Thursday, May 31, 2012

Life and Death on Mount Everest, by Sherry B. Ortner

Sherry B. Ortner sorts fact from fiction in the representations of Sherpas in mountaineering literature in her Life and Death on Mount Everest: Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering. She dispels many of the myths associated Sherpas, such as an lack of concern about death and their tireless cheerfulness, and she traces the development of the West's portrayal of Sherpas in Twentieth Century expedition accounts. Her coverage of the mountaineering literature is impressive, quoting dozens of expeditions reports and books, from Kellas to Krakauer. She shows that as western culture has changed, so has the West's view of Sherpas followed---from Romantic idealism, to hyper-masculinity, to counter-cultural, to practical. Though times have changed, each period seems to get things wrong, though climbers seem to in general understand Sherpas a bit more in recent years. Of course, over the years, Sherpas have changed as well, and Ortner traces the cultural developments within Solu-Khumbu during the mountaineering era and ties them back to Sherpas' actions on the mountains. Ortner has over the course of 30 years conducted field studies on Sherpas and their culture and religion, and she ties her earlier work and field notes into the mountaineering literature to create a critique on the relationship between Sherpa and "sahib."

I was overall impressed by her writing, though at the same time I found it frustrating. She catches most of the developments in Sherpa culture and refers to many other anthropologist's work, including Adams, Fisher, Thompson, and Fuerer-Haimendorf. She refutes some of Adams and Fuerer-Haimendorf, but seems to lend some credence to Fisher and Thompson. I felt like the book had so much to cover that just as her discussions of several topics were getting interesting, she moved on to the next. Though the result may not appeal as much to the public, I felt that several of the chapters would have made interesting full-scale books. I especially wish she would have spent more time discussing the development of the puja over time, as it is currently the most visible aspect of Sherpa culture on Himalayan climbs and has undergone an interesting transition since the 1920s.

I felt that she assumed that Sherpas' relationship to money (i.e. hard currency) has remained relatively static over time, but I've seen developments over time in my own reading that suggest that as years progressed, currency has become more useful. On many of the early expeditions that traveled through Solu-Khumbu during the late spring, it seems like many of the residents had trouble parting with the goods and provisions that would see them through to the summer, but as the overall wealth of the region grew, that currency became more acceptable and desirable. (A similar problem faced Ang Tharkay and crew in their travel home through Tibet in 1933, as the Tibetans had only what they needed, and would not trade with the Sherpas at almost any price. It was not that the sahibs were directly starving them, but that their wages did them no good.) Something that was not discussed was that the early Sherpas of Darjeeling were city dwellers, and naturally had a use for currency in their everyday lives, whereas early-on in Solu-Khumbu, currency could be useful for the average Sherpa, but not in every situation. (See, for example, Sayre's Four Against Everest or Shipton's The Everest Reconnaissance Expedition.)

This is overall a great book. I can't imagine trying to look for truth about a people, such as the Sherpas, who are relatively well-known and are subject to so many cultural stereotypes. It reminds me quite a bit of books written about Tuvans (a people in southwest Siberia known for their musical talents, friendliness, and Shamanism), where authors such as Theodore Levin spend much of their time sorting myth from reality. It was exciting to see so many books I've read quoted in an academic work. It makes me feel a little bit more legitimate as student of Everest!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New "Participate" Page

Now you too can write for Everest Book Report! I want this blog's information to be as international as its audience, but my language skills (English, German, a little Spanish and French) are hardly universal. If you read a language other than English and are a fan of Everest books, I would love to hear from you. Check out the "Participate" page to see submission guidelines, and help me make Everest Book Report a truly comprehensive resource for the Everest literature!

