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!

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