Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mallory of Everest, by Showell Styles

Showell Styles’ Mallory of Everest appears at first a biography, but ends up a decent recounting of the first three Everest Expeditions. After an introduction of Tenzing and Hillary climbing to the summit, Styles starts with a chapter on Mount Everest and a short history of mountaineering, followed by a short chapter on Mallory’s life up until the Everest expeditions (that's not entirely accurate). There follows a recounting of the expeditions, not necessarily focusing on Mallory, but occasionally analyzing Mallory’s motives and words.  A reading of this biography gives the impression that Mallory’s life was these three expeditions, and that he was a protagonist, but yet only a character in his own story. (Even the cover is a picture of Finch and Bruce on the North Col.) Styles’ overall account of the expeditions is accurate, at least for the time it was written, but there are better books that cover either the three expeditions (Younghusband's The Epic of Mount Everest), Mallory's life (Gillman and Gillman's The Wildest Dream), or both (Davis' Into the Silence). This is definitely a book with cross purposes. Additionally, I'm not a fan of Styles' putting thoughts into Mallory's head that have no foundation in his letters, but that he has fleshed out based on what a mountaineer "should" think.

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

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Peaks, Passes and Glaciers, edited by Walt Unsworth

Walt Unsworth pulls together a range of stories and essays from the history of (mostly) British mountaineering in Peaks, Passes and Glaciers: Selections from the Alpine Journal. Unsworth, author of Everest: The Mountaineering History and Hold the Heights: The Foundations of Mountaineering, picks highlights from the long history of the publication, with articles submitted by Whymper, Dent, Mummery, Young, Irving, Diemberger, Clough, Harlin, and several others, showing more than anything the development of technique and attitudes. His choices include such classics as Whymper's "The Fatal Accident on the Matterhorn" and Young's "Mountain Prophets," to a bit of fun with Carr's description of the proper food and attire for an Alpine climb, circa 1900. I appreciated reading Band's description of the last bit of climb on Kanchenjunga, as my focus on Everest has provided me only basic knowledge that historic climb, and Ian Clough's and Mick Burke's contributions, as I've only known them from the writings of other climbers. (Both perished on Bonington expeditions.) I have trouble getting into some of the early history of climbing, but the articles Unsworth includes are some of the most entertaining I've read.

Although there is only one article specifically about Everest (Hillary's "The Last Lap," about his climb to the summit along with Tenzing), quite a number of Everest climbers contribute, including Smythe, Mallory, Angtsering (who happened to be the last surviving member of the 1924 expedition---an interview with him late in life is found here), Strutt, Diemberger, Band, Burke, and Fyffe. The articles by Smythe and Mallory are classics, with Smythe describing a terrible climb in the Alps in which he was struck by lightning, and Mallory reminiscing about his climb of Mont Blanc while stuck in the trenches during the Great War. I had never read the Mallory essay in total before, and it reminded me quite a bit of Joyce, with much of the drama taking place internally. It's the essay with the famous lines "Have we conquered an enemy? None but ourselves." Angtsering describes his survival of the 1934 Nanga Parbat disaster, Strutt mouths off about crazy Germans on the Eiger, and Diemberger describes a favorite climb. I truly enjoyed Clough's writing and was pleasantly surprised by Allan Fyffe's article, a stalwart but underrepresented character in both Bonington's Everest: The Hard Way and Grieg's Kingdoms of Experience. Burke's article is fun, describing a winter climb with Haston on the North Face of the Matterhorn, and it reinforces my impression of his personality from Haston's and Bonington's writing. Hillary's contribution is as expected, quite similar to his other summit tales, though a bit more equal-minded, with both he and Tenzing gasping like fish at the top of the Hillary Step.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mystery on Everest, by Audrey Salkeld