Men against Everest, by Howard Marshall

Howard Marshall writes a condensed history of climbing Mount Everest (circa 1954) in Men against Everest. Though his target audience is adults, he still distills 31 years (12 expeditions) of climbing Everest into 62 pages. He keeps the stories intact, extracting his information from the official accounts of the climbs, some Alpine Club Journal entries, and a couple climber biographies, sticking to the angles and facts that the Everest Committee wants you to know. For such a short book, Marshall does a lot of lengthy quoting from his source materials. Most of what he relates is accurate, with occasional slips, such as Marshall's stating that Mallory designed the oxygen system of 1924, authorities turned Maurice Wilson back at Cairo, or Mingma Dove [sic] was killed instantly in 1952 by falling debris. I was a bit annoyed that Marshall spent more time discussing yetis in his chapter on the 1951 reconnaissance than the actual reconnaissance.

Considering the length of the book, I think Marshall does a great job of relating the story of Everest. There's no room for deep analysis, but he picks the pertinent information and writes a understandable narrative. Of course, many of the personal details are lost, but for someone looking for the basic information on the climbs, the book makes a healthy summary. There are black and white photographic illustrations to go along with the book, courtesy of the original accounts' publishers, which are all fairly standard. I'd say this is a handy reference for the uninitiated, but certainly not something for the connoisseur to savor.

Monday, May 28, 2012

To the Top of Everest, by Skreslet & MacLeod

Laurie Skreslet and Elizabeth MacLeod tell the edited tale of the 1982 Canadian Everest Expedition in To the Top of Everest. The climb is a difficult narrative, with four deaths, in-fighting before and during the climb, and another expedition mixed in with their climbers (see Burgess and Palmer's Everest Canada or Patterson's Canadians on Everest for additional details). Considering, I think the authors do a fairly good job of whittling out a story worth telling to young readers. Though the book tells of the expedition, it focuses on the life and climb of Skreslet, the first Canadian to climb Mount Everest. It's an unlikely adventure, as by all measures the expedition should have imploded, Skreslet takes a damaging fall, and he runs down for an x-ray while his teammates return to the mountain.

Though I'm happy the authors leave out the soap opera from Skreslet's narrative, I'm troubled by the very real presence of death. It's jarring to see the body of Pasang Sona being evacuated from the Khumbu Icefall in a children's book, as well as reading the detail about moving Blair Griffiths against orders because his body was so visible. On summit day, Sungdare, climbing with Skreslet, must face the corpse of Hannelore Schmatz, with whom he bivouaced and attempted to rescue in 1979. I don't know what I would do differently with the story, but I worry that this book might not be appropriate for all children. At least it's honest with the physical dangers climbers face! This book has piqued my interest in Skreslet's 1986 Everest expedition, in which Sharon Wood becomes the first woman from the Western Hemisphere to climb the world's highest mountain. I'll have to investigate!

This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier entry, which can be found here.

Friday, May 25, 2012

After Everest, by T. Howard Somervell

Howard Somervell discovers his life purpose in After Everest. His biography traces his transition from a top-tier surgeon and high-altitude mountaineer to a medical missionary in Travancore, the southernmost province of India. Younghusband, in an introduction, describes Somervell as the "salt of the earth," and his practical Christianity leads him to serve without proselytizing and to regard the patient as his fellow man. Though the book is a full autobiography, he focuses on his work at the mission, as well as offering a description of his region, his working conditions, and the culture of the people whom he serves. Throughout the text, Somervell offers wisdom on the proper actions of a medical missionary, his Christian beliefs, and the politics of the day in India (even complimenting the work of Gandhi). He seems like a rare figure for his time, urging the British to view their actions from Indians' perspectives and making dedicated medical service the focus of the mission. He has little respect for the traditional and alternative medicine of the region, as he often deals with the after effects of the poisons offered as cures or loses chronic patients looking for a faster cure. Though the mission is the biggest medical facility in the region, the people of Tranvancore are under-served, and he and his staff fill their days with service. The book isn't high literature, but Somervell's character makes it a worthwhile read.

