Saturday, January 14, 2012

Seven Summits, by Bass, Wells, & Ridgeway

I've finally got around to reading Seven Summits by Dick Bass, Frank Wells, and Rick Ridgeway, and I have to say that my fears about the book were unfounded. While it is the original rich-amateur-achieves-his-dream book, it also sets the standard for quality of prose and excitement. After reading Seven Summits, I can understand why so many people would want to achieve the same goal. Dick Bass, with very little training, pushes himself to the top of the tallest mountain on each of the continents. Not only are these trips rewarding experiences for him, but they serve as escapes from his high-pressure work life. Though I don't think it was intended, this book is a veritable infomercial for the seven summits dream. Though there is danger all around, the protagonists scrape by with minor injuries at most. They describe some of the most beautiful scenery (as professed by Chris Bonington, no less!) in the world, in some of the most remote locations on earth. The seven summits dream is there for the taking, and with determination, persistence, and considerable amounts of money, Bass and Wells pull it off. Both Bass and Wells attempt the peaks, but ultimately only Bass makes it to the top of all seven.

I was fascinated to read about these two from their own perspective. I've come to know them from the writings of their Everest teammates, such as Phil Ershler (Together on Top of the World), Jim Wickwire (Addicted to Danger), and David Breashears (High Exposure). Ershler and Wickwire seem to treat Bass and Wells like a couple of rich yahoos who bankrolled their expedition but got in the way. Breashears writes very respectfully of Bass and calls Bass his friend, but I was never sure how much of this was defensive and how much was honest. In Seven Summits, Bass and Wells defend themselves quite well from their critics, and I have to say I have a lot more respect for them as adventurers after reading their book.

Bass and Wells participate in two Everest expeditions together, and Bass makes two additional attempts before he climbs the mountain. Their first expedition, the 1982 Great Couloir climb under Lou Whittaker (Memoirs of a Mountain Guide), served as a practice run after the authors quickly realized during their preparations that Everest wouldn't go quite so easily. They shuttled loads to the lower and intermediate camps, but ultimately no one on the team makes it to the summit. In 1983, they help organize and finance a South Col expedition under Phil Ershler; due to snow conditions and team fitness Dick Bass turns around at the balcony on the Southeast Ridge. Frank Wells spends three nights on the South Col pinned down in a storm. The next spring, Bass thinks he and David Breashears will have a chance to climb the mountain by funding a cleanup expedition with the Nepal Police Association, but there is much politicing. Finally, in 1985, Bass and Breashears tag along as a separate climbing pair on the Norwegian expedition that put Arne Naess (Drommen om Everest) and Chris Bonington (Chris Bonington's Everest) on the summit.

This is a fairly long book, and there is quite a bit more to it. They, of course, climb each of the seven continental summits, but as the first to attempt to finish the list, they run into a quite a lot of snags. Wells show his talent at making things happen by working out the '83 Everest climb and by setting up their flight to Vinson, chartering a flight, setting up a fuel drop, and fighting with masses of red tape. Like Wickwire's and Whittaker's works, Marty Hoey place a pivotal role in this work---she comes off as slightly different in all three works, but has a powerful effect on all the authors (Bass in this one). I hope you'll give this book a shot---I'm glad I did.

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