Audrey Salkeld presents a photobiography of George Leigh Mallory in Mystery on Everest. Salkeld repeatedly delivers on both facts and style in her many contributions to the Everest literature, in books such as People in High Places or Last Climb (which makes nice grown-up companion to the present volume), and Mystery on Everest keeps with the trend. She gives facts and photos that rarely seen elsewhere, including his naming Pumori ("honored daughter") after his daughter, Clare, and a picture of his taking a class of students climbing in Snowdonia. Salkeld gives a measured view of his life, choosing not to dwell on his walking off into the mist, or her own participation in the search for Mallory. She simplifies a lot of information, but not overly so, such as the much-discussed East Rongbuk Glacier issue of 1921 or his complicated professional life. Salkeld makes Mallory seem quite a bit more human than other biographers writing for young audiences. The book was published in 2000 and contains a brief foreword by Conrad Anker, who found Mallory in 1999. Also, Broughton Coburn wrote a companion volume in this National Geographic photobiography series about Edmund Hillary, Triumph on Everest.

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

Friday, June 22, 2012

Dark Summit, by Nick Heil

Nick Heil sorts through the mess of the 2006 pre-monsoon North Ridge climbs in Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Season. During the climbing, 12 people died on the mountain in a little over a month's time, matching the death toll of 1996, but without the killer storm. Heil explores the deaths of David Sharp and Thomas Weber and the near-death of Lincoln Hall (see his Dead Lucky) high on the Northeast Ridge and plumbs the culpability of fellow climbers in their abandonment. The author frames the story roughly around the Himex expedition under Russell Brice, establishing him as the "Big Boss" of the north side at the time. Brice has a motley assortment of climbers and responsibilities that year, with the double-amputee Mark Inglis (Legs on Everest) and his film and support crew, a number of clients, a first-time Everest guide, and a documentary team for the Discovery Channel (Everest: Beyond the Limit) covering the whole parade. A number of other expeditions are on the mountain, including Abramov's 7 Summits Club (under whom Hall and Weber climbed), Mazur's SummitClimb, and a conglomerate of climbers on a permit for Asian Trekking, including George Dijmarescu (see Kodas' High Crimes).

Heil divides the book into two sections, telling the story chronologically, with David Sharp's story followed by the other two. In addition, Heil works in a pretty good condensed history of Everest, including telling of earlier tales similar to Sharp's. He connects Sharp with Tsewang Paljor, "Green Boots," noting their unlikely shared resting place. Like Sharp, Paljor barely survived a night out on the Northeast Ridge (after the famous storm of 1996) only to have climbers from a different team and of a different nationality pass him up on the way to the summit even though they noted his condition. They both end up in a hollow near Mushroom Rock, and though climbers attempt to help them on the way down, it is too late to save them. Heil's description of the frighteningly bad condition of Sharp shows a grim reality. The author strikes a reserved stance in the controversy that I think is well-defended, highlighting both the hard-hearted morality of passing a distressed climber on the way to an ultimately unnecessary goal, and the stark realities of survival and rescue at such a height. He mentions attempts at body recovery and rescue, and shows that ultimately it is a climber's ability to place one foot in front of the other that is the only ticket off the Northeast Ridge. When an attempt to rescue Sharp was made, it was too late, but would it have been too late earlier in the day?

Hall's and Weber's experiences a few days later touch on many of the same subjects. While Sharp was climbing alone, Hall's teammates had to make the decision of self-preservation over loyalty beyond reason. His incredibly slow descent and lack of reasoning should have meant his death, but like Beck Weathers (another 1996 connection, see his Left for Dead), he defied all reason and lived to descend the next day. His descent was made harrowing more by the help than by the climber, as his rescuers became belligerent during the descent, even beating him with an ice ax. Weber ascended at the same time as Hall, led by Harry Kikstra. Though his death was the least noticed by the media at the time, Heil suggests that his death was the most controversial of the season, heavily implying that he was pushed towards the summit well above reason and offered little first aid before he was declared as good as dead and left lying face down in the snow.

