Thursday, December 13, 2012

Vertical Margins, by Reuben Ellis

Reuben Ellis explores the often troublesome connections between climbers and empire in Vertical Margins: Mountaineering and the Landscapes of Neoimperialism. Ellis uses the accounts of three modern-era expeditions by Halford Mackinder, Annie Smith Peck, and John Baptist Noel to probe the cultural baggage requisite for a mountain climb in a distant land. The author provides a focused analysis on the history of mountain writing in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, how it got tied into the genre of the exploration narrative, and how climbing a mountain gained nearly as much imperial significance as the more innately political exploration journey. Also important is the role representations of adventure, such as mountaineering books, played in shaping the culture they supposedly try to escape. This is intelligent writing, with plenty of room for grey areas and possibilities within Ellis' arguments, even while he presses the reader to follow him deeper into his line of thinking (a welcome contrast to Bayers' dogmatic Imperial Ascent). In the chapter on Mackinder, Ellis analyses Mackinder's only-recently published account of his ascent of Mount Kenya, the journey's connections to his academic career in geography as well as the overall history of the Royal Geographical Society. (He often references Cameron's To the Farthest Ends of the Earth.) For Peck, he hashes out her The Search for the Apex of America, about her attempts on Illampu and her ascent of Huascaran, discusses her writing about the economic development of South America (including in Apex), and the importance of her politics (including women's suffrage and support for Roosevelt) to her mission.

Regarding Everest, Ellis discusses the British imperial connections to the early Everest expeditions through John Noel's Through Tibet to Everest, as well as the research into the backroom politics of the expedition organizers done by Unsworth and Salkeld in Everest: The Mountaineering History. Ellis focuses on the filming of the 1922 and 1924 expeditions by Noel, and how the films played a pivotal role in both the promotion of the climbs and the ruining of the prospect of future climbs. He places the films in the context of the history of mountaineering photography, British filmmaking, and the sub-genre of adventure documentaries, noting the poor timing of the later film at the tail-end of the crash of British film in 1924. In addition, he shows the filming of the climbs as another form of geographical control---just as surveying and mapmaking define a location in terms of a particular culture. I found his analysis compelling, especially when placed against pretty good contextual research. I think you're going to like this one!

Friday, December 7, 2012

To the Top from Nowhere, by Vilane & Jennings

Sibusiso Vilane, with the help of Gail Jennings, tells of his becoming the first black African to climb Mount Everest in To the Top from Nowhere. Vilane grew up in South Africa and Swaziland, and progressed from herding goats and cows to attending school (and doing quite well) to eventually becoming a game ranger. He met John Doble when he volunteered to walk in the game reserve with him on his day off (and continued to do so), and his life has led a new course ever since. Doble was convinced that Vilane would make a good mountaineer and could even climb Everest, and he encouraged him, pulled strings for him, and sponsored him on his climbs, first to Kilimanjaro in 1999, then a Himalayan training regime in 2002, and then Everest in 2003. Vilane faced a sharp learning curve, with Kilimanjaro as his first experience at altitude, three trekking peaks as his next experience, and then Everest. He does well with the altitude, though the cold affects him greatly. Differences in culture play an important role in his narrative, as he is not used to sharing a tent, eating most of the foods available to him, using a computer, or being the object of a great deal of attention due to his skin color. Additionally, money is consistently a concern for him, especially during his first Everest trip, as he has very little to spend, and is fortunate in the kindness of others for things such as calling home.

Vilane actually makes two trips to Everest, first from Nepal via the Southeast Ridge in the spring of 2003, and again from Tibet via the North Ridge in the spring of 2005. Both times, he uses Jagged Globe for his climb, first as a member of a guided expedition, and then as an outfitter for his trip from the north. He climbs to the top in 2003 under the leadership of Robert Mads Anderson. (See his Summits: Climbing the Seven Summits Solo for his several earlier attempts on Everest.) For his return trip, he invites Sir Ranulph Fiennes (I really enjoyed his To the Ends of the Earth, about his transpolar circumnavigation of the earth.) to climb with him to raise money for three African charities. A few other South Africans join them. Vilane, three teammates and two Sherpa make the summit in an initial attempt, but Vilane faces a harrowing descent. Fiennes turns around at 8400 meters in a second party due to a feared heart attack. Since the publication of his book, Vilane has moved on to complete the Seven Summits, as well as trek to both the North Pole and the South Pole.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mountain Madness, by Robert Birkby

Robert Birkby writes about the man behind the image in Mountain Madness: Scott Fischer, Mount Everest & A Life Lived on High. Birkby, both a friend and client of Scott Fischer, gives a balanced view, detailing his life and climbs, including his childhood, his family, his major climbs, and several commercial trips, including a few that included the author. He shows Fischer to be an exuberant, driven climber fostered in the NOLS program who had a special attraction to Mount Everest. Though ambitious, Fischer's love of climbing always outweighed his organizational and business sense, and he didn't have a lot of respect for authority, including his own. While Fischer could be a great cheerleader and figurehead, Birkby shows that he depended on others to do much of the grunt work in his business as a mountain guide service provider. Birkby pieces his life together with interviews with family, friends, and fellow climbers, with special attention given to Wes Krause, Wally Berg, and Ed Viesturs for some of his bigger climbs. In Fischer's Himalayan career, Birkby uses Rob Hall as a contrast, both in Hall's successes and operations.

Fischer had a long, frustrating relationship with Everest. He organized and nominally led his first attempt, post-monsoon in 1987 via the Australian North Face route. He thought his fellow climbers, none of whom had Everest experience, would be self-motivated to help with load carrying to the various camps, and that all the equipment would sort itself out between the climbers. Despite this, had the weather been obliging, he and several other climbers (including Stacy Allison, see her Many Mountains to Climb) were poised to make a viable, though not strong, attempt on the summit at the end of the season. He returns, this time via Nepal, in the pre-monsoon season of 1989 for On Top Everest medical research expedition, under McConnell and Reynolds, that has the summit as a secondary objective. He and Wally Berg were taken on as ringers to push the route and make the important climbing decisions. Though Fischer makes three attempts at the summit, ultimately a less experienced climber and two Sherpa make the summit after he had exhausted himself, though tragedy strikes on their descent. He returned in 1990 with Glen Porzak's Everest-Lhotse team to become one of the first two Americans to climb Lhotse, but the team was packing their bags before he could get ready for Everest. Finally, in 1994, with a NOLS crew under Steven Goryl billed as the Sagarmatha Environmental Expedition, Fischer made the top without supplemental oxygen along with Rob Hess. His 1996 expedition, of course, is legend. Birkby supplements the usual tale with interviews with his surviving guides Neal Beidleman and Brent Bishop (who led the trekkers), as well as a couple quotes from his clients.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Above All Else, by Clarke & Hobson

Jamie Clarke and Alan Hobson write their first Everest book, documenting their first two expeditions to the mountain in Above All Else: The Everest Dream (also know as The Power of Passion: Achieve Your Own Everests). They write about their experiences providing the satellite communications system for Peter Austen's charity Everest climb post-monsoon in 1991 (as chronicled in Everest Canada: The Climb for Hope) as well as their organizing and leading their own pre-monsoon expedition in 1994. They wrap their experiences around the message of achieving your own Everests, admitting that at times your struggles may be even harder than climbing the world's highest mountain. The summit is indeed something to strive for, but success for them comes from the satisfaction after an all-in effort. In addition to their climbs, the authors discuss their friendship and their experiences as motivational speakers.

For their 1991 climb, they participate primarily as support personnel. Hobson desperately wants to get to Everest and calls up Peter Austen, offering to provide live satellite communication from the mountain, even though he has no idea how to do that. He figures that out as he secures the equipment and has it shipped to the mountain; Clarke, meanwhile does a lot of grunt work of calling sponsors, and ties up the loose ends of the logistics, securing himself a place on the expedition through Hobson. Things go smoothly with the equipment, though the expedition faces a number of problems with the weather and an injured climber.

In 1994, they do their best to learn from the difficulties of the 1991 climb. They opt for a smaller team, opt out of climbing oxygen (saving much logistics, weight, and money), and chase after a single large sponsor rather than a range of smaller ones. Their quest to place the first Canadian climbing without supplementary oxygen on the summit is also a charity climb, seeking to raise funds and awareness for the Alberta Lung Association. Health issues cause the expedition to arrive at Base Camp without either Hobson or Clarke,and when they finally arrive, things are a bit messy. They still manage to put in a grand effort, with a number of close calls.

To read about Hobson and Clarke's personal success climbing to the summit of Everest during a subsequent expedition, try Hobson's From Everest to Enlightenment or Clarke's From Everest to Arabia. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Great True Mountain Stories, edited by Edmund V. Corbett

Edmund Corbett pulls together a collection of mountaineering stories from a range of sources in Great True Mountain Stories. The 1957 collection includes a number of classics, such as excerpts from Whymper's account of the ascent and tragedy on the Matterhorn and Albert Smith's account of the first ascent of Mont Blanc, but also has a surprising number of current excerpts, including Herzog's Annapurna, Herrligkoffer's Nanga Parbat, Hillary's High Adventure, Evan's Kanchenjunga: The Untrodden Peak, Houston and Bates' K2: The Savage Mountain, and a newspaper account of a climbing tragedy on Mont Blanc from the year of the collection's publication. Also included are a couple of rarer treasures, such as Abraham's account of the death of Owen Glynne Jones and Egeler's account of a close call with Lionel Terray on Huantsan from The Untrodden Andes. Corbett introduces each work, and does a fairly good job of picking excepts that work on their own.