Somervell's Everest material covers his two climbs in 1922 and 1924. This book doesn't add a lot of information that can't be found elsewhere to the literature, but it is a unique perspective. Somervell had climbed with Beetham quite a bit before the expeditions, and he believes that if not for Beetham's bout of sciatica, he would have been the most likely to reach the summit (even after complimenting Mallory's prodigious speed). He discusses his close connection to Mallory and states that Mallory and Irvine's deaths were not in vain. His explanation for why he and his expedition-mates were willing to risk all to climb Everest seemed the most plainly-stated and believable line I've read on the subject. Somervell mentions that Norton's ability to get the porters to climb above Camp V in 1924 was entirely due to the stout-heartedness of Lakpa-Chedi---only after he agreed to continue did the other two. Also of interest is the author's short description of his climbing holiday in Sikkim on the way home from Everest in 1922, including an attempt on Jonsong Peak.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Himalayan Quest, by Ed Viesturs

Ed Viesturs and Peter Potterfield bring Viesturs' 8000-meter peak journey to life with photographs in their Himalayan Quest. The book was actually released a couple years before Viesturs completed his goal, so though he includes pictures from expeditions to all fourteen peaks, he had yet to reach the summits of Nanga Parbat and Annapurna. It actually makes a great supplement to Viesturs' No Shortcuts to the Top, which has plenty of text, but few pictures. It's too bad these two works weren't woven together into a single volume! The introduction, by David Breashears (see his High Exposure), talks about their professional relationship, gives a brief bio of Viesturs, and complements his safety mantra. The authors introduce their book as a collection of incidental, rather than artistic photographs, meant to take the reader along on his journey rather than exhibit his photographic skill. Regardless, many of the photographs are well-taken, and he achieves his journalistic aim. I appreciated his relatively balanced coverage of the peaks and his introductions to each of the chapters that provide an outline of his climbs.

Just as Viesturs has spent more time on Mount Everest than any other 8000-er, most of the photographs cover his Everest climbs. My second reading of this book made me realize for the first time just how well Viesturs knows Everest. He has visited all three faces, and has climbed on the North Face, the Great Couloir, the North Ridge, and the South Col routes. I'm impressed that even before his close call on K2 in 1992, he chose to turn around before any serious climbing on the Kangshung Face. His Everest photographs, therefore, cover a range of the mountain, and his long experience on the mountain has helped him pick appropriate documentary photos for the uninitiated Everest reader, such as photos of the South Col, the ridgeline between the South and Main summits, the Khumbu Icefall, and the iconic perspective from the lower reaches of Pumori. I especially liked the photo taken from Lhotse (by Rob Hall) of Viesturs nearly at the summit, with the Southeast Ridge of Everest in the background, and his photo from (I think) Khartse of the Kangshung Face and Northeast Ridge. I'm a little curious about the publication date of this book---whether Viesturs perhaps had worked out a book deal with the intention of having finished his climbs, or whether perhaps this book was released to work up some publicity for his final climbs. It seems strange to me that it came out when he was nearly done. He did, however, release a second edition after he completed Nanga Parbat and Annapurna.

This post is a revision and expansion of an early entry, which can be found here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Reaching Beyond the Clouds, by Cindy L. Abbott

After watching Everest: Beyond the Limit in 2007, Cindy L. Abbott knows that she needs to climb Mount Everest but finds out soon after that she has Wegener's granulomatosis, in Reaching Beyond the Clouds: From Undiagnosed to Climbing Mt. Everest. Though her disease is a potentially deadly immune problem, Abbott decides that her daunting goal of climbing the world's highest mountain is the life-affirming beacon she needs to counter the physical terrors of her condition. Though legally blinded in one eye by the disease and while fighting through treatment, she trains hard for a 2010 climb and climbs several mountains, including Aconcagua (nearly) and Pik Lenin while taking harsh immuno-suppresant drugs. Though she receives very little financial support from anyone besides her peers, she climbs Everest to give awareness to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) and the Vasculitis Foundation, in a way that seemed more genuine to me than Sean Swarner's climbing for cancer awareness in Keep Climbing. (Perhaps her prose is just more mature, however.)