I think Heil writes a pretty good book with this one. Though it's a bit Brice-centered, and doesn't always get the nitty-gritty details (such as quoting someone complaining about the weight of the Poisk oxygen bottles, the lightest available at the time), he writes with nuance about the important information, namely as he sorts through the morality and difficulty of the whole business. I think you're going to like it! 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mountain to Climb, by David Lim

David Lim tells of the 1998 Singapore Mount Everest Expedition and his subsequent neurological syndrome in Mountain to Climb: The Quest for Everest and Beyond. As leader of the expedition, Lim had to build a high-altitude mountaineering community nearly from scratch, as before he began planning the climb in 1994, almost no one from Singapore had climbed a mountain over 6000 meters. Over the intervening years, he would take groups of climbers on successively higher and more technical climbs, including Panch Himchuli and Cho Oyu, to build an experience base from which to build an Everest team. He narrates their experiences on each of the expeditions with a level-headed and analytical style that I was not expecting after having read expedition member Khoo Swee Chiow's Journeys to the Ends of the Earth. Chiow actually gets quite a bit of criticism from Lim for his self-centered actions during most of the climbs, though Lim admits that Chiow has remarkable endurance during the actual climbing. The Singaporeans face an uphill battle, both geographically and logistically, as the highest point in Singapore is a hill and their fundraising is spotty, especially locally, and especially compared to the Malaysians, who climb Everest in 1997 with a giant budget paid for by the government.

The climb goes well, by Everest standards. They climb via the South Col from Nepal during the pre-monsoon season, alongside a number of other well-known expeditions and climbers, including Tom Whittaker's outfit (see his Higher Purpose), Bear Grylls (Facing Up), Ochoa Inaki (Bajo los cielos de Asia), and Wally Berg's National Geographic expedition (that would measure Everest as 29,035 feet high using a fancy GPS beacon). They face much of the politics of Everest, including negotiations over the Icefall, route stringing, weather reports, and oxygen supply issues, but manage to stay out of the worst of the disputes (though maintaining more of a presence than the Iranians). Bruce Niven, of the 1976 British/Nepalese Army expedition (see Fleming and Faux's Soldiers on Everest), acts as Base Camp manager for the Everest climb and several of the others. Their first attempt is foiled by a lack of rope to string the traverse between the South Summit and the Hillary Step, showing their experience level. They return for another climb, placing two Singaporean climbers on top. They are greeted back home with controversy over the nationality of the summit climbers, as they are permanent residents, rather than citizens (as are 25 percent of all Singaporeans).

Soon after his return, Lim is struck by Guillain-Barre Syndrome, rendering him effectively paralyzed. His recovery is long and painful, reminding me a bit of Ahluwalia's Higher than Everest. Lim writes about his hospitalization and rehabilitation in a coda to the climb, discussing his future goals to climb again and making plain the frightening and painful treatments he suffers through to reclaim his life. His subsequent book, Against Giants, discusses his recovery in greater detail and documents his return to the mountains, including attempts on Cho Oyu and the North Ridge of Everest.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Climbers, by Chris Bonington

Chris Bonington writes a history of mountaineering in The Climbers. The book is based on a TV series of the same name (that I have not seen), with fourteen chapters covering the development of equipment, technique, and attitude. It's an interesting read, coming from an author who has experienced firsthand a significant epoch in climbing's history, and who depended on such developments to pull off his difficult ascents in the Himalaya. The book is somewhat European-centered, though Bonington does combat the English-center-of-the-universe story that is all too common in climbing histories, granting credit to Paul Preuss, Willo Welzenbach, Walter Bonatti, and others for their contributions to Alpine ascents. As an American, I feel a bit left out, though adding the contributions of Yvon Chouinard, Royal Robbins, and others would detract from the linear narrative Bonington builds of a Alpine genesis growing into Himalayan opportunities. As appropriate for a book shadowing a TV series, the chapters are focused, but limited. "The Art of Suffering," for example, highlights the climbing career of Reinhold Messner, but also mentions difficult Himalayan climbs by Boardman /Tasker, Voytek Kurtyka, and others.