The book includes three Everest excerpts. Corbett chooses Mallory's account of the third attempt on the mountain from The Assault on Mount Everest 1922, from the return of Finch and Bruce to Base Camp to the after effects of the great avalanche. Next is Noel Odell's fruitless search for Mallory and Irvine from Younghuband's The Epic of Mount Everest, from his first night at Camp V to his signaling Camp IV the tragic news. Last is Edmund Hillary's account, from High Adventure, of his summit climb with Tenzing Norgay, from stepping out of the Camp IX tent to the final "whacks" to the summit. Of related interest are two excerpts from Smythe books (about Kamet and Kanchenjunga) and Charles Evan's account of the 1955 Kanchenjunga climb.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Villain, by Jim Perrin

Jim Perrin cuts the legendary Don Whillans down to size in The Villain: A Portrait of Don Whillans. The mountaineering literature is full of conflated, over-the-top Whillans stories, giving his memory a bit of a mythical edge. Having come to know Whillans through the literature, I was disappointed to find out that, alas, even Whillans is human. Perrin sorts through the many Whillans stories to piece together the most likely true character behind the hard-as-nails, yet witty image. You may not have realized that Whillans was a tropical fish enthusiast, that he had a fairly comfortable upbringing (at least, compared to Joe Brown), or that he had a soft spot for kids. Perrin traces his life from childhood, through his gritstone and Rock and Ice climbs, to his Alpine career, and his climbs in the Himalaya and around the world. He shows that Whillans begrudged the shadow of Joe Brown's career, and that he never quite escaped his contempt for his more successful climbing partner. Again with Bonington, he initially accomplishes great things, only to find himself left behind during Bonington's later successes. Perrins paints a complex picture of a man both ambitious and destructive, who has a great talent for climbing, but consistently has trouble in climbing relationships and ruins his own health by the time he's forty.

Whillans is partly known for his participation in two attempts on the Southwest Face of Everest, the 1971 international expedition and the 1972 European expedition, as well as his non-participation in the two Southwest Face climbs by Bonington's crew. Much of what Perrin includes about these climbs is found in other sources. However, he explains the animosity between Mazeaud and Whillans a little more clearly and includes a story of their encounter on the flight to the approach that sharpens Mazeaud's anger a bit. (He was initially miffed that Whillans "stole" the Central Pillar of the Freney after Mazeaud's epic survival of a lengthy storm on the route.) Also, Perrin includes parts of an interview with John Cleare, who explains Whillans' pivotal role in the attempted rescue of Harsh Bahuguna. The 1972 European expedition only gets a couple pages in this book, with no new information or analysis, as although Whillans participated, the expedition for him was defined more by what he was prevented from doing than what he contributed. Though Perrin cites the usual reasons for Whillans non-inclusion in the Bonington climbs, he does include some additional back-story with Whillans' jousting with Estcourt over statistics from the Annapurna climb.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Everest: Goddess of the Wind, by Ronald Faux

Ronald Faux writes a compressed history of climbing the world's highest mountain in Everest: Goddess of the Wind. Like Ahluwalia, in Faces of Everest, Faux caps off a an era of climbing on Everest with a history published in 1978, though he gets in a mention of Messner and Habeler's historic ascent. It's hard not to compare these two books, as they largely serve the same purpose and cover the same material. Faux's book is considerably more British-centric, whereas Ahluwalia treats all expeditions roughly equally. They both include their own contribution to the history of Everest (Faux participated in the 1976 Joint Services Expedition; see his and Fleming's Soldiers on Everest.), and discuss each visit to the mountain by climbers. Faux also writes a short description of Nepal, its people, flora, and fauna, including a chapter on the yeti. The book includes photographic illustrations throughout, as well as some maps and a great page of newspaper clippings about the 1953 ascent.

Because the book is so short (roughly 100 pages), Faux had to make some difficult decisions about how to tell the story, especially regarding the early history. The 1921 reconnaissance gets only a few paragraphs, and the 1922 climbs comes off more as an encyclopedia entry than a dramatic story. Maurice Wilson, the 1935 reconnaissance, and the 1938 climb share a single paragraph. I realize he had to cut somewhere, but I think I would have ditched the 30 pages on the yeti and Nepal for a more focused narrative on the subject advertised by the cover and the introduction to the book. The Nepal section is nice, regardless, though it feels a bit like a separate book. Many of the subsequent climbs from 1950 through to the publication date have detail in proportion to the number of British climbers on the roster, with the 1953 and 1975 and 1976 climbs getting the most coverage.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Die Trying, by Bo Parfet

Bo Parfet comes of age in Die Trying: One Man's Quest to Conquer the Seven Summits. He overcomes dyslexia to graduate from both high school and college and becomes an investment banker at JP Morgan.  He remembers how he felt climbing Longs Peak in college and books a trip to Kilimanjaro to get away from his 100-hour workweeks. After making the top, he heads to Aconcagua and McKinley on subsequent vacations before devoting himself to climbing the Seven Summits. He decides to climb both lists, in addition to Mount Cook, Mont Blanc (perhaps to cover his bases?), the Matterhorn, Cho Oyu, and an attempt on Ama Dablam. Also included in the narrative is his participation in the Gumball 3000 road race and the La Ruta Maya boat race, as well as his journey to membership in the Explorers Club. His climbs exhibit the gamut of commercial climbing, from full-on guided climbs on Kilimanjaro and McKinley to a logistics-only (including payments for fixed ropes and summit support) ascent of Everest. He uses a range of outfitters, including Mountain Trip, Mountain Madness, International Mountain Guides, and Himalayan Guides, and even (with some difficulty) tries his own logistics for Elbrus. Die Trying, therefore makes a decent preview for the Seven Summits shopper.

He books both of his Everest climbs with Henry Todd's Himalayan Guides, both for some autonomy in his climbing and for a relatively low price. His first attempt, in the pre-monsoon season of 2005, goes poorly for several reasons, including friction between Parfet and Todd, impatient climbing, and deceptive weather. Tragedy strikes on the teams' summit attempt, and an incoming storm adds the coup de grace. His second expedition, in the spring of 2007, goes somewhat smoother. There's less information in the narrative on it, but he returns a more experienced climber (having ascended Cho Oyu the previous fall) and as a sponsored mountaineer. He brings much of his family along for the trek to Base Camp, with his parents making it as far as Lobuche. His team includes Pat Hickey, author of 7 Summits: A Nurse's Quest to Conquer Mountaineering and Life. The weather is much more agreeable for this climb, even providing a sunny and (relatively) warm summit day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Camp Six, by Frank Smythe

Frank Smythe writes about his experiences during the 1933 Everest expedition in Camp Six. 1933 was Smythe's first trip to Everest (of three) and also the expedition in which he climbed the highest. The book is a well-deserved classic of climbing literature, with Smythe describing for a broad audience the business of climbing Everest. He even (horror upon horrors!) describes the joys of late night sub-zero bathroom calls and hints at the foul language climbers used towards the frustrating cookers. Though the official account, Everest 1933, is already an entertaining and rigorous narrative, Smythe's book adds some flavor to the journey and gets away with some commentary that would be inappropriate in an official release. Also, Smythe's use of pet names (Billy, Waggers, etc.) humanize the protagonists a bit more, and his praising of their accomplishments is more forthright here. He explains why he likes to climb with Shipton and also expresses a friendly affection for George Wood-Johnson (who accompanied him to Kanchenjunga).

Smythe is the only Everest climber from the 1930s to give a book-length account of his climb (apart from the "official" books). Greene (Moments of Being) and Boustead (Winds of Morning) would later include details of the 1933 account in their memoirs. Shipton would later write a history of climbing Everest, Men Against Everest, thank includes his personal experiences. I think that Smythe's writing, both before and after his Everest experience, established his reputation as a great man in the history of Everest. His accomplishment in 1933 is staggering (spending three nights at Camp VI and above without oxygen, three forays on the North Ridge, and a difficult solo climb very high on the mountain, all while returning the healthiest man of the assault party), but I think we know of Smythe rather than Wager and Wyn-Harris, who also climbed as high as he did, because of his literary effort. Camp Six is an enjoyable book; I think you'll like it!

To learn more about Smythe's life, read Calvert's biography, Smythe's Mountains.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Live the Dream, by Art Valdez

Art Valdez tells of the first Filipino ascent of Mount Everest in Live the Dream: The Saga of the Philippine Mount Everest Expedition Team. He tried in vain to organize a team in 1985, but had better luck starting in 2003. As the Philippines had few experienced mountaineers, a group of thirty chosen climbers set out to train and aim for inclusion in a small final team. Their trips include alpine climbing courses in India and New Zealand, and climbs on McKinley, Muztagh Ata, and Cho Oyu before the trip to Everest. (Due to their Muztagh Ata climb, the first operation in the Philippines for frostbite was performed.) Fundraising is continually a problem, even up to the approach march to Everest (one climber even harvests potatoes in exchange for better meals), but they manage somehow. Though the team was originally supposed to be both men and women, the women opt for a climb a year later (in which three ladies traverse the mountain North-South).

