the position to write it as he had probably been the first person to travel to mountains across the range of the country since pre-war days. He covers both specific mountains and mountain ranges, including Mustagh Ata, the Tian Shan, Inner Tibet, Chomolungma, Minya Konka, and Anye Machin. Naturally, the book is both a history and a showcase for his photo portfolio, as he is one of the most famous mountaineering photographers in history. The sections are subdivided, first giving the early history of climbing in the areas and then a section on his own experiences in the 1980s in the same area. Additionally, at the end of the book he includes a chronology of mountain climbing and exploration of the areas covered. I find his writing in this book mature and fair-minded, as he covers many perspectives for often controversial topics.

Regarding Mount Everest, Rowell gives a brief, fairly accurate summary of the history of climbing the mountain from the north up to 1975. Notably, he favors the Chinese climbing Everest in 1960, stating the opinion relatively early in the Western turn-around in opinion. His own story is of his trekking to the mountain along with Harold Knutson. He asks his liaison officer, Wang Fu-chou (secretary general of the CMA), how high they are allowed to climb, and Wang, doubting either their ambition or ability, states that they may climb as high as they wish as long as they return in three days. In two days, they make it up to the North Col and back down to Camp III, and have an easy stroll home on day three, making theirs the highest climb on the route by Americans since Woodrow Wilson Sayre's illegal attempt in 1962 (in Four Against Everest). He mentions in his writing his and others' contact with Tom Holzel, who was beginning his search for Mallory as well decries the desecration of Rongbuk Monastery by earlier expeditions' garbage. He talks about recent evidence of Mallory, including Wang Hong Bao's discovery of an "English" dead high on the mountain and about paraphernalia from the 1924 attempt possibly above the Second Step. In the first Everest chapter, his photos focus on the locations associated with the early treks to Everest. The second focuses on Chomolungma as well as the ruins of Rongbuk, and includes a couple photos from their return travels, including Tingri and Gyantse. Other Rowell books I've covered include High and Wild and Mountain Light

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Happy Birthday, Everest Book Report!

Everest Book Report is one year old today! It's been a busy year: I've read and reviewed 207 books on climbing Mount Everest, and I'm well on my way to making my literary ascent of the gargantuan pile of published Everest literature. The blog has come a long way as well: in September 2010 I had 4 page views (Thanks, Mom!), and last month I was up to 1,329. Over the past year, Everest Book Report has had viewers from 82 countries as well, including Mauritius, Tunisia, and Mongolia. In my searching, I've found an additional 226 books that fit my criteria for reading, and I imagine there are at least as many that I have not yet found. Current project completion date (to keep it conservative): September 2014.

This blog has changed in several ways since I began it. I envisioned it originally as a daily reading journal, but I found that I spent almost as much time writing as reading. In reaction, I started occasional updates with a laundry list of books I had read, and found that the blog had little use for others. My current format, of one book per post, written as a review seems to be resonating more with readers, and I look forward to developing the blog to further benefit fellow readers. Please let me know what you'd like to see! In the future, I hope to make this blog a comprehensive resource on the Everest literature, and I'll also see what I can do to keep up with the current publications without blowing my relatively small book budget. Happy reading!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Everest from Sea to Summit, by Tim Macartney-Snape

I began my blog 364 days ago with a solo journey in Reinhold Messner's The Crystal Horizon, and I've decided to finish up the year with another solo trip, Tim Macartney-Snape's Everest from Sea to Summit. Macartney-Snape becomes the first person to climb the entire height of Mount Everest under his own power in 1990, trekking from the Bay of Bengal to Everest Base Camp in Nepal and climbing the mountain while carrying his own gear. Macartney-Snape's book is both a labor of love and a manifesto. He uses the climb to reflect upon his view of man's relationship to nature and to fellow man and creates an allegory of his attainment of the highest point on Earth to show the potential of society to progress towards maturity. He discusses, with some wisdom, about things such as ecological preservation, population growth, spiritual renewal in nature, and the motivations for mountaineering. These discourses are sprinkled throughout his journey, as though they were the subjects of his thoughts during his daily travel.

Macartney-Snape's climb on Everest is quite amazing. He initially decides on a solo trip up the West Ridge, with a contingency of the Southeast Ridge for bad snow conditions. He negotiates with a Swiss team to help them string a route up the Lho La in exchange for mutual use, and ascends it early on. He later climbs up to the Western Cwm to set up a fall-back camp in case he descends a different way than his ascent or ends up climbing the Southeast Ridge. He then sets out again quite heavily laden to ascend the Lho La and the Western Shoulder over three days to drop equipment at an assault camp at the top of the shoulder, and then as long as it's a beautiful day the next morning, he downclimbs into the Western Cwm to mix things up. His eventual summit climb via the Southeast Ridge is perhaps less exciting, but his commentary on the route is quite interesting, and his level of fitness impressive. I can think of no one who manages to cover so much ground on Everest in a single climb.

The book and Macartney-Snape's quest make for an interesting discussion on solo feats. While Reinhold Messner had the entire North Face of Everest to himself, Macartney-Snape faced a crowd in Nepal, and shared responsibility for stringing the Lho La and ended up climbing the Khumbu Icefall using a route that had been safeguarded by others. Goran Kropp, in Ultimate High, faced down a larger crowd in 1996, but found his own way through the Icefall, though he began using the established route after his initial solo foray. Macartney-Snape trekked from the sea with an entourage of drivers, film crew, wife, Sherpas, and liaison officers, though he was the only one to walk the entire distance to Everest. Goran Kropp biked from Copenhagen, carrying and towing all his own gear, and only had intermittent contact with his girlfriend and film crew until the trek from Kathmandu. Messner road in a truck to Everest Base Camp in Tibet, as Chinese protocol demanded at the time. Whereas Messner, being the only climber around, had no need to think about the "purity" of his solo experience, both Macartney-Snape and Kropp would have to consider what sort of support they would allow to suit their personal goals. Though its clear that Macartney-Snape wanted his effort to be solitary, he recognized that the goal he stated to both the public and his sponsors was to be the first to climb every meter of Everest's height, and that every bit of self-sufficiency he could eke out was primarily for his own conscience and ego.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The author's thoughtfulness and physical stamina inspired me. Whereas some people go to Everest to escape their daily lives and bring home a trophy, Macartney-Snape seems to be more at home the closer he gets to the mountain. If you like this book, you should also check out Macartney-Snape's 1984 climb of the North Face of Everest in Lincoln Hall's White Limbo.