Everest plays an important part in the book, even getting its own chapter for the early British attempts. He tells the narrative well, with some level-headed analysis. (On a side note, it was fun to read Col. Strutt of the 1922 expedition sound off on the supposed do-or-die climbers scaling the North Faces in the Alps.) I appreciated that Bonington covered the early attempts on both Kanchenjunga and K2, featuring the near-miss of Fritz Weissner. The first ascent of Everest in 1953 makes the chapter covering the ticking off of the 8000ers in the 1950s and 60s. Bonington's own climbs are an important part of the Everest material, especially the Southwest Face. He narrates the Annapurna South Face ascent and gives plenty of room to the two Everest climbs. In a later chapter, he mentions how Himalayan climbing developed away from such logistical nightmares into alpine-style ascents, even calling the siege-style climb "the dinosaur of the Himalaya." Messner's two climbs of Everest are mentioned, as well the Kangshung Face climbs, Bonington's Northeast Ridge attempt, Troillet and Loretan's race to the summit, and a couple other modern climbs.

This is an enjoyable book---quite a bit more analytical and inclusive than earlier British climbing histories. Hope you like it!

This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier entry, which starts here.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Mammoth Book of Eyewitness Everest, edited by Jon E. Lewis

Jon E. Lewis collects a fairly comprehensive history of Everest accounts in The Mammoth Book of Eyewitness Everest. From John Noel's 1913 dash through Tibet towards Everest to Conrad Anker's discovery of Mallory in 1999, Lewis picks accounts that document the momentous occasions on the world's highest mountain, drawing from books, journal articles, and even a radio show transcript. I appreciate both his thoroughness and his variety of perspectives, such as his inclusion of Longland's account of his 1933 harrowing descent during an expedition that usually highlights the exploits of Wyn-Harris, Wager, Shipton, and Smythe, or that of Peter Habeler's version of events on his and Messner's 1978 ascent without supplementary oxygen. It is, however, a British-centric book, released as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first ascent, therefore including Bear Grylls (youngest Briton) and Rebecca Stephens' (first British woman) entertaining, but hardly world-changing climbing accounts, and ignoring the American's efforts on the Kangshung Face, the Yugoslavs on the West Ridge Direct, and the Poles' climb in winter. (Admittedly, I've yet to come across riveting accounts of these important climbs, myself!) The biggest omission, however, with several good accounts, was the 1963 traverse of the mountain by Unsoeld and Hornbein!

Lewis includes excerpts from the following books: Anker and Robert's The Lost Explorer, Bonington's Everest: The Hard Way and The Everest Years, Boukreev and DeWalt's The Climb, Bruce's The Assault on Mount Everest 1922, Coffey's Fragile Edge, Denman's Alone to Everest, Dickenson's The Other Side of Everest, Dittert and Chevalley's Forerunners to Everest, Fellowes' First Over Everest, Grylls' The Kid Who Climbed Everest, Habeler's The Lonely Victory, Messner's Free Spirit, Noel's The Story of Everest, Noyce's South Col, O'Dowd and Woodall's Everest: Free to Decide, Ruttledge's Everest 1933, Shipton's Upon That Mountain, Smythe's Camp Six, Somervell's After Everest, Stephens' On Top of the World, Tasker's Everest: The Cruel Way, Tenzing and Ullman's Tiger of the Snows, Venables' Everest: Alone at the Summit, and Weather's Left for Dead. (Whew! They weren't kidding about the "Mammoth" in the title!)