Their team helps the first three (undisputed) Filipino climbers reach the summit, from the south in May of 2006. The details of their climb, indeed all their climbs, are sparse, as the book is primarily a photo exhibition. Their base camp doctor is popular with other teams, and the summit climbers reach the top on three successive days. The McKinley and Cho Oyu climbs have photos, but are not a part of the narrative. The Muztagh Ata climb is a part of the narrative, but has no photos. The photographs are high quality and journalistic in style, with a bit of salesmanship thrown in. The book overall feels like a modern Another Ascent of the World's Highest Peak - Qomolangma, the official photobook release after the 1975 Chinese ascent, but without the Chairman Mao theme.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Voices from the Summit, edited by McDonald & Amatt

Bernadette McDonald and John Amatt pull together a collection of original essays from some of the greatest living climbers (as of 2000) in celebration of 25 years of the Banff Mountain Film Festival in Voices from the Summit: The World's Great Mountaineers on the Future of Climbing. The contributors (32 in all) have each participated in the Banff Mountain Film Festival, and range from Anderl Heckmair (who in 1938 climbed the North Face of the Eiger) to a teenage Leo Houlding, from world icons like Sir Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner to specialist masters, such as Will Gadd and Lynn Hill. Though Hillary and Messner get the freedom to write about climbing as a whole, the rest focus on a single aspect or specialization of climbing, such as Himalayan climbing, climbing ethics, rock climbing, exploration, or ice climbing. Additionally, there is an extensive history of the Banff Mountain Film Festival, including some bylines on famous participants and films. Though the essays are ostensibly billed as divinations of the future, many of the contributors seem to agree with Royal Robbins, when he paraphrases Shakespeare by writing, "I would rather talk about the past, for what's past is prologue." Some, such as Hillary and Wielicki, summarize their own careers, others (Diemberger, Bonington) relate a recent adventure related to their topic, but there are a few (Messner, Croft) who focus on the task at hand and write mostly about the future of climbing. Most of the writing is well-executed, entertaining, and thoughtful, however, even if the writers could be accused of wandering off topic. I was particularly impressed by Hornbein's essay on heroes (I had similar difficulties with the definition of the word "hero" in my review of Bonington and Salkeld's Heroic Climbs.), Royal Robbins' look at his role models, Fowler's defense of minimal equipment, and Heckmair's grumpy, but nostalgic essay on climbing in the Alps.

Everest is all over this book, especially as the 1996 debacle is fairly fresh in the memory of many of the writers and seems to be a grave testament to one possible future of climbing. Messner says that commercial climbing on Everest is not a problem, but calls it stupid and then complains about it for quite a while. Greg Child compares the popularity of Into Thin Air with the fascination of Formula One racing. Hillary is not a fan of how things are going on Everest. Junko Tabei bemoans the mountains of trash on the world's highest mountain. (She even calculates the amount of urine left on Everest each year!) Breashears drew inspiration from the image of Tenzing standing on the summit and frames his narrative around his IMAX experience. Audrey Salkeld writes about the troubles of being a researcher rather than a dreamer, showing the complexities of the possibilities of the Mallory & Irvine story, and the future of the history of Everest. Viesturs, Wielicki, and remind us of their climbs of Everest, and there are several short references in other works.

In case you're paying attention, the 37th annual Banff Mountain Film Festival (now the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival) is currently happening. Wish I was there!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ghosts of Everest, by Hemmleb, Johnson, & Simonson

Jochen Hemmleb, Larry Johnston an Eric Simonson turn over the story of their quest to solve the mystery of Mallory and Irvine to Bill Nothdurft in Ghosts of Everest: The Search for Mallory & Irvine. The book narrates both the 1924 Everest expedition in which Mallory and Irvine walked into the clouds and the 1999 research expedition that found George Mallory's final resting place. Though Conrad Anker's mountaineering intuition ultimately led to their great discovery (See Anker and Roberts' The Lost Explorer.), Hemmleb's enthusiasm and intellect really seems to have set the ball rolling and gotten the searchers to the general location. Hemmleb and Johnston band together with Graham Hoyland, who was working to get a 75th anniversary search expedition off the ground (See his Last Hours on Everest.) through the BBC and Eric Simonson. According to this book, the BBC was a bit of a pain, but a necessary one, though I'll bet Peter Firstbrook, the director, disagrees. (See his Lost on Everest.) They head to Everest, and the North Face has blessedly little snow during their search. The rest is history.

When I saw Hemmleb's name first on the cover, I initially thought I would be reading something thoroughly academic. The book is a bit more basic, but entertaining, aiming to please a general audience. Hemmleb's talent shows through, however. He identifies cadavers by the color of their socks, and using photographs triangulates the location of the Chinese camps that would serves as a reference points for their search. His analysis of the photographic evidence of the 1960 summit climb is lovely. His working out the possibilities of Mallory and Irvine's oxygen consumption is compelling, and his analysis of Odell's many statements on his vision is thorough. I felt voyeuristic seeing the pictures of Mallory's body clinging to the slope. I do not believe I (and the rest of the world) should be seeing them, but I do find it poetic that history has shown us Mallory's bare buttocks instead of his summit photos!

For a revision of the Mallory story based on the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition's findings, see Breashears and Salkeld's Last Climb. This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier entry, found here.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dark Shadows Falling, by Joe Simpson

Joe Simpson discusses the ethics of climbing Everest and narrates a climb of his on Pumori in Dark Shadows Falling. He was first bothered by Everest climbers after viewing footage from Ronald Naar's 1993 expedition, in which Naar and his teammates discuss what to do after an Indian team leaves a (living) fellow climber stranded on the South Col only 30 meters from them, and they ultimately reason that doing nothing is the best course of action, even though the climber is waving at them. A further incident in 1996, during which a Japanese team climbs past two distressed Indian climbers who survived a storm and an overnight bivouac high on the Northeast Ridge, causes him no end of grief. As a survivor who was left for dead (who by all rights should have died), he stands up for the severely distressed, demanding others help, or at least show compassion for the dying in their final moments. Simpson also discusses the tragedy on the other side of Everest in 1996, contrasting it with these two heartless (but perhaps rational) acts, pointing out that even if Hall made a poor decision helping Hanson to the summit, he at least stayed by his side to the end, while Harris climbed back up to render aid. He also uses the examples of Beck Weathers and Makalu Gau to show that severely frostbit and hypothermic individuals have a chance of being saved.

He makes an attempt on the South Ridge of Pumori post-monsoon in 1996. The recent events are heavily on his mind during his climb, especially as snow conditions make for quite a bit of waiting at Base Camp. The book includes a number of conversations with his teammates about the commercialization of Everest and the ethics of climbing it. He's not sure that commercial operations have a place on Everest, but then again if someone offered a climb in the same style to him on a platter, he's not certain he wouldn't take it. The book provides a unique perspective on the ethics of climbing, especially when it discusses making the ultimate decision of saving someone else or looking after oneself. It's a thoughtful reflection on not just the risks of climbing, but on what those risks might lead to.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Near Death in the Mountains, edited by Cecil Kuhne

Cecil Kuhne brings together a collection of excerpts from some of the most famous mountaineering literature in Near Death in the Mountains: True Stories of Disaster and Survival. His cuts are relatively large, with only thirteen book excerpts for a 500-page collection. You really get a feel for the books this way. Some of his excerpts, especially those from episodic works, such as Peter Potterfield's In the Zone or Bonatti's The Mountains of My Life, worked quite well. Also, Parrado's Miracle in the Andes made a great story, as the climbing section of the book works well on its own. Several of the excerpts, however, were pretty awkward. Davidson's Minus 148 Degrees leaves off before the great storm with the unbelievably low temperature or the summit push. Simpson's Touching the Void stops after he breaks his knee, but before his abandonment and epic descent. Several others end just as things start to look like they might work out, and then the editor explains the end of the book. I found it overall a bit icky.

For Everest, Kuhne chose Hornbein's Everest: The West Ridge. Kuhne includes the final stocking of camps and end-run logistics up through the sunrise after the unintended bivouac. Though I'm not certain where exactly I would otherwise stop the story, I hate leaving climbers on the mountain, especially after a night that might have frozen them to its side. If you're curious about The West Ridge, I would suggest reading the whole thing. It's a short book, and it's a great book. Other books excerpted in this collection include Krakauer's Eiger Dreams, Harrer's The White Spider, Herzog's Annapurna, Roberts' The Mountain of My Fear, Roskelley's Nanda Devi, and Tasker's Savage Arena.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

This My Voyage, by Tom Longstaff

Tom Longstaff sums up a lifetime of adventures in This My Voyage. He writes about his experiences mostly in the mountains as both an explorer and a climber. Though he was one of the earliest serious climbers in the Himalaya, he covers climbs worldwide, including the Alps, Caucasus, Rockies, and the Arctic. He climbs with an attitude similar to myself, constantly turning around to see the view, and much more interested in seeing what's on the other side of the mountain than achieving a summit. This did not stop him from climbing the highest summit yet reached, ascending Trisul in 1907 on a trip to the Himalaya with Bruce and Mumm. I had often heard that he climbed to the summit alone, but he makes it clear that made it to the top with two Swiss guides and a Gurkha in a long rush from a relatively low camp. (You may also read that he held the record for highest summit for a long time, but Mitchell and Rodway recently proved that Kellas climbed a higher mountain in 1911. See Prelude to Everest.) Longstaff is known as an early advocate for light travel in the greater ranges, especially for his explorations around Nanda Devi and in the Karakorum. I was impressed by his early use of crampons for fast and light ascents in the Caucasus and for his relatively modern tolerance for discomfort on a mountain climb, such as bivouacs without sleeping gear in good weather. I was happy that he said that his favorite place to climb is the Rockies, both for the quality of terrain and the company in the lower elevations. I also found to my liking his defense of British mountains, both as mountains rather than hills and ranges with their own form and personality rather than just warm-up peaks for the Alps.