She climbs Everest in the pre-monsoon season under Scott Woolums and Bill Allen for Mountain Trip along with four other clients. They have a pretty good run of it, with good enough weather to make their acclimatization and summit climbs in relative comfort. A short and late jet stream window makes for a large crowd on summit day, and it sounds as if her biggest danger on her climb was the presence of so many other summiteers. I was amazed by her description of the higher reaches of the mountain---such a contrast to Hillary and Tenzing's wading through snow up the Southeast Ridge, with plenty of rock climbing and frustrating vertical steps before reaching the South Summit. Mountain Trip set up a well-equipped operation, with enough equipment in place for contingencies and an escort for every client during their climbs. Abbott is contagiously positive in her writing, creating the first client-narrative book that I've really enjoyed in a couple years. Hope you like it too!

PS - Look at the cover, and then look at page 157 for a bit of amusement.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Toughing It Out, by David Hempleman-Adams

Toughing It Out: The Adventures of a Polar Explorer and Mountaineer, by David Hempleman-Adams, is a fun read for me since I enjoy the occasional polar traveler book on the side of my Everest hobby. As a young boy, he decides he will climb Everest. At the age of 16, he writes to Chris Bonington offering his services as a porter for his second Southwest Face attempt (see Bonington's Everest: The Hard Way); Bonington kindly refuses, but encourages his passion. A couple years, and several mountains later, he informs a 1979 German and Polish team (see Herrligkoffer's Everest Ohne Sauerstoff) that he's coming up with them. He finds when he arrives in Nepal that he can only afford a trekking permit, and heads to Base Camp to at least check things out. The following year, Reinhold Messner ascends Everest alone and without supplemental oxygen (see Messner's The Crystal Horizon), and Hempleman-Adams decides that there's nothing left to strive for in the mountains. He instead heads to the North Pole, coming up shy in a solo air-supported attempt on foot after cracking two ribs in a fall. He then bags the Magnetic North Pole in an unsupported solo run, and then heads to the Geomagnetic North Pole a couple years later with friends after a school boy informs him at one of his lectures that it exists.

Hempleman-Adams settles down to run the family business after all this North Pole business, but then finds an ad for Himalayan Kingdoms in the paper. For the low (compared to a North Pole trip) price of 25,000 pounds, he can have someone else do the organizational work for him, and all he has to do is train hard and show up for a chance at Everest. There are no openings for the advertised Everest climb when he calls Himalayan Kingdom's Steve Bell (editor of Seven Summits), but someone drops out two months before departure, and the author puts his training in high gear. His expedition uses the South Col route during the 1993 post-monsoon season, and compared to his polar excursions, he makes it sound like a walk in the park. His climbs with a number of well-known personalities and climbers, including Roger Mear, Brian Blessed (see his Blessed Everest), Ginette Harrison (first British woman to climb Kanchenjunga), Gary Pfisterer (Harrison and Pfisterer would later marry and climb many mountains together.), Roman Blanco (who would become the oldest to climb Everest), and Graham Hoyland. Though the author head to Everest as a "training exercise," he has no trouble keeping up with his fellow climbers, even with a broken rib from a horrible cough. Though an avalanche wipes out their Camp III on the Lhotse Face, they scrounge enough oxygen to make an attempt, with twelve individuals making the summit.

This guy cant sit still! Two years later, he's finished the Seven Summits, and then moves on to reach three poles in one year, including an unassisted solo slog to the South Pole (likely inspired by Mear), sailing by yacht to the South Magnetic Pole, and leading a group of amateurs to the North Magnetic Pole.  He then makes another go at the Geographic North Pole with a friend, but runs into unexpected difficulty. He will get to the pole, he tells us at the end of the book. Just give him another go!

