Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Chomolungma Sings the Blues, by Ed Douglas

Ed Douglas picked an auspicious time to write Chomolungma Sings the Blues. He documents his travels around Mount Everest, visiting the northwest side in the spring of 1995 and the Khumbu in the spring of 1996, catching both an exciting season in Tibet and the First Act of the 1996 disaster. Douglas claims that it is a book written from the climber's perspective, but I think he oversimplifies his position. I find the book more of a analytical and cynical take on the Himalayan trekking experience from someone who has observed the area through the media for quite a while. He breaks down what he should be seeing and what he could have seen in the past and compares it to his own experiences during his two sojourns. He digs into the issues effecting both Nepal and the Sherpa and offers some solutions and a lot of questions about their relationships with the outside world, such as whether NGOs are actually doing Nepal any good, and what should environmentalism be in the Khumbu. I found Douglas' arguments intelligent, and his acrimony well placed...most of the time! Appropriately, he sticks up for the Sherpas as people, and decries their shadowy existence in the history of Himalayan climbing. Yet, he had many negative things to say about his experience in Tibet, and then speaks of his desire to return.

In Tibet, he actually visits Base Camp, but in Nepal he treks only as far a Kala Pattar (quite early in the season, however). In the north, he speaks with Alison Hagreaves (Regions of the Heart, co-written by Douglas) and Greg Child (Postcards from the Ledge) and writes about the climbs of Tom Whittaker (Higher Purpose) and George Mallory, grandson of George Mallory. In Nepal, he runs into a host of lesser-known characters from the Everest tragedy, including Bruce Herrod, Audrey Salkeld, Mal Duff, and Veikka Gustafsson. From his telling of the South African expedition's plight (see Ascent and Dissent), it sounds like he spent some time with the climbers who resigned as well. He tells the tale of the larger tragedy in broad strokes, so it doesn't take over the book, thankfully. Also related to Everest, Douglas has written a biography of Tenzing Norgay, Tenzing: Hero of Everest.

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