Lewis also picks some excellent material from other media. Howard-Bury's journal article account provides a summary of his 1921 expedition, which differs only slightly in details from the later official account book, though it is significantly shorter (especially on the plant and animal species he encountered). He singles out both Heron and Wheeler for praise in the article and suggests that Mallory and Bullock moved from the Rongbuk Glacier due to the weather, rather than their instructions to be in Kharta by his (generally accepted) deadline. He also glosses over the climbing team's missing the East Rongbuk Glacier, saying that they used the only feasible route over the Lhakpa La. Lewis chose a journal article for Odell's account of Mallory and Irvine's disappearance, avoiding the over-excerpted account in the official book. Odell touches on a lot of themes for which he's known, including the geology of the mountain and his disdain for supplementary oxygen. He's even more wishy-washy about where he saw them than in the book. Longland's BBC radio account is a fun read, with a plain language description of his descent from Camp VI in 1933 in a blizzard while leading ten Sherpas. Tilman's article on the 1938 expedition is telling. He spends less time discussing food (which is generally a subject covered in detail in his diaries), and a lot more decrying the health of the party (which he said wasn't all that bad in Everest 1938, published nine years later). Wang and Chu, of the 1960 Chinese expedition, tell of their summit day (and night) in their article, making both a sentimental and politically correct account of their high-altitude survival and success. Singh, leader of the 1960 Indian climb, gives a summary of their ultimately foiled attempt, writing a bit more conservatively than the official account book (written for Indian rather than international audiences). In addition, there are several appendices, covering topics from the abominable snowman (didn't like) to high altitude physiology (pretty decent) and Maurice Wilson (an intriguing personal account). I especially enjoyed reading Morris' newspaper account of the first ascent of Everest.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Den Bergen Verfallen, by Loretan & Amman

Erhard Loretan and Jean Amman chronicle Loretan's career of climbing the world's highest mountains in Den Bergen Verfallen (roughly "Addicted to the Mountains"). Loretan was the third person, after Messner and Kukuczka, to climb the fourteen 8000-meter peaks, finishing in the fall of 1995 by climbing Kanchenjunga. He wasn't in a hurry to climb them all, nor did he seek out a lot of media attention during his climbs. He therefore gained a reputation among other climbers for his difficult and often very fast ascents, but he's not well-known outside of Europe. To his credit are an alpine-style ascent of Dhaulagiri in winter, climbing three 8000-ers in two weeks in the Baltoro, a traverse via the long and high East Ridge of Annapurna (English readers can read about his Annapurna climb, along with Norbert Joos, in Viesturs and Roberts' The Will to Climb.), a new route alpine-style on the Southwest Face of Cho Oyu, and a number of other innovative ascents, such as climbing 13 Alpine north faces in 13 days in winter. He made a goal of climbing Everest in 40 hours, Cho Oyu in 30, and Shishipangma in 20 back in 1985, when such ascents were unheard-of, and accomplished it (or came very close, depending on how much of a stickler you are).

His Everest ascent was unprecedented. (He states that medical experts thought it impossible.) Along with Jean Troillet, who would become his regular climbing partner, he made a dash for the summit at the end of the monsoon in 1986 via the Japanese and Hornbein couloirs, climbing two successive nights with almost no gear from the Rongbuk Glacier to the summit while resting during the day. They climbed without the benefit of fixed ropes (as later speed ascents would rely upon), oxygen, sleeping bags, tents, or even much more than starving rations. Deep, unstable snow, caused them both alarm and difficulty. They were unsure if an avalanche had harmed their climbing partner Pierre Beghin, who had turned back at the Hornbein couloir, and they spent a good deal of their climb postholing. The snow aided their descent, however, with their traveling from the summit back to the glacier in just five hours mostly in a glissade. Until I read this book, I was unaware that Loretan's expedition had a less-than-auspicious start, wrenching his ankle in hang glider accident and then later lodging an anchor in his arm, requiring stitches. The best account I've found of this climb in English is in Fanshawe and Venables' Himalaya Alpine Style.