He writes, of course, about climbing Everest, both his own experience and a short synopsis of subsequent climbs. I don't know why, but I hadn't connected Longstaff's Trisul ascent with Bruce and Mumm's Himalayan expedition before, which was a consolation climb for a thwarted attempt at obtaining permission to reconnoiter Everest. He also brings up Bruce's attempt to set up and expedition through Nepal in 1908 and Rawling's attempt to set up an expedition for 1915. I appreciated that he gave Wheeler full credit for the discovery of the East Rongbuk Glacier, rather than Mallory. (He also writes about his climbing with Wheeler and his father in the Canadian Rockies.) His tale of the 1922 climb is somewhat short, mentioning his work lower on the mountain, the frostbite and other health problems of the climbers, and his subsequent evacuation of the worst climbers. I was hoping for some details on Irvine from their 1923 Spitsbergen expedition, but he only mentions him once in passing; Longstaff does provide the details from the sea-going side of the expedition. (Irvine was on the sledging party with Odell.) Also, there's some interesting details on Odell from the story of Odell and Longstaff's sledging journey on Spitsbergen during the 1922 Arctic summer. I was hoping to glean some behind-the-scenes details from the Everest committee or other such, as Longstaff was such a pivotal figure in the creation of so many of the Everest parties, but alas, this is not that sort of book! It's an enjoyable read, nonetheless, from a true lover of mountains.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Epics of Everest, by Leonard Wibberley

Leonard Wibberley hams up the drama of the early Everest expeditions in The Epics of Everest.  I finally figured out the book that everyone keeps talking about, when they say that people shouldn't write about declaring war upon or conquering a mountain. He establishes his army against Everest in Chapter 1 and keeps the metaphor going for a good part of the book. He out-dramatizes even Francis Younghusband (which is hard to do!), though he lacks much of Younghusband's romance and passion. (See Younghusband's The Epic of Everest.) Considering that Wibberley wrote the book while living in Hermosa Beach, California without having visited the Himalaya or even climbing a serious mountain, he does a pretty good job of describing both the landscape and the difficulties of climbing Everest (such as breathing in the rarefied air). It's pretty clear that he got his information on the expeditions from the official account books, as his storyline follows them pretty closely. Correspondingly, his facts on the 1953 expedition are sparse, since he wrote the book in 1953, and had no official book to condense.

Wibberley's a good reader and disciple of the Everest literature up to his time, but he adds superlative to a lot of the facts. He also states opinions that make him sound extraordinarily dated, such as climbing Everest without oxygen is impossible, the West Ridge will never be climbed, the Northeast Ridge will never be climbed, small parties have no chance on Everest, and several others. He gets most of the facts right in the history of Everest, and the book is a fairly good condensed version of the attempts of the 1920s and 1930s. Epics does not recognize Earl Denman's attempt upon the north side in 1947 in its history, but his and Denman's book (Alone to Everest) were published concurrently. There are many more up-to-date histories of climbing Everest, including some that are better-written; I'd recommend Roberto Mantovani's Everest: The History of the Himalayan Giant for a book directed towards similar audiences, though I wouldn't turn away from Wibberley's book if it's what's available.

This is a revision and expansion of an earlier review, which begins here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

More Than a Mountain, by TA Loeffler

TA Loeffler writes about her 2007 pre-monsoon Everest climb in More Than a Mountain: One Woman's Everest. She participates in an International Mountain Guides expedition in Nepal. Her book focuses on her life journey up to the mountain in addition to the climb, including earlier adventures, such as biking from Lhasa to Kathmandu and climbing Mount McKinley. Her preparations include a range of physical activities, from running to hockey (She's from Labrador.) to using a Go2Altitude system. She uses her quest for Everest to inspire young people, speaking to over 10,000 school children in the year running up to her climb, and saying that everyone has Mount Everests in their life. Additionally, she writes about her Buddhist spiritual path and the inspiration she draws from the support of others. She has a thing for Tim Horton's Vanilla Dip donuts.

She decides to commit to climb Everest after an attempt on Elburs under Phil Ershler (See his Together on Top of the World for more on his life.), when he admits that she's ready. She has a terrible time raising money for the climb, and ends up paying for most of it herself, though the assistance she gets from friends and schools means quite a bit to her sentimentally. During her trek to Base Camp and during the climb she writes about her interior struggles in addition to the exterior challenge. She spends quite a bit of her climb sick, both with bronchitis and stomach upset, making for a desperate struggle to keep up with the acclimatization rounds. I'll let you read the end, however.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tales from the Top of the World, by Sandra K. Athans

Sandra K. Athans writes a childrens' book about her brother's experience on Everest in Tales from the Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest with Pete Athans. While I hope that one day there will be a book for grown-ups on Athans' Everest adventures, I'll happily take a kids' book for now. Athans first introduces us to Everest and its history before setting off on hypothetical climb of the mountain. She is specific in her descriptions of a modern-day commercial climb of the Nepalese Southeast Ridge route on Everest (she does mention other routes, however), and she interrupts the storyline at different points to tell of her brother's experiences that happened in the same locations along the way. She focuses on his rescues, such as evacuating a paraglider accident victim at Base Camp or his role in the helping climbers down from the South Col during the 1996 disaster. She also brings up moments during his expeditions in which he made important decisions, such as his turning his expedition around at the South Summit in 1995 or his choosing a safer route over the West Ridge during the 2003 anniversary climb with Brent Bishop. There are also sidelines called "Ask Mr. Everest," in which Pete Athans answers questions such as "How do you go to the bathroom on Mount Everest?" or "Have there been any deaths on your expeditions?". I like that she weaves in important information regarding safety and preparation into the prose, and that the advice for young people interested in Everest is gain a lot of experience first. Overall, It's a pretty good book for an introduction to modern Everest climbing and a fun book for Pete Athans fans. I hope you like it!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sherpas, by James F. Fisher

James F. Fisher sums up his anthropological experience with the Sherpas in Sherpas: Reflections on Change in Himalayan Nepal. Fisher has the unique experience of helping to create the single biggest vehicle for cultural change in a community (the Lukla airstrip) and then becoming an anthropologist and studying what happens. The book begins with a narrative (including journal entries) of his first trip to Khumbu, as an US Peace Corps volunteer and aide to Sir Edmund Hillary during the 1964 expedition / project that constructed the airstrip, as well as three schools. After studying anthropology, he decides to return to Khumbu to see what effect the schools are having upon the culture of the Sherpas, but soon learns that the airstrip (that was originally designed to fly in supplies to build a hospital) has outgrown its original purpose and had the greater effect than the schools. Whereas Khumbu had 50 international visitors in 1964, thousands of tourists were visiting Khumbu annually in the 1970s, when he returned. (Instead of a 9-14 day walk, it is now just a 40-minute plane ride away.) The book includes results of his education studies as well as subsequent studies made during the 1980s, focusing on education and cultural change. Overall, the book is not as rigorous as an Ornter (Life and Death on Mt. Everest) or as intellectual as an Adams (Tigers of the Snow and Other Virtual Sherpas), but Fisher's practical topics and easily-understood language make this book approachable to general audiences, and his intelligent conclusions make it worth a read. I can understand why Ortner seemed pleased to cite him!

Fisher generally brings up Everest regarding a specific Sherpa's work history. There are some other references as well, however. He discusses the high percentages of Khumbu Sherpas in the early climbs of Everest, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. As Khumbu Sherpas have been able to find safer profitable work, their numbers have dropped over time, so that now (1990, in his book) higher percentages of Solu Sherpas are participating on mountaineering expeditions, and other ethnic groups (Tamang, Newar) are beginning to get into the business. (Today (2012) the trend continues, so that an average Everest "Sherpa" staff regularly contains a variety of ethnic groups.) He also brings up the 1988 Nepal-China-Japan Friendship Expedition in the context of measuring the change in Sherpa cultural identity, as the Sherpa climbers wore Nepali formal dress to a reception in Kathmandu, when before, during similar receptions, Sherpa climbers had worn Sherpa formal attire.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Top of the World, by Steve Jenkins

Steve Jenkins writes and illustrates a book for children in The Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest. The text includes a short history of climbing Everest, discusses the natural geography, and prepares the reader for theoretical trip up the Nepalese South Col route. The information is overall pretty good, with only a few minor problems. The history includes mentions of Mallory and Irvine, Tenzing and Hillary, and Reinhold Messner. He discusses the formation of the Himalaya, the weather and flora found at different elevations near the mountain, and how avalanches occur. His climb includes a rundown of specialized gear, events that take place (such as a puja), a description of locations on the mountain (like the South Col), and some other climbing information. The highlight of the book for me is Jenkins' cut paper collage illustrations, which have a surprising realism for the medium. They include beautiful mountainscapes, famous photos rendered in paper, native animals, and a number of other subjects, all done with an artistic range of textures and colors. A great book for kids!

This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier entry, found here.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mud, Sweat, and Tears, by Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls writes about his youth, facing selection for the SAS(R), climbing Everest, meeting his wife, and other important life experiences in Mud, Sweat, and Tears: The Autobiography. It's a great introduction to the beginning of Gryll's life, with plenty of detail about his early pivotal life events. His earlier book, Facing Up, covers a couple years well (from his skydiving accident to the top of Everest); Mud, Sweat, and Tears broadens the narrative, showing how his family history and his young life likely effected his development into a determined, principled, and adventurous man. He discusses his life at Rugby boarding school and at Eton before getting into the details of his intense struggle to enter the SAS (R). His Selection process takes up a large part of the book, especially the mountain trials, detailing his interior and physical struggles without getting too specific about geography. His actual work for the SAS gets little space due to the nature of the work, but we learn a bit more about his skydiving accident than the earlier book, as well as some more specifics about his recovery.

