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.

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