For German readers, this is a fun book. Loretan's writing style is quite a bit lighter than either Messner or Kukuzcka, alternating between humor and philosophy. Most of his ascents are exciting for the right reason, with his pulling off something unprecedented in an unbelievably short time. He does have some tragedies, with a climbing partner dying (slowly and painfully) on Cho Oyu and Benoit Chamoux expiring in a vain attempt to race Loretan to the honor of third person to complete the 8000-meter peaks on Kanchenjunga. I especially liked his first ascents in Antarctica that he climbed as a salve to an overcrowded Everest base camp after his Lhotse climb. His grand plans don't always work out, such as his attempt on the South Face of K2 in 1985, but he is not averse to a Normal Route ascent as a consolation prize. Hope you like it!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Everest: The Hard Way, by Chris Bonington

Chris Bonington and his Boys finally climb the Last Great Problem on the south side of Everest in Everest: The Hard Way. He learns quite a bit from his first try at the Southwest Face of Everest, returning post-monsoon in 1975 to finish the job. Many of his climbers return from the first try (as chronicled in Everest: Southwest Face), with some newcomers including Doug Scott (who had joined Herrligkoffer's European Southwest Face expedition) and Pete Boardman. He implements most of the proposed changes mentioned at the end of Everest: Southwest Face, including arriving earlier, moving Camp IV, and putting netting above the MacInnes boxes to dispel falling debris. Bonington arrives with a plan, complete with computer analysis, for stocking and assaulting the mountain, and the weather behaves enough for the team to pretty much follow it. They get enough gear high enough for two summit assaults, with Doug Scott and Dougal Haston making it to the top quite late, forcing a snow-hole bivouac near the South Summit (Brummie Stokes and Bronco Lane would attempt something similar with much worse results a year later, in Fleming and Faux's Soldiers and Sherpas.), and a four-man attempt directly after, with Pete Boardman and Pertemba making the top, Mick Burke disappearing, and Martin Boysen quite angry about a faulty oxygen system. The true heroes of the expedition were Nick Estcourt and Tut Braithwaite, who made the push through the Rock Band, making summit attempts possible while knocking out any chance they would have at the summit. The key to their success was the expedition's decision to push the gully to the left on the face, which, post-monsoon has a mix of snow and rock, rather than making a push for the shorter right-hand gully that historically has had only rock to climb.

This book has a little bit of everything for the reader. Once again, there's a rushed start, drama between the climbers, plenty of falling hazards (Watch your head, MacInnes!), broken "indestructible" equipment, appendices galore, grave danger, and a British leader who can't decide between despotism and democracy. I appreciate that Bonington is both analytical and self-critical in his writing, even if some of his climbers don't always appreciate it on the mountain. I love that he is able to round up a team of self-motivated first-rate climbers for a climb that is a bit like the Eiger-direct on steroids. To my knowledge, their route has only been repeated once, by a Czeckoslovakian team of four, climbing alpine-style, in which one climber made it to the summit, and all perished on descent. If you're going to pick one Bonington book to read, go for this one.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

South Col, by Wilfrid Noyce

Wilfrid Noyce recounts his involvement in the 1953 British expedition in his South Col. It's a much more personal account than the official Ascent of Everest, by expedition leader John Hunt. It's nice to hear some of the finer details of the expedition that would make official accounts less tidy, such as George Lowe joking around by removing his dentures, or George Band telling a newspaper man who was haggling him that their summit assault would commence with Spitfires circling the South Col. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin famously complained that NASA never sent a poet to the moon, but the British were intelligent enough to send one to Everest. Not only does Noyce include poetry at the end of the book, he writes in a contemplative style that adds some wonder and beauty to the process of climbing the world's highest mountain. It takes him a while to get to Everest, but his writing makes it well worth the wait.

The number of camps in the 1953 British ascent really hit me in this one. Noyce spends considerable time on the mountain, and unlike Tenzing and Hillary, he spends many days in each of the camps up to the South Col. Noyce is famous for pushing up to the Col along with Annalu Sherpa after repeated setbacks by other climbers. Though the Swiss had been there before him, he makes is sound like a glorious discovery. This work provides a sense of place to the Southeast side of the mountain more than anything else I’ve read, and while others have worked, eaten, and slept from the Khumbu Icefall to the South Col, Noyce gives the impression of his taking up residence amongst the ice and rock below the summit. Particularly interesting to me is his account of working up and down the Lhotse face, both in making tracks to the South Col and his return at the end of the expedition to supply the camp and back up George Lowe. Both Lowe and Noyce would later climb in the Pamirs with expedition leader Hunt (see Hunt's Life is Meeting), though Noyce would fall to his death, making his contemplation of the death and grave of Mingma Dorje in the Western Cwm poignant. 