According to Khoo Swee Chiow, in Journeys to the Ends of the Earth, Hempleman-Adams finally makes it to the North Pole in a 57-day unsupported trip. Over the course of his life, he would reach different poles a staggering 14 times on 30 expeditions. He has since also set many records in hot air balloons. This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier entry, which starts here.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

To the Last Breath, by Francis Slakey

Francis Slakey writes about his reconnection with humanity over the course of his climbing the Seven Summits and surfing the four oceans in his To the Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes. He transforms his self-possession into world engagement through a series of unlikely events surrounding his quest that draws him out of his shell. Because Slakey's conversion is intrinsically linked to his adventures, I found myself engrossed in his story both on and off the mountain. Though To the Last Breath has less written on the actual climbs than any other Seven Summits book I've read (He nearly omits Aconcagua and Elbrus.), his connecting of periphery events and several instances of unexpected drama create a superior storyline.

Slakey climbs Everest in the pre-monsoon season of 2000 from Nepal via the Southeast Ridge as a part of an unspecified US clean-up expedition. (I believe, after a bit of research, it was the National Geographic Everest Environmental Expedition, featured in the movie Beyond the Summit. I find it frustrating that many climbers these days find it uncool or unimportant to specify with whom they climbed.) He happens to meet his future wife on this trip, though it was anything but love at first sight. His summit climb ends up being relatively late and during a storm, and by his own recollection he was nearly alone during his highest climbing (though 20 people would summit Everest from the South Col that day). He says he met a Russian climbing from the North at the summit to whom he loaned his radio, but it was actually the Kazakh Denis Urubko, climbing without supplementary oxygen from the South, who would later complete the fourteen 8,000 meter peaks, including two in winter. He runs into trouble on the way down, with a Sherpa crumping near the summit and another teammate with his oxygen spent hallucinating and removing his gloves, making for a frightening descent. Even though I found some of the Everest information frustrating, I still had a lot of fun with this book. His conversion gave me hope for others like him, and his quest actually turned into something more than a checklist. I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Women Climbing, by Birkett & Peascod

Bill Birkett and Bill Peascod write a concise history of female mountaineering in Women Climbing: 200 Years of Achievement. Their tome seems like a good start, though its publication in 1989 took place just as women climbers were exploding onto the scene. On the other hand, they catch women's climbing at an interesting time, as the greatest women climbers were beginning to match the exploits of men, such as Catherine Destivelle's climbing Grade 8 rock, Wanda Rutkiewicz's many Himalayan climbs, and the budding career of Alison Hargreaves. Peascod covers the early history, while Birkett writes of the modern climbers. I was already familiar with some of the early history of female climbers thanks to David Mazell's Mountaineering Women, but Peascod's history is considerably more thorough than an anthology such as Mazell's could ever be. I appreciated that he covered an international cast of climbers (though I wonder if female climbing was actually as British as portrayed, or if the British climbers were just more likely to write about their climbs). Peascod covers the transition of women climbers from seconds to leaders to the cordee feminine of the early Twentieth Century. I appreciated Birkett's contribution more, not because of any difference in quality of prose, but because of the first person interviews he gets from many of the icons of modern female climbing history, including Gwen Moffat, Junko Tabei, Evette Vaucher, and Louise Shepherd. I generally feel that I get more out of even a few sentences of someone speaking for herself than several pages written about her.

There are several women associated with Everest in this book: Junko Tabei, Evette Vaucher, Wanda Rutkiewicz, and Alison Hargreaves. This is the first resource in English that I've encountered that tells Tabei's story from her perspective and treats her Everest ascent seriously. Perhaps a lot of men are offended by her considering Everest "just another mountain." Vaucher comes to life in this book, and her trip to Everest involves more than hiding behind her husband and throwing snowballs at Norman Dyhrenfurth. Her climbs in the Alps show her to be one tough lady! Wanda Rutkiewicz has a lot to say in her interviews, and I feel that her feminist climbing philosophy comes through more clearly here than in her biography by Reinisch, A Caravan of Dreams. Hargreaves, in 1989, had yet to climb Everest. She seems excited by the prospects of female mountaineering. I found it interesting that she said in her interview that she doubted she had the stamina for many of the bigger climbs out there, as she would later make a name for herself doing long hard climbs!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