His Everest story isn't quite as inspirational as in Facing Up, but it does seem more personal. He convinces Neil Laughton to let him climb as a part of his small team under the overall organization of Henry Todd in 1998 during the pre-monsoon season. He and a friend arrive a week earlier for extra acclimatization and climb together until Grylls gets sick. In this version, Grylls includes the rest of the Henry Todd climbers when discussing who climbs when, including Graham Ratcliffe (see his A Day to Die For). You may remember from Ratcliffe's book or others (such as David Lim's Mountain to Climb) that on the first big summit attempt, the climbers, including several from Gryll's team, ran out of fixed rope at the South Summit and turned back. Grylls, too sick to climb then, gets a later chance for an attempt after betting against an incoming storm and getting away with it.

I was a bit surprised when I saw how little of the book was left after the Everest climb. Like he says on page 372 (of 400), "this was really just the beginning." His gives his early relationship with his wife some space, as well as his children, his home, and his work with the Scouts. His subsequent adventures and TV work (Man vs Wild) only get a summary. Personally, I was hoping to read about all this stuff and finished the book a bit disappointed. Perhaps Grylls, like the most famous British Everest personality, Chris Bonington, will be releasing subsequent volumes for his autobiography! It's a fun and fast-paced read; just don't let the inside cover teaser trick you into thinking that there's more to the book that his early life.

Friday, October 5, 2012

See It From the Top, by Yury Pritzker

Yury Prtizker tells his Everest story and provides a practical guide for others thinking of climbing the world's highest mountain in See It from the Top: How to Climb Everest without Quitting Your Day Job. His own ascent took place in the pre-monsoon season of 2009 under Dawa Stephen Sherpa's Asian Trekking Eco Everest Expedition. He dreamed it, rationalized it, and then achieved his trip to Everest through a home-grown regimen of preparation. His utilitarian focus on his equipment, his information gathering, and his physical training and the hard logic that causes him to maximize the effectiveness of each gives a rare prolonged look into the rational, rather than the idealistic, choices that help get climbers to the top of Everest. He discusses everything from the types of expeditions available and their costs to the calculation of a climber's oxygen consumption for a summit attempt. (The only thing missing was a rubric for negotiating with employers for prolonged leave!) The book is a guide based on how he climbed Everest, and while it contains a lot of information on other options, the most detailed descriptions come from his personal experience.

Pritzker's experience is both iconic and unique. He grew up in Russia taking holidays in the Caucuses, manufacturing climbing equipment with whatever materials he could scrounge, before immigrating to the United States. He progresses from weekend climbing trips from his home in Chicago (Finally, a Midwesterner writes an Everest book!) to climbs of Mounts Rainier, Hunter, and McKinley. He decides to climb Everest next, without previous Himalayan experience, for financial and emotional reasons, but prepares himself rigorously and thoughtfully for the challenge. He once again makes some of his own equipment, enlarging his ascender handle and coming up with a new system for heating his hands and feet. He relies on speed and technique for safety, climbing efficiently and passing many. He felt comfortable making important decisions for himself and chose Asian Trekking for their supported, but unguided climb. He was scrupulous about his health and followed a strict acclimatization scheme to give himself maximum advantage on his summit attempt. If you want specifics, read the book! As a postscript, he interviews his wife, Svetlana, about her experience at home and about her program of visualization and motivation that she uses to coach others, including her husband.

Speaking of postscripts --- his book is self-published, and some of his typos made for some wonderful mental images, such as "chain strokes," rather than Cheyne Stokes, breathing, that makes me think of a power tool that is having trouble starting, much like the climber in his sleeping bag. Also, his "Yellow Bend" (Yellow Band) brought to mind the great U-shape of Everest massif, and his "wondering around" made me think of the mental state I am often in as I wander. I don't hold any of these unintentional puns against the author, I rather enjoyed coming across them!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Climb, edited by Kerry & Cameron Burns

Kerry L. Burns and Cameron M. Burns pull together a short collection of classic and relatively new ascents in Climb: Tales of Man Versus Boulder, Crag, Wall, and Peak. It is an anthology from a wide range of years, from Petrach's ascent of Mount Ventoux in 1336 to a 2006 work by Paul Ross, and, as the title suggests, covers a wide range of styles of climbing. The editors did assemble pieces that, with one exception, explore the inner workings of the climber, tying together a seemingly unruly set. Their finding older works, such as Leslie Stephen's essay on the Schreckhorn and Isabella Lucy Bird's of Longs Peak, that defied convention (however conservatively) by giving more than just a dispassionate route narrative, impressed me. For the most part, the essays are taken from climbing journals or excepted from books, though Ross' "A Tale of Two Epics" is previously unpublished. It's an overall entertaining set, characterized by passion, humor, and determination rather than death and near-misses.

Mike Thompson writes about his experience with Bonington's 1975 Everest Southwest Face expedition in the final chapter, "Out with the Boys Again." Originally published in Mountain magazine in 1976, the piece gives a lot of the interpersonal details and humor that are missing from Bonington's official account, Everest: The Hard Way. He discusses the separation of the expedition into A and B teams for the trek to the mountain and the development and dissipation of both official and underground authority. (Note that he is an anthropologist.) He discusses the more humorous aspects of his fellow climbers' personalities, provides some anecdotes, and notes the heavy absence of Don Whillans. He narrates in short prose his own role in the climb, and ends the piece after his climb to Camp 6 to support the first summit attempt, before things got dramatic and somewhat messy. It's a bit of a relief to read an account by someone who doesn't take a Bonington climb too seriously! (For a serious contrast, one of Ross' epics details a climb with Bonington, Whillans, and MacInnes on the Bonatti Pillar of the Dru.)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mountaineering in China, compiled by The People's Physical Culture Publishing House

Mountaineering in China, compiled by The People's Physical Culture Publishing House, documents for Western audiences in photographs the early successes of the Chinese in their home ranges up to the first ascent of Shishapangma in 1964. Along with the photographs are photo captions and a short text on each of the expeditions, in English. Like Another Ascent of the World's Highest Peak: Qomolangma (about the 1975 Everest expedition) and A Photographic Record of the Mount Jolmo Lungma Scientific Expedition (1966-1968), this book's photos are approximately thirty percent journalism and seventy percent propaganda. However, this earlier book (before the Cultural Revolution) seems more innocuous in its representations than either of the others, tending towards superficial images such as climbers holding a bust of Chairman Mao or a large group of climbers holding a flag on a summit. The book includes images from expeditions to Minya Konka, Amne Machin, Mount Everest, Kongur, Mustagh Ata, and Shishapagma.

Everest gets two chapters, one covering the expedition, and a second covering the final assault. The photos of Base Camp are awe-inspiring, with enormous barracks tents in addition to an even larger mess tent. The crowds of people in the photos are amazing for the time, wearing relatively equal outfits of a mix of decent (windproofs) and frightening (boots) gear. There are a couple of photos of climbers climbing to the North Col taken with a pretty good telephoto lens. Photos on the North Col show their camp to be on the Col proper. Photos unfortunately stop just shy of the Second Step. The final assault chapter tells the standard story of Liu, Wang, Chu, and Gonpa in longer prose than other chapters, namely because the only photos are of the post-ascent celebrations. I'm curious if they were inspired to continue on to the summit through the night more by true ambition (either personal or for the country) or by a fear of returning without success. There's actually a photo showing an assault team, with a caption that says "We'll not come back until we have conquered Mount Jolmo Lungma!" I found the earlier chapter, about the expedition and build up of camps on the mountain, more interesting, simply because I already know the story of the final assault quite well. Also of interest, the mountain has incredibly little snow for their climb. If ever there was an opportunity to happen across climbers and equipment of the past, they would have had it.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Imperial Ascent, by Peter L. Bayers

Peter Bayers interprets the back story to some of mountaineering's most famous narratives in Imperial Ascent: Mountaineering, Masculinity, and Empire. Using three early books about Denali and four famous works about Mount Everest (Younghusband's The Epic of Mount Everest, Hunt's The Ascent of Everest, Tenzing's Tiger of the Snows, and Krakauer's Into Thin Air), Bayers shows that the modern climbing narrative is an agent of imperialism. This is a book directed towards an academic audience, specifically those with some knowledge of post-colonial theory, and not necessarily Everest. (I had no idea before reading this book that post-colonialism was such a widely-discussed topic.) I read the Everest chapters, as I, embarrassingly, have never read the Mount McKinley books he discusses. He makes a pretty good case against Younghusband, but as the narratives progress in time (Of course, according to Bayers, history isn't exactly progressive these days.), I found myself less fond of his arguments. I feel like I'm at a bit of a disadvantage in discussing the book, as Bayers does not clearly define for people out of the loop some of his important terms, such as "masculinity," and "the sublime;" he, however, defines "imperialism" very specifically, stating that even thinking about other countries or cultures qualifies as imperialism. Here goes---I hope I don't wade in too deep!

Younghusband, of course, can easily be accused of thinking of other countries and cultures. In addition to a number of adventures and travels throughout central Asia and the Himalaya, he led the 1904 invasion of Tibet that sought to secure British interests in the region over those of the Russians. If any Everest writer could be accused of imperialist banter and a heightened sense of masculinity, it would be Younghusband. Epic is a work of both patriotism (read: IMPERIALISM) and romantic ideals that hams up the drama to relate the stories of the first three Everest expeditions, that he oversaw as head of the Everest Committee. I wouldn't say that the book is especially bad in its imperialist bent, but it can certainly be taken as an example of the times, especially in the author's disposition towards Sherpas and his need to work up the national spirit of his audience. Bayers takes the narrative apart and examines the details that prove both its chauvinistic masculinity and its agency for empire. I felt that he moved along from point to point without resolving some his arguments and bringing up some interesting things, such as the concept of the Tibetan archive and Younghusband's spirituality, that were interesting, but seemed to distract from his purpose. Things such as Younghusband's using war allegory in his writing, his insistence upon climbing without supplemental oxygen, his praising the physical prowess of the climbers all point towards a negative hyper-masculinity. Everest's being in a distant land, the expedition's hiring Sherpas to participate in their Western expedition, and the expectation that they live up to Western cultural norms are harbingers of imperialism. While I agree that the book can be interpreted in such a way, I can't go along with Bayers' insisting that Younghusband's and the other authors' narratives must be regarded as he interprets them.

