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!

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