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.

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