Hunt poses more of a problem with his narrative. Bayers goes so far as to say that Hunt's saying "darkest Africa" asserts imperialist tendencies, rather than describe the dense forests of the Congo, and that the reason he does not discuss the sublime in his narrative is that it is pre-supposed, based on Britain's imperial history. (I suppose it would help if I fully understood what he meant by "sublime"...) In a similar vein, Hunt's joy at their making the summit in time for Elizabeth's coronation is a sign is to the author Everest's figurative subjugation to royal authority. To go even further, Everest's topography, according to Bayers, is a blank space for British heroes to enact their masculine desires. Yikes.

Tenzing's chapter made more sense to me. Bayers picks up on his apologetic, yet slightly subversive tone. The leftovers of imperialism certainly had something to do with the Sherpas treatment at the British embassy in Kathmandu, and Tenzing had a culturally difficult role as intermediary (which he partly shared with Charles Wylie) between the British expedition and the Sherpa high-altitude porters. There's occasional arguments that seem more academic than useful, but Bayers' argument overall comes off as believable here.

Bayer's discussion of Krakauer's book seemed mixed to me. He has to stretch to get Krakauer connected to imperialism, stating that his childhood respect for Willi Unsoeld, who participated in the 1963 American Everest expedition, links him with America's imperial past. Masculinity is a bit easier, as Krakauer freely admits that the American climbing scene he grew up in was pervaded in a hyper level of machismo. Correspondingly, Bayers believes that Krakauer feels feminized by subordinating himself to his guides on his Everest climb. (I somehow doubt Krakauer would put it that way.) Ang Dorje's compromise that allows the icefall work to begin before the puja ceremony shows that western cultural standards are infringing upon Sherpas on Everest.

The parts of the book I read seemed like a game of taxonomy to me. These narratives do not necessarily fit into the boxes Bayers attempts to place them in, as some of his arguments work quite well, while some are a stretch. I appreciate intelligent analysis of climbing and climbing literature, but I found this book more intellectual than intelligent. Tell me otherwise. This is a book that could make for some interesting discussion.

Amusing side note: In the book, quotation marks play an essential role, as a means to distance Bayers from words that might offend, while adding a bit of cynicism. I was impressed in the Hunt chapter, where he uses the effect four sentences in a row, but then in the Tenzing chapter, I found four uses over the course of ten words. "Impressive."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Everest Diary, by John McCallum

John McCallum creates a fine narrative of Lute Jerstad's 1963 climb of Everest as a part of the American expedition in Everest Diary: Based on the Diary of Lute Jerstad, One of the First Five Americans to Conquer Mount Everest. Jerstad is consistently a part of South Col-Southeast Ridge climbing team in this split expedition. Like Tom Hornbein's Everest: The West Ridge, Jerstad's story stays focused on the side of the mountain the protagonist climbs. McCallum, I imagine, makes an excellent sports writer for his era, though he takes a bit of getting used to for modern-day climbing readers. He can at times be very dramatic, almost overly so, and doesn't always get the mountaineering stuff correct. He spins and excellent narrative, however, and Jerstad's diary entries (which play a large part in this book) are insightful, and at times poetic. Jerstad spends an amazing amount of time high on the mountain, and it's a real testament to the human spirit that he spent as much time as he did at altitude, and still managed to climb to the top and back down, including a night out on the upper Southeast Ridge.

This book has a significant advantage over the official account, Ullman's Americans on Everest. Ullman's tidy writing leaves a bit wanting in moments such as Jake Breitenbach's death, the dispute over route priorities, and the frightening ordeal of four climbers' unplanned bivouac near the roof of the world. Jerstad's personal and thoughtful remarks make up for this somewhat, especially when read in tandem with Hornbein's The West Ridge. Jerstad's writing confirms that the Americans were largely unaware of the breadth of the smallpox epidemic happening nearby at lower elevations, that Hillary's Kantega / Taweche expedition had to face head-on, as Hillary remarks in Schoolhouse in the Clouds. (Hillary also mentions that the Sherpas find the Americans strong, since they carry loads as well; while Jerstad here remarks that he can't believe how eager the Sherpas are to do things for him, such as setting up his tent and washing his clothes.) Similarly, Jerstad's narrative reinforces Ullman's perspective on the woman with burns on her face whom the Americans "unnecessarily" helicopter to Kathmandu to save her life. I recommend this book, both for the narrative, but especially for Jerstad's perspectives on life and mountaineering.

This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier post, which is found here

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fearless on Everest, by Julie Summers

Julie Summers delves into the history of her famous relative in Fearless on Everest: The Quest for Sandy Irvine. The author makes a lucky strike after she convinces her extended family to root through their attics in search of missing documents by Irvine, uncovering a trove of letters, photos, and other historical goodies collected by his father. She significantly updates his biography, giving his historical representation emotional depth, greater intelligence, and a comprehensible set of motivations. (For a bare-bones account of his early life and two major expeditions, see Herbert Carr's The Irvine Diaries.) She hashes out many of his activities that are relatively ambiguous in earlier literature, such as what he actually climbed before heading to Everest, his relationship with his best friend's step-mother, why he was likely chosen for the Everest climb, and his brief skiing career. The found archive includes technical drawings of Irvine's redesigned oxygen apparatus (as submitted to Siebe Gorman before the expedition) that looks like a much tidier version of what he eventually created from the junk that the firm sent to India for the climbers' use. Overall, Summers writes the book Irvine has deserved for quite a while, changing him from a stereotype to a stupendous character.

Summers fills out the 1924 Everest expedition story with a collection of letters Irvine wrote to friends and family. His previously-available diary documents mostly basic details about his movements and the Sisyphean repair and redesign of the oxygen apparatus en route. The letters (and some photos) add quite a bit of color and emotion to his tale, and Summers sprinkles quotes from them into the well-known narrative of the climb. Additionally, she includes excerpts from some of the 70 consolation letters kept by his family, including the full text of a letter from Norton. She mentions that Odell remained a life-long friend of the family, especially to Irvine's father, and discusses his change over time of his story of his last sighting of Mallory and Irvine. She puts down Mallory's choosing Irvine to accompany him for the summit climb to a mixture of utility and mentor-ly affection, and she takes comfort that finding Somervell's camera could only conclusively prove their reaching the summit, and nothing will ever definitively disprove it. She believes that Odell might have been using an oxygen set that had been malfunctioning and had parts pirated from it, thereby deriving little benefit from its use. Correspondingly, Irvine's archive includes a letter stating the great benefit he got from using one of his refashioned oxygen apparatuses to ascend the North Col. Over the course of the expedition, she shows Irvine to be both a mechanical wonder and a physical powerhouse, who, even according to Hingston, was fitter than Odell at the time Mallory chose summit parties. She writes a great defense of Irvine, and a great book, to boot!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Quotable Climber, edited by Jonathan Waterman

Get the essence of climbing a few sentences at a time in Jonathan Waterman's The Quotable Climber: Literary, Humorous, Inspirational, and Fearful Moments in Climbing. Waterman collected quotes he liked from the many climbing books he has read into a binder that he brings with him on many of his climbs and expeditions. He has distilled and organized his collection into the present volume, separating them into chapters by subject, with an introduction to each topic. He includes a range of quotes, not necessarily from climbers, that elucidates and extends the meaning of the chapter headings such as "camaraderie,"  "hubris," and "humility." While I found the quotes appropriate and thoughtful, I wish each of the chapters could have had scores more quotes, due to the great breadth of the literature (which he describes so well in his Introduction). His binder makes me wish I had bothered to make a similar collection, as I normally mark a page to share a well-written passage with my wife, rather than saving it for posterity. I love that mountaineering literature has so many contemplative moments and philosophical authors, in addition to the action and excitement of the climbs.

Waterman includes a chapter on "The Greatest Hill on Earth," a.k.a. Everest. The material is a bit adventitious, showing Waterman to be more amused by the Everest phenomenon than engrossed. More so than in other chapters, the editor picks humorous or ironic passages, such as Shipton's regret of not attempting Nanda Devi rather than Everest in 1936 or Junko Tabei's calling Everest "only a mountain." The chapter is entertaining, but I feel that Waterman ignores much of the richness of the literature on Everest that he describes at the beginning of the chapter. Where is Tom Hornbein, or Mallory, Noyce, or the many others who write so eloquently or poetically about the mountain and the experience of climbing it? Admittedly, he does include Mallory and Noyce in other chapters, and Everest-related quotes are scattered throughout the book, but I wish Waterman could have captured a bit of the idealized essence of the Everest climb and its literature in addition to the amusing juxtapositions from its history.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow, by Maria Coffey

In Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow: The Dark Side of Extreme Adventure, Maria Coffey reminds us of the consequences of high-stakes mountaineering. She interviews a long list of climbers and their families (focusing somewhat on the '70s British climbing scene she was an intimate part of) to root out the effects a professional mountaineer's career has on the family. Additionally, she updates the reader on her progress (and Hilary Boardman's) on overcoming the loss of her love high on Everest, that she first wrote about in Fragile Edge: A Personal Portrait of Loss on Everest. The book works its way towards more serious matters, first discussing the effects of a climbing career on family relationships, and working towards the effects that mortification and death have had on families of climbers. She gets professional mountaineers to admit to some pretty surprising things; the most shocking interviews, however, come from the climbers' family members, who almost universally seem adversely affected by their loved one's career, even when the climber comes home in sterling condition.

