Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Will to Climb, by Viesturs & Roberts

Ed Viesturs and David Roberts write a focused history of climbing Annapurna in The Will to Climb. Like their earlier book K2, The Will to Climb selects the most interesting expeditions to its mountain and tells about the climbs in fairly good detail with some expert analysis by Viesturs. Additionally, Viesturs tells of his own three expeditions to Annapurna in considerable more detail than his No Shortcuts to the Top, the tale of his climbing the fourteen 8000-meter peaks. As a back story, the authors also write about several of the other mountaineers who pursued or accomplished the 8000-meter peak quest, including Reinhold Messner, Jerzy Kukuczka, Erhard Loretan, Benoit Chamoux, Viekka Gustafsson, Hans Kammerlander, Anatoli Boukreev, and Krzysztof Wielicki. The authors bring some much needed attention (in the English-speaking world) to Loretan and Kammerlander, and they narrate several tales of Annapurna climbs that were only available in detail in French or German previously, including Loretan and Joos' traverse of the mountain via the East Ridge and Moro and Boukreev's attempted winter ascent of the Northwest Ridge. Viesturs and Roberts also spend a chapter vindicating the character of Anatoli Boukreev, famous and infamous for his presence in the 1996 Mount Everest disaster. Viesturs agrees with me that you need to read Boukreev's Above the Clouds to get a serious impression of this guy.

As in their K2, Mount Everest plays an important role in this book as a reference for many of the points the authors convey. For the first Annapurna expedition, they compare the picking of the relatively-inexperienced Herzog as leader for the 1950 climb to choosing Col. John Hunt for the 1953 Everest climb, they contrast these two early climbs in their logistics (a frantic dash versus a military-style assault), and they contrast the national reactions to the two successful climbs. They mention that while Everest was repeatedly climbed after its first ascent, Annapurna waited twenty years for another attempt (by two British teams attempting it from different sides). Viesturs brings up his refusal to Jim Whittaker to use oxygen (and therefore be on the first summit team) on the 1990 International Peace Climb of Everest in relation to the philosophical differences on Bonington's Annapurna South Face expedition, and he contrasts the deaths of Ian Clough and Jake Breitenbach, who died early on during the 1963 American Everest expedition. Most interestingly to me, Viesturs relates that during his 1996 summit climb (first I've read this information!), there were two "foreign" climbers who trailed him closely, but refused to share in the trail breaking. (This I believe would be Goran Kropp and Jesus Martinez? or possibly Thierry Renard?)

Overall I had a great time reading this book. It covers climbs by many of the stars of Himalayan climbing and gives a lot of details that are hard to find elsewhere by English-only readers. I hope you like it too!

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