Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Everest Calling, by Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins tells the story of the first Irish Mount Everest expedition in Everest Calling: Ascent of the Dark Side. The team climbs the mountain from Tibet via the North Ridge during the 1993 pre-monsoon season (the year before Nepal hiked their permit prices to $50,000, making the Tibetan side suddenly popular) during the last uncluttered season north of Everest until the Olympic torch relay cleared it out for a politically-sensitive ascent in 2008.  In contrast to the relatively good weather on the south side, the Irish team faces a number of storms until late in the season. While Korean, Chinese, and Taiwanese climbers make fatal and near-fatal ascents in the brunt of the storms, the Irish wait it out for safer weather, making a down-to-the-wire summit attempt as their gear is being cleared from Advanced Base Camp. The organizers and leaders of the expedition, Dawson Stelfox and Frank Nugent, make sure to include climbers from both sides of Ireland, and they make a good impression on the divided public, achieving a conciliatory political statement that the hopelessly divided South African team of 1996 failed to pull off.

The Irish ascent is an unlikely adventure, with earlier teams repelled by both Changtse and Manaslu and a relatively small number of climbers with high-altitude experience to choose from. The team works well together, even on a limited budget, and they support each other even in their setbacks. The book is well-constructed, with a flowing and casual style that seemed to me distinctly Irish. Siggins isn't a great mountaineering writer, but she does well with this particular story, especially for a general audience. The photography in the book is quite moody and beautiful, a fitting backdrop to much of the prose. I enjoyed this book, and I hope you will too.

PS - Siggins reminds us that both Col. Howard-Bury, leader of the 1921 reconnaissance of Everest, and Sir Edmund Hillary have Irish heritage.

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