Coffey interviews a number of well-known Everest personalities, including Tom Hornbein (who writes the introduction), Ed Viesturs, Ed Webster, Stephen Venables, Eric Simonson, and Kurt Diemberger, among others. Her personal story, of course has quite a bit to do with the mountain as well. She discusses Webster's and Venables' Kangshung Face climb (see Webster's Snow in the Kingdom or Venable's Everest: Alone at the Summit) and the effects their frostbite had on their outlook and their careers. She also mentions Carlos Buhler's mother's tracking him down during his attempt on the Kangshung Face. She discusses Viesturs' Annapurna climbs, as they were his current project, and Diemberger talks about his career in general, as he has so many climbs to reflect upon. (I wish I could have read more about Buhl's or Tullis' death from him...) She also spends a number of pages on Conrad Anker's assuming the patriarchal role in Alex Lowe's family after surviving the avalanche that killed Lowe.

Like Fragile Edge, this is a difficult book to read, yet it is engrossing. So little is said about the families of climbers in the traditional literature that they almost seem unimportant. (Dougal Haston's wife, Annie, warrants a single sentence in his autobiography, In High Places, for example.) Coffey proves that the literature has its priorities backwards, as the greatest suspense and the most affecting tragedies happen back home and the greatest effect a climber has is generally on his family rather than his partner(s). The stakes are much higher than life and death, as the people who have to endure the loss of a great climber are almost always nowhere near the mountain. Thanks to Maria Coffey for bringing such an important topic to light!

Coffey is also the author of Explorers of the Infinite: The Secret Spiritual Lives of Extreme Athletes and What the Reveal About Near Death Experiences, Psychic Communication, and Touching the Beyond.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Leading Out, edited by Rachel da Silva

Rachel da Silva pulls together an essay collection regarding women's climbing in Leading Out: Women Climbers Reaching for the Top. The book has an exciting variety of subjects, from climbing narratives, to women's climbing histories, to essays on the issues that most effect women climbers. There are few harrowing tales here, but rather grown-up reflections on the serious matter of climbing, from motivation and mortality to family and rope mates. Da Silva acknowledges the long history of women climbing and the near disappearance of women's climbing literature in the 1960s through the 1980s. The book, released in 1992, documents the struggle of women for equality on the mountain, and the beginning of some women to meet and exceed the climbs of men. Though it includes essays from several countries, the collection has a Pacific Northwest focus, with essays by the editor, Kathy Phibbs, Nancy Kerrebrock, Kristen Laine, and other well-known western climbers.

The book includes two Everest-related essays: the first an autobiography by Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest, and the other about an early cleanup expedition to the north side by Lorraine G. Bonney. Pal's essay is a much-needed supplement to Khullar's self-absorbed The Call of Everest, the expedition leader's narrative of her climb. Though he praises her often, Khullar has little to say about Pal until it is her turn to try for the summit, other than she was expected to do well and that she was relatively inexperienced. Pal discusses her rough upbringing in the central Himalayan lowlands and her singled-minded search for better, and adventurous life. She does exceedingly well in her climbing courses, trains hard, and performs quite well at the Everest selection climbs. She is one of six women on the expedition, and the third sent high for a summit attempt. She climbs direct from the South Col, even though her team has a summit camp set up on the Southeast Ridge, making the climb and return journey in very quick time. Lorraine Bonney describes the trashing of Everest by the "pigs" of its history and her team's effort to remove as much human and artificial waste as they can. She discusses the several methods used by teams to dispose of trash on site and their drawbacks, as well as the imperfect solution of her team's shipping the trash to a landfill in Shegar. The level of waste at the time of their cleanup is disturbing, and I'm grateful that hers and other cleanup expeditions have had a positive impact on the mountain. Also of Everest interest is Nancy Kerrebrock's discussing briefly in her essay the death of her brother, Chris, who was climbing on a remote part of Denali with Jim Wickwire as a shakedown for a later attempt on the Great Couloir on Everest.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Everest, by Rebecca Stephens

Rebecca Stephens, the first British woman to climb Everest, writes a children's book about mountains, with a focus on Everest in Everest: Discover the World's Greatest Mountains from Recordbreaking Heights to Hidden Peaks beneath the Sea. The book comes from the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Book series, so it's a bit cluttered with illustrations and trivia. The information is pretty accurate, and covers a wide range of topics, from plate tectonics to cultural geography, from natural history to climbing gear. The topics move from natural to cultural to climbing, with each two-page spread covering a different topic.

Regarding Everest, the book covers some of its history and a bit about climbing at altitude. Both the 1924 and the 1953 expeditions get their own spread, as does the Seven Summits. Additionally, she mentions Junko Tabei's women's expedition and Messner and Habeler's 1978 climb without supplemental oxygen. I was a bit amused that the "Traverses and Triumphs" sections doesn't actually mention a traverse beyond the title. The mountain rescue, climbing gear, climbing extremes, and technique sections also have a bit to do with climbing Everest and occasionally mention the mountain.

Rebecca Stephens wrote about her experience as the first woman to climb Everest in On Top of the World. She is also the co-author of The Seven Summits of Success. This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier post, in which I was a bit unfair, which can be found here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Everest: The History of the Himalayan Giant, by Roberto Mantovani

Roberto Mantovani writes a general-audiences showcase of climbing the world's highest mountain in Everest: The History of the Himalayan Giant. It's a large-format book with a many photographic illustrations that gives a shorter and more direct history of Everest than Unsworth's 800-page Everest: The Mountaineering History. Mantovani avoids much of the controversial trivia that is synonymous with Everest's story, such as Finch's non-inclusion in 1921 and Mallory's love life, and sticks to the facts that matter. He shows that Everest can be fascinating without the sidelines, and that a history can be definitive without being droll. The illustrations tie-in to the narrative well, pulling from a large variety of sources and showing the mountain and its climbers from a number of perspectives.

He divides the story into chapters that profile individual expeditions, and at times decades of climbing, depending on the relative importance of the climbs covered. I appreciated his writing about some of the lesser-known middle-years climbs, such as the Japanese climbs of 1969 and 1970 (for even more detail, see Ahluwalia's Faces of Everest). Beginning with the 1980s, Mantovani covers only highlights from the many expeditions. He does, however, include a list of all official expeditions up to the time of writing (1997). The narrative covers climbs up to 1993, stating that after that there are too many at any given time to cover efficiently. He also makes an indirect reference to the tragedy of 1996 at the end. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

All 14 Eight-Thousanders, by Reinhold Messner

Reinhold Messner sums up his career of climbing the world's highest mountains in All 14 Eight-Thousanders. As the first person to climb all of the 8000-meter peaks, Messner broke one more barrier in his life of expanding horizons. The book is an amalgamation of his styles, with some discussion of the future, as in The Seventh Grade, some revelation of the inner Messner (The Crystal Horizon), a bit of history (Second Death of George Mallory), criticizing other climbers (The Naked Mountain), complimenting other climbers (The Big Walls), etc. He relates his climbs roughly chronologically by chapters sorted by mountain. Each of the chapters contains an outline of the history of climbing the mountain, a diagram of Messner's route(s) on the peak, photos from his expeditions, a short narrative of his climb(s) on the mountain, and a short contribution to the prose from another climber associated with the mountain. It's a well-constructed book and a great introduction to Messner for the uninitiated, especially as his writing style is more mature than some of his more famous earlier books. He plays down a lot of the controversy from his career, but cites bad publicity continuously as a problem. He treats his climbs roughly equally, giving them all about the same space, which allows the reader to learn more about his less famous climbs, such as his ascents of Broad Peak or Dhaulagiri.

As the prose is relatively short, there isn't much room for new information on Messner's Everest climbs. If you've read The Crystal Horizon and Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate, you won't find any surprises in the narrative. The Everest chapter is perhaps a more sober, but still somewhat idealistic, reflection on his accomplishments. I appreciate that he later lauds Loretan and Troillet for their fast and direct climb up the North Face, though he decries speed as an accomplishment unto itself in climbing. I hadn't known before reading this book that Messner had made a semi-solo attempt on Lhotse from Nepal following his solo Everest climb.

I'm a Messner fan. I like that in his writing he discusses his inner thoughts in detail, hashes out ethics, espouses his personal ideals, and makes any climb, even those in which he turns back, sound like an accomplishment. His style, especially when discussing the interior workings of his brain, is unique. I also appreciate that he is a student of mountaineering history, and seems to appreciate a climb as much for its historical value as its aesthetic. I enjoyed this book. I hope you will too!

Happy Birthday, Everest Book Report

Everest Book Report is two years old now. I'm happy to say that I've brought you approximately 300 books so far with some connection to Mount Everest, and there are still plenty to go! I thought perhaps reading the entire available literature (that I can) on Everest would get old or turn into a Sisyphean task, but I'm still going strong and I believe it's something I can finish. I've tried to keep things interesting by bringing you a variety of books each month, and I'll work to continue that trend. For my blogiversary post, I've read another great book by Reinhold Messner. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Call of Everest, by D. K. Khullar

D. K. Khullar looks back on the 1984 Indian Everest expedition that he led in The Call of Everest: First Ascent by an Indian Woman. The expedition was so troubled, that it took Khullar several years before he could look back on it dispassionately. With a short prep time, a large team, improvised logistics and funding, and a mixed-gender expedition that looks to put several women on the summit, the climb is bound to be interesting. The snarkiness and interpersonal conflict in this book is a far cry from the tidy, yet heroic expedition accounts of the 1960s (Lure of Everest, The Everest Adventure, Nine Atop Everest), but is tame compared to Galen Rowell's In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods. Khullar's candid writing is a significant change from the traditional leader's account, writing harshly of both his own performance and that of several of the climbers. It all seems a bit strange for an expedition in which so many climbers (five) made it to the summit.

