Monday, October 10, 2011

Feeding the Rat, by Alfred Alvarez

Alfred Alvarez writes a profile of Mo Anthoine, a leading British climber and gear manufacturer, in Feeding the Rat. Anthoine turns up in a number of other British Everest books, such as Brummie Stokes' Soldiers and Sherpas or Doug Scott's Himalayan Climber, and he comes off as a hard-climbing steadfast companion who stays on the proper side of caution. Alvarez writes a tribute to a close friend and rope mate, who loved climbing and difficult expeditions with friends, but avoided the limelight. Anthoine and Joe Brown began making climbing helmets in the 1960s, and their business grew through the 1980s to include a wide range of hardy, but simple climbing equipment. (It didn't hurt that their products became popular with the British military.) They used their work to fund their climbing, and they were able to tackle a number of difficult objectives without the great sponsorship burdens of the professional mountaineers. As the subtitle of the book "Profile of a Climber" states, this is not an extensive biography, but rather a splendid introduction to a workhorse of British climbing (notably, his 1976 ascent of the Trango "Nameless" Tower warrants no coverage in this work). He is possibly most famous among armchair mountaineers for, along with Clive Rowland, saving the butts of Doug Scott and Chris Bonington during their harrowing descent of the Ogre.

Anthoine participated in both of Brummie Stokes' Northeast Ridge attempts, in 1986 and 1988. Only the first trip is covered in Feeding the Rat, as the book was published in 1988. Anthoine found the sixteen-climber expedition impersonal, but he was entranced by climbing on a new route on the tallest of mountains. In the book, he comments on his motivations, the scale of the mountain, his counting scheme during the drudge work, and the logistics of getting climbers up a difficult proposition such as the Pinnacles. Though the teams did not make the summit on either attempt, Harry Taylor and Russel Brice managed to surmount the Pinnacles in the 1988 climb, returning via the North Col. Notably, Anthoine's 1988 expedition to Everest would be his last, dying of a brain tumor in the summer of 1989.

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