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

1 comment:

  1. While I'm neither a climber or photographer, this book is well written, easy to read, and very hard to put down once you have opened it.

    The mountain ranges visited here are presented with photos, history, and a first hand account of the authors travels.

    I will never visit any of these locations, other than through the photos of this book. Buy it before it goes out of print.