The team climbs the mountain during the pre-monsoon season alongside the Bulgarian team attempting the West Ridge Direct (see Doskov & Petkov's How We Climbed Everest or Savov's Everest: The Bulgarian Way). They interact with the Bulgarians, especially as the Bulgarians have superior supplies, trading support on the Bulgarians' descent on the Southeast Ridge for surplus oxygen canisters and radios. It seems like Providence had it out for the Indian team, as two support staff die early in the climb, climbers face two major avalanches with multiple casualties, and high winds prevent one of their summit climbs. Also, five of their team would later face climbing deaths soon after this expedition. The climbing ethics of the time come out in this one, as Phu Dorji is castigated for making a solo push to the summit after his two rope mates turn back. Similarly, Khullar receives quite a bit of criticism for only getting one woman to the summit. I can't say it was for lack of trying! Khullar has nothing but praise for Bachendri Pal, the woman who made it. I think he would have been equally happy had Rita Gombu (Tenzing Norgay's granddaughter) also made it. It's a fantastic story and a bit of an odd book. Well worth a read if you find a copy!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Abode of Snow, by Kenneth Mason

Kenneth Mason writes a pretty thorough book in Abode of Snow: A History of Himalayan Exploration and Mountaineering. He published the book in 1955, a bit of a frustrating time to stop, as much of the early exploration was beginning to culminate in climbs of the big Himalayan peaks. However, his early publication could as easily be a blessing in disguise, as a lack of big news on the climbing front allowed him to focus on the many smaller expeditions that are left out or marginalized in later Himalayan histories, such as Osmastson's Bandar Punch climbs, Hunt's winter climbing in Sikkim, or Ruttledge's later surveys. The book is a great summary of Himalayan early history (including just about everything from the Jesuits to WWII), and a handy starting resource for the researcher. Mason clearly knows his material, and he not only summarizes but analyzes the many expeditions in the book, cutting the Workmans down to size, giving mixed reviews to the Schlagintweit brothers, and writing a diatribe against Fritz Wiessner. As the author is a surveyor, he is sure to point out the crucial role they play in the early exploration and later climbing of Himalayan mountains. (He also stumps on the ineffectiveness of aneroid altimeters on Himalayan peaks.) 

Regarding Everest, Mason writes the most interesting information on its prehistory. Though he gives plenty of room to the climbing expeditions (the licit ones, at least), the information is largely from official sources, mainly the expedition books, including Hunt's The Ascent of Everest. He credits Bruce over Kellas for the use of Sherpas on the Everest climbs, both because of his Gurkha affiliation and his role in advising and organizing the expeditions. The author provides tantalizing information about the aborted 1906 Everest expedition. I had no idea that the members, including Bruce, Conway, and Mumm, had actually been confident enough in their travel, that they had collected stores and headed for India before receiving notice that their plans were for naught. (Mumm had even looked into bringing oxygen.) As a consolation, an Indian national surveyor, Natha Singh, was allowed into Nepal to map the some territory along the Dudh Kosi near Everest, and the trio of climbers headed off to explore lower mountains in Garwhal and Kashmir. 

For a more up-to-date and (perhaps) scholarly history of Himalayan climbing, consult Isserman and Weaver's Fallen Giants.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tenzing: Hero of Everest, by Ed Douglas

Ed Douglas writes a much-needed modern biography of Tenzing Norgay in Tenzing: Hero of Everest. Unlike his ropemate for his climb to the top of the world, Ed Hillary, Tenzing suffers from a shortage of books about his life, save his autobiographies. His first, Tiger of the Snows, co-authored with James Ullman, is a fairly good take on his early life, though it leaves much of his personal details in shadow. His second, After Everest, written with Malcolm Barnes, discusses his work at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and his many travels, but is a less-than-rigorous look into his personal and family life. We get a sense of the older Tenzing in his son, Jamling Tenzing Norgay's book, Touching My Father's Soul, but with all of these, we still only have a somewhat superficial picture of one of mountaineering's greatest heroes.

Douglas does some rigorous research to look into the truth behind the image of Tenzing. He tracks down Tenzing's true birthplace, discusses his early family life and his parents, and analyzes his role among a community within Darjeeling. The author goes through many of the well-known stories and ferrets out details that others have overlooked, such as Tenzing's visiting and doing favors for his family in Tibet during his travel with Earl Denman, his mother's accompanying him to Lhasa along with Professor Tucci, and implications of his taking Daku as a second wife. He sets Tenzing against other well-known people in his life, such as Ang Tharkay and Edmund Hillary, to measure his character and discusses his motives during important moments, such as before his Everest ascent and his trip to Nanga Parbat.

I appreciated Douglas' research into the lives of the many other climbing Sherpas. He adds some humanity to the representation of some of the most famous, including Sen Tensing, Dawa Thondup, Ang Tsering, and Ang Tharkay. Also, he shows the complex nature of the Sherpa identity, with a range of outsiders self-identifying as Sherpas (including Tenzing), and the changing social identity of the Darjeeling Sherpa community. (For an introduction to the early Sherpa climbers, read Tashi Tenzing's Tenzing Norgay and the Sherpas of Everest.)

This is a great book besides a great biography. Tenzing's story is dramatic and complex, with both glory and a facade of financial success. Douglas works in the details that make an interesting story a engrossing read. Highly recommend!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sacred Mountain: Everest, by Christine Taylor-Butler

Christine Taylor-Butler writes a refreshingly culturally-sensitive young readers' book on Sherpa culture and climbing Mount Everest in Sacred Mountain: Everest. She states that Everest is a sacred mountain to people who live both to the north and south of it. She separates out traditional Sherpa life from its somewhat odd reality, discussing Sherpa agriculture, religion, customs, and family life before getting to western influences. She discusses Everest as a sacred summit, even bringing up Miyolangsangma and the Five Sisters, but it seemed strange to me to place its religious significance before the practical. Though she mentions Solu briefly, the cultural information in the book is primary about the Sherpas of Khumbu. Additionally, there is some natural history in the book, including the geologic formation of the Himalaya, the wildlife of Everest's outlying areas, and a plug for conservation. Throughout, there are photographic illustrations that make for a beautifully set book.

Taylor-Butler's climbing material is somewhat off, but it luckily (and rightly!) plays only a part in her book on Mount Everest. The climbing facts are a bit wacky at times, such as calling the Sherpas on the 1953 expedition "guides" or that people generally climb the "South Face" of Everest. Other things, such as her stating the 1921 reconnaissance traveled to Tibet before returning to Darjeeling to pick up the expedition's Sherpas are closer to being wrong. (Howard-Bury did travel to Gyantse, in Tibet, in 1920 while seeking permission, but that was before the expedition was even organized.) On the other hand, it was great of her to cover the recent Sherpa and Sherpani expeditions to the top of Everest! Though she gives the expeditions only a couple pages, it's the most thorough book resource I've found on these climbs so far. A well-researched book from an outsider looking in.

This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier entry, which can be found here

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Just for the Love of It, by Cathy O'Dowd

Cathy O'Dowd, the first woman to climb Everest from both Nepal and Tibet, writes about her climbing life in Just for the Love of It. Her first ascent, via the Southeast Ridge from Nepal during the pre-monsoon season of 1996 as a part of the South African team under Ian Woodall, is affected both by the tragic events of the May 10 storm that caught members of three expeditions high on the mountain as well as the dissolution of her own team due to conflicts during the trek to the mountain. I appreciated that she gives her point of view of the conflict, as her earlier book, Everest: Free to Decide (co-authored by Woodall), ignores it, and there was only Ken Vernon's acerbic Ascent and Dissent to go by. I think she does an OK job defending her side of things, but both sides' testimony is so far from each other and so vitriolic that it's hard to tell who's telling the truth. Her climb gives her and her audience something else to focus on, and she pushes herself higher and higher, only to find herself on the South Col caught up in the events of the tragedy. They return to climb to the summit, the last team to make an attempt that season, though her teammate Bruce Herrod does not return from the top.

O'Dowd and Woodall, who become romantically involved after the climb, look for other climbing opportunities and end up booking a North Ridge climb of Everest in 1998. Just as O'Dowd was vetted for her first climb in a trip to Kilimanjaro, they try out new recruits in an expedition to Aconcagua and pick two. Once again, there is conflict on the Everest climb, perhaps with less vitriol, though expedition members still leave after some acclimatization forays. Short of the First Step on the Northeast Ridge, she comes across a woman she knows who has spent two nights in the open, slowly dying, and has a very difficult decision to make. The woman is beyond help, though she is coherent enough to plead for her life. After trying to get her back on her feet, the South African expedition (with the exception of two Sherpas) forfeits their climb. O'Dowd and Woodall return the following year, laser-focused on the summit, and achieve their dream.

It was interesting to see O'Dowd grow as an expedition climber, from a rookie in 1996, to an experienced member in 1998, to an expedition organizer in 1999. She does a good job of highlighting both her technical and her emotional development through the climbs. It was nice to finally have one of the 1996 South African team seem human! I found her flashbacks to her earliest attempts at climbing while high on Everest quite effective at revealing the woman behind the oxygen mask. Even in this book, Woodall seems a bit of a mystery to me. Though O'Dowd admits to some of his rage, he seems more aloof than anything else in this work. There's hope yet---Woodall has recently released a book on his return to Everest, The Tao of Everest. I'll have to see if I can track it down.