In the Footsteps of Mallory and Irvine, by Mark MacKenzie

Mark MacKenzie details the 2007 Altitude Everest Expedition, in which Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding recreate the 1924 climb of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine, in his In the Footsteps of Mallory and Irvine: The Wildest Dream. The book both recounts the story of Mallory and Irvine and tells how Conrad Anker's discovery of Mallory's body led him to return to Everest for some unfinished business at the Second Step. MacKenzie's coverage of early Everest history is mostly good, though he makes some judgements on the history that I disagree with, such as Hink's and Younghusband's badgering letters convinced Gen. Bruce that he needed a victory at all costs in 1922 or that Mallory was primarily responsible for the decimation of the porters during the westerly storms in 1924. I think MacKenzie does a good job showing the human side of Mallory and Irvine, especially in his retelling of their final climb.

The modern story in the book is a mix of a biography of Conrad Anker and an account of the 2007 Altitude Everest Expedition. He makes the expedition sound a bit like the Conrad Anker show, but there's an all-star cast of characters, nonetheless, including Leo Houlding, Gerry Moffatt, Jimmy Chin, Russell Brice, Mark Woodward, and Kevin Thaw. Film producer Anthony Geffen happened across Conrad Anker's The Lost Explorer and decided there was a movie in the making. He later contacted Conrad Anker about returning to Everest to recreate Mallory and Irvine's last climb in as close of details as possible, including wearing vintage clothing and gear and climbing the Second Step unassisted. Anker had felt some ambivalence about his 1999 climb and felt like his momentous year had some loose ends to mend, so he agreed to return and set up a team to make Geffen's film possible. The 2007 spring season had the same difficulty on the north side as the 2008 season in Nepal, due to the Olympic Torch relay (see Masheter's No Magic Helicopter). In 2007, the Chinese climbers were making a dry run of their climb, and no one was allowed on the mountain until they had finished. The Altitude expedition achieves a major milestone by waiting until all other climbers are off the Northeast Ridge so that they can remove (and eventually replace) the ladder installed by the Chinese in 1975 (see Another Ascent of the World's Highest Peak - Qomolangma), so that Anker and Houlding can attempt a proper free-climb of the Second Step. I was a bit disappointed that MacKenzie discounted the accomplishment of the Chinese in 1960, especially now that Jochen Hemmleb has proven (see Ghosts of Everest) that they provided photographic evidence of their being above the Second Step. This book has a good entertainment value, and it covers a recent, interesting expedition. I hope you like it---just be careful when reading its history!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Through Tibet to Everest, by Capt. John Noel

Capt. John Noel writes a thoroughly enjoyable account of his adventures on and around Mount Everest in Through Tibet to Everest. The book is a stark contrast to the tedious official-speak found in the official accounts of Howard-Bury (Mount Everest: The Reconnaissance 1921), Bruce (The Assault on Mount Everest 1922), and Norton (The Fight for Everest 1924), and is easily the most enjoyable account of the early climbs for the casual reader. (Though the story lacks the drama of Younghusband's The Epic of Mount Everest, Noel easily makes up for it in wit and ephemera.) Like Younghusband, Noel covers all three early expeditions (He participated in two.), but he also includes information on his further adventures in Tibet, including his 1913 surreptitious dash towards Everest, and his staying behind in Tibet in 1924 to spend time in Gyantse.

Noel's experience as cinematographer gives him a unique perspective on the expeditions. Though he played protagonist in his 1913 adventure, disguised as a Indian Muslim traveler, in which he turns back 40 miles from his goal after a gun fight with the dzongpen's henchman, his job on later trips allowed him to sit back and watch the expeditions without the entanglements of participation. He missed out on the 1921 climb, but had a front-row seat for 1922 and 1924. Of course, on the 1924 expedition, he had a huge financial stake (as his movie business bank rolled the climb) in a successful climb. Based on his writing, however, I think he built the company and sold shares to get himself back to Tibet for another adventure, rather than his thinking it was a wise investment. He talks about his own foibles in addition to writing about the climbs, including his troubles developing film onsite and his vigils at his "aerie" that provided good, but chilly views of the North Col and Northeast Ridge. Also, Noel seems to have a pretty good respect for the people of Tibet, and he shares a lot of cultural details.

