Saturday, January 28, 2012

Everest Canada: The Ultimate Challenge by Burgess & Palmer

In Everest Canada: The Ultimate Challenge, Alan Burgess and Jim Palmer write about the Canadian Mount Everest Expedition of 1982, definitely the biggest mountaineering soap opera I've ever encountered. Roger Marshall (admittedly an iconoclast), who gets them the permit in the first place, is first voted out of leadership of the expedition, and then ejected from the team altogether at Namche Bazaar (by the third team leader, Bill Marsh)! The team members bicker their way through the Khumbu Icefall at the tail end of the monsoon, and first three Sherpas are buried in an avalanche, and then as they start things back up Blair Griffiths is killed by a falling serac. This leads to more bickering, and several members leave the expedition, and somehow those remaining pull themselves together and heave two Canadians and four Sherpas to the summit, with the help of another expedition, led by Peter Hillary, that was climbing Lhotse. Burgess, if not for a faulty oxygen system, might have made it as well. Laurie Skreslet, who climbed to the top first, wrote a book, To the Top of Everest, about his climb (for brave kids). Pat Morrow, the second Canadian to summit, was more interested in what came next in his life, as detailed in his book, Beyond Everest, in which he finishes climbing the seven summits, the second person to do so.

The book is pretty well written and presented. There was some controversy over who should write the official account, especially since team members signed contracts that said there would only be one book on the expedition (like the bickering should stop after the climb?). Most of those who complained said that Burgess did not give enough space to the dissenting climbers who left after the four deaths in the Icefall, and that he over-portrayed his own role in the climb. There a few other book resources on this climb, including Alan and Adrian Burgess autobiography, The Burgess Book of Lies, Peter and Sir Edmund Hillary's Ascent, Peter Hillary's In the Ghost Country, and Bruce Patterson's 2006 review of the climb, Canadians on Everest.

This is the first of several book reviews that I'll be reworking into full-length posts from my early laundry-list blogging. I'll be doing this occasionally in between (rather than instead of) my regular posting. The original post can be found here.

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