Thursday, February 23, 2012

Nine Atop Everest, by Com. Mohan Kohli

Com. Mohan Kohli tells the story of the 1965 Indian Everest Expedition, India's third, in which nine climbers scale the peak, in Nine Atop Everest. It's about time for the Indians, as they come tantalizingly close to the summit in both 1960 and 1962, (read Singh's Lure of Everest and Dias' The Everest Adventure, respectively) but are turned back by terrible weather. This time, they arrive early and are prepared for a summit assault by late April, but they have both the patience and the supplies to wait until the end of May, when the weather allows them to the top. They set a number of records with their ascent, including the oldest (Sonam Gyatso) and youngest (Sonam Wangyal) to climb Everest, the most to climb the peak from an expedition, and the first climber to scale Everest twice (Nawang Gombu). Based on the narrative, it's a relatively happy expedition, with climbers and Sherpas getting along well, excellent food, and no major injuries. It's a bit of a valedictory trip, as they discover on their trek in that Nepal will be closing its high peaks to climbers indefinitely after their expedition. (Not until 1969 would Everest be climbed upon again.) Because there had been two previous trips to Everest by the Indians, several of the climbers knew each other and the mountain well. The route is strung efficiently, and the climbers have few altitude-related problems. I was amazed by how many different icons made it to the summit, including images of Buddha, Shiva, Guru Nanak, the Dalai Lama, Devi Durga, and others; it's a testament both to the diversity of the population of India and their ability to get along with each other. I was surprised to find out several climbers were interested climbing the West Ridge, and possibly making a reversal of of the American traverse. Their sponsor, however, explained that it was much more important to get as many climbers to the summit as possible on this trip. Also, one climber and one Sherpa expressed the desire to climb to the summit without oxygen. The climber, Ang Kami, removed his oxygen tank just short of the summit, but was unable to complete the climb without it. The Sherpa, Dawa Norbu, was told to turn back after dropping his load at the 27,930 foot last camp.

The book is set up in the traditional style, with a couple introductions, a narrative of the expedition, followed by a wealth of appendices. Vohra was the first geologist to climb to the summit and the first to find a fossil on the summit ridge. I was particularly interested in his explanation of how Lhotse got all of its folds in the geology section. The Indians had previously had trouble with their oxygen systems, and they tried the system developed by Tom Hornbein for the Americans in 1963 with much success. Their food included freeze-dried rations developed by the army, but focused on fresh food acquired locally and much canned fruit juice (840 kilos). They attempted to film at the summit, but their camera, which was not designed for high altitude, jammed. There is also a short narrative of their communications and media center in Dehli as it deals with disseminating the news of the climbers' success.

There are currently two biographies of Indian summit climbers on this expedition, Mullik's The Sky Was His Limit, about Sonam Gytaso, and Maj. Hari Pal Singh's autobiographical Higher than Everest. Also, Kohli has recently published a history of Indians climbing Everest, On Top of the World.

No comments:

Post a Comment