Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Everest: The Cruel Way, by Joe Tasker

Joe Tasker chronicles his 1980/1981 winter attempt of Everest's West Ridge in Everest: The Cruel Way. At the end of the landmark year on Everest of 1980, in which the Polish climb Everest in winter and Reinhold Messner climbs it alone without oxygen (see his The Crystal Horizon), Tasker's team attempts to further stretch the possible with a try at the full West Ridge with a small team without Sherpa porters in winter without supplementary oxygen. Once above the Lho La, they are exposed to the full brunt of the winter winds, and face a punishing ascent during which their well-anchored hand lines are often the only thing keeping them attached to the mountain. He climbs with a collection of well-known climbers, including Alan Rouse (see Birtles' Alan Rouse: A Mountaineer's Life), Alan and Adrian Burgess (The Burgess Book of Lies), Paul Nunn (At the Sharp End), and Pete Threxton (featured in Greg Child's Thin Air). The team attempts a leader-less expedition and faces quite a bit of interpersonal conflict. Their Sherpa base camp staff, led by an uncharacteristic rogue, causes them a number of headaches. On the mountain at the same time is a "solo" attempt of the South Col route by Naomi Uemura, with a large media team with Sherpa support, and an under-prepared Italian team attempting Lhotse.

I appreciate Tasker's writing. He writes intelligently, seemingly focused on fellow mountaineers as an audience, but readily understood by an amateur crowd. The book is as much a plea for pushing the boundaries of the possible in the Himalaya as it is an expedition account. He relates personal conflict without resorting to making his fellow climbers look like hotheads or jerks. It's clear in this book that Tasker pushes himself to his physical limit, foreshadowing his untimely demise on Everest's Northeast Ridge in 1982 along with Peter Boardman (see Bonington's Everest: The Unclimbed Ridge). If you happen to read this book in The Boardman Tasker Omnibus, there's also a foreword by Chris Bonington that relates the story of their disappearance and laments the loss of these talented authors and climbers. All four books in this larger work are worth a read.

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