Saturday, March 3, 2012

Alone to Everest, by Earl Denman

Earl Denman reveals the details of his illicit 1947 bare-bones attempt on Everest in Alone to Everest. His initial goal was to climb all eight of the Virunga volcanoes in Central Africa, and he decided that if he was successful, he would be ready to make a similar attempt upon the world's highest mountain. He climbs only with native support, and in Africa, he climbs barefoot, wearing only a ragged pair of shorts and shirt. After an unmitigated success on the volcanoes, he heads to India with 150 British pounds in his pocket and some second-rate equipment. He happens upon Karma Paul, who connects him with Tenzing Norgay and Ang Dawa. I really enjoy this depiction of Tenzing, as it shows both his resourcefulness and his own idealized ambitions. They travel through Sikkim legitimately and Tibet illegally, and make it to Rongbuk and well up the East Rongbuk Glacier before running out of resources and realizing that his equipment will not be sufficient to keep him alive in such an extreme environment.  

Denman's a man after my own heart in his hopeless romanticism, as well as his unattainable idealism in his own pursuits. He's level-headed in his treatment of others, but he pushes himself beyond the seemingly possible after the pursuit of his ambitions. He spends a bit of the book ruminating about his ambitions as well as mountains in general, and there's a quote of his that I found to be an interesting turn of phrase: "It is not men who go to high mountains who seek escape, but the people who never remove themselves from a crowded and noisy atmosphere of work and play." He has both an idealism about climbing and about his own abilities, as he shuns the use of oxygen in climbing high mountains, and he believes that he would need no further acclimatization to scale Everest after climbing the Rongbuk Glacier, merely warmer equipment and better weather. To read about Denman's life after Everest, look in Geoff Powter's Strange and Dangerous Dreams, which also contains a fair comparison of Denman with the other hopeless dreamer of Everest, Maurice Wilson.

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