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.

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