It's hard to believe Noel missed the 1921 expedition, as perhaps only Prof. Kellas was more keen to reach the mountain than he. If anyone truly had inescapable professional obligations, it must have been Noel. (There is some controversy about Bruce's non-participation. See Davis' Into the Silence.) Like Kellas, he was among the members slated to participate in Col. Rawling's proposed 1916 expedition that disappeared with the declaration of war. Among the early Everesters, Noel has the highest regard for Kellas, and they would dream up ways of approaching Everest in Kellas' chemistry lab. (For more information in Kellas, see Mitchell and Rodway's Prelude to Everest.) Kellas and Noel's relationship comes through in the Appendices, both with Noel's recommendations for a more efficient oxygen system and for his recommendation that man conquer Everest with science. Many of his recommendations are prescient, such as his demands for a rope hand line up the ice faces, wireless communications, a prep-team (read: Sherpas) who stock the mountain versus a climbing team, modern cooking equipment, a better diet, the establishment of yak transport to the head of the East Rongbuk Glacier. You'd think he dropped in on one of Russell Brice's Himex expeditions! The only thing left for Brice to do is to install metal huts at 25,000 feet. Noel's recommendation of dropping an airplane passenger onto the summit by dropping a rope is perhaps a little less doable.

It's clear that Noel loves his subject. He writes with a sense of amazement about the things he witnesses both on the climbs and throughout Tibet. The book has a number of photographs taken by the author. For a more in-depth portfolio, see his Everest Pioneer, collected by Sandra Noel. Noel writes a refreshing book. I hope you like it!

This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier entry, which can be found here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Climbing Everest, by Audrey Salkeld

Audrey Salkeld writes a first-rate book for young readers in Climbing Everest. The narrative is intelligent and basic, but not oversimplified or boring. The photographs are interesting and well-taken. Instead of a general history, Salkeld focuses on important climbs---those of George Mallory, Tenzing Norgay, the 1960 Chinese expedition, Reinhold Messner's two climbs, the American Kangshung Face expeditions, and the 1996 tragedy. Alternated between these chapters are page-long sections on other topics of interest, including Everest's geography, female climbers, and Sherpas. Both the George Mallory and Tenzing Norgay sections are well-done and fairly up-to-date. I am very happy with her text on the Chinese expedition, as it is one of the most thorough resources (including adult literature) on the climb available in book format. (Messner's The Second Death of George Mallory might have been a decent resource if he hadn't decided the climbers did not make the summit.) Similarly, her information on the American Kangshung Face expeditions is a useful resource, as their full details are scattered across a number of books, including Jenkin's Across China, Breashears' High Exposure, Roskelley's Stories Off the Wall, and Edmund and Peter Hillary's Ascent. Salkeld's discussion of the 1996 tragedy is age-appropriate, yet gets into some of the more difficult details, such as Hall's long day on the South Summit and the dire condition of Beck Weathers. 

 Salkeld has contributed profusely to the literature of Everest, and is the author of numerous books, including a young readers' biography of George Mallory, Mystery on Everest, and a bibliography of Everest literature, Climbing Mount Everest. She has co-authored two books on George Mallory, Last Climb, along with David Breashears, and First on Everest, with Tom Holzel (updated as The Mystery of Mallory and Irvine).

