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!).

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