This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier entry, which can be found here.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

On Top of the World, by Rebecca Stephens

Rebecca Stephens, as a member of the 40th anniversary Everest expedition, becomes the first British woman to climb the world's highest peak in On Top of the World. Mount Everest is her first mountain, traveling to the north side as a journalist to cover the 1989 post-monsoon attempt on the Northeast Ridge. She unexpectedly (even borrowing gear at ABC for the climb) makes it to the top of Bill's Buttress on a visit to the team's first assault camp (reminding me a bit of Geoffrey Bruce), in addition to ascending the main Rongbuk Glacier and visiting the Lho La. She falls in love with mountains, climbing several other peaks on her vacations, and eventually catches the summit bug for Everest after realizing that no British woman had yet climbed the peak. She puts a deposit down on a commercial climb before she receives an invitation for the anniversary expedition. Originally, they planned a post-monsoon climb in 1993, but they take over the permit of a spring trip. The expedition roster consists of mix of decided amateurs and hardcore climbers, including Everest veterans Harry Taylor (who first climbed the Pinnacles with Russel Brice) and Bill Marsh (of Bill's Buttress). On the climb, via the Southeast Ridge from Nepal, Harry Taylor becomes the second Briton to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen, after Stephen Venables (who coincidentally, participated in the 35th anniversary expedition).

Stephens' climb makes for a dramatic story. She is a bit out of her element high on Everest, and she often depends on her climbing mentor, John Barry, to make important decisions. Their first summit attempt becomes a rescue after Harry Taylor spends 23 hours climbing from the South Col to the peak and back, returning in frightful shape. (He seems to have gone up fine, as he climbs along with Tim Macartney-Snape, as depicted in Everest from Sea to Summit.) Her team's continual delays and waffling nearly cost her a chance at the summit, but she makes a last-of-the-season effort along with Ang Passang and Kami Kchering, using a wealth of oxygen left by her team and some Poisk canisters bought from Hall & Ball. Her climb reinforces the point made by Jennifer Jordan in Savage Summit, that often women climbing the world's highest peaks suffer from a lack of experience (of course, these days climbers of both genders are climbing Everest with thin resumes). Though she made it up and back all right, she seemed unsure of herself, especially when Barry was unable to accompany her on the summit climb. On a side note, she interacts with the climbers of Tashi Tenzing's expedition (see his Tenzing Norgay and the Sherpas of Everest), and provides an outside prospective to the retrieval of Lopsang's body. Stephens is the author of two other books related to Everest, a children's book, Everest, and an inspirational The Seven Summits of Success.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

An Innocent on Everest, by Ralph Izzard

Ralph Izzard writes the media story The Times did not want you to read in his An Innocent on Everest. His paper, the Daily Mail, saw no reason that there should be exclusive coverage of the 1953 British expedition, and duly secured a permit through the government of Nepal for Izzard to write about the climb. He knew from the beginning that he was in for a bad assignment, with rough treatment from both the terrain and the enforcement of the news blockade. Nevertheless, with little notice and a dearth of supplies, he bands together an unlikely expedition to follow the climbers as far as the base of the Khumbu Icefall to score what information he can. The climbers treat him with respect, yet maintain a professional silence, but Izzard finds his journalistic nemesis in British Ambassador Summerhayes, whose professional duties should require him to provide Izzard, a British citizen, every help.

The book tells the back story to the expedition. While the climbers are busy scaling a mountain, Kathmandu is alive with a gaggle of journalists, mostly Indian, trying to scoop The Times' correspondent, James Morris (see his Coronation Everest). Izzard inadvertently travels to the mountain during the news lull of the team's travel and acclimatization period, and follows the news out of the assault upon the Khumbu Icefall. He returns accompanied by Pasang, the deputy leader fired by Tenzing after a series of disputes, and we thereby learn of Pasang's fate and a little more about this supposed ruffian. The news is a wash of rumors (for want of news) upon Izzard's return to Kathmandu, and he witnesses the extraordinary lengths his fellow journalists will go to get a decent story, including shaking down the mail runners and hacking radio communications. Given the huge discrepancies in the news reported, it's no wonder Goswami, author of Everest, Is it Conquered?, had so much trouble piecing together the news from the mountain! I was pleasantly surprised by this book (except perhaps for the several pages on the Yeti), both in its good humor and its sophistication, under the circumstances. I hope you enjoy it, too!