This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier entry, which starts here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

From Everest to the South Pole, by George Lowe

Take the opportunity to read about the other New Zealander who climbed to the highest reaches of Everest in 1953 and reached the South Pole in January 1958, George Lowe, in his From Everest to the South Pole. I've been interested in the life of the other guy, who climbed with Hillary from the beginnings of their climbing careers and supported him all the way to Camp XI on the Southeast Ridge of Mount Everest, who seems to have equaled Hillary in fitness, but didn't make quite as much of a show of his ambitions during their historic climb. In his book, Lowe admits to my suspicions that they climbed more-or-less as equals until Everest (with Lowe actually doing more of the leading on their climbs in New Zealand), and that it was the Everest climb in which Hillary stepped up to his full potential. Whereas I'm a bit suspect of other climbers saying that it could have been them on May 29, 1953, I don't have any doubt that Lowe could have filled Hillary's shoes on the summit climb, as he spends four days on or above the South Col, including humping a heavy load to the final camp and remaining below in support. (I doubt, however, that Lowe could have equaled Hillary's charm and good humor after the climb in the face of so much publicity.)

Lowe provides a unique perspective on the Everest climb and Hillary. He admits that there was quite a bit of contention among the climbers of New Zealand Himalayan Expedition in 1951 after the arrival of Eric Shipton's telegram inviting two of them to join the Everest reconnaissance, with Lowe firmly stating that his lack of money should not discount his ability to participate. Riddiford, as the nominal leader, and Hillary, who could pay his own way ended up joining Shipton. Lowe discusses some of his and Hillary's climbs in New Zealand, including their ascent of Elie de Beaumont, a difficult and inaccessible peak. Lowe makes his fellow climbers seem a little more human than other writers, recounting Hunt's crying at the thoughtfulness of a fellow climber and Tenzing's only half-hidden ambition to make it to the summit. He seems a bit more truthful about the functioning of the oxygen sets, with both his and Tenzing's failing in their first test, and their giving trouble during the ascent of the Lhotse Face.

Most of the book recounts his trip to the South Pole alongside Vivian "Bunny" Fuchs, as it was a three-year, rather than a three-month, adventure. I had never really known anything about this trip beyond the information I've gleaned from Edmund Hillary's many biographies, with Hillary filling a supporting role, but then racing off to the Pole. Lowe was the official photographer for the main party, making the full crossing of Antarctica with three cameras strapped to his body. He dispels the myth of the "race" to the Pole, stating that Hillary made his trip to the Pole useful to the main party by charting out a safe route, and that Hillary did it out of a great sense of fun, rather than any sort of ambition to be first. Lowe's own experiences are varied and entertaining, learning to drive a Weasel while photographing the expedition or reading War and Peace, taking over a team of dogs for three days, and regretting his decision to have a Sno-Cat drive over him for a good shot.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

White Limbo, by Lincoln Hall

Lincoln Hall  begins his literary career with a gem in White Limbo: The 1st Australian Climb of Mt. Everest. Though the narrative is a bit bare at times, the story is hard to beat. Tim Macartney-Snape, Greg Mortimer, Andy Henderson, Geof Bartram, and the author climb a new route on Everest in a semi-alpine style without supplemental oxygen and live to tell the tale (along with help from Tenzing and Narayan lower on the mountain and a film crew and journalist watching). They are constantly in danger, and have several close calls with avalanches, climbing post-monsoon up and around the Great Couloir on the North Face in 1984. There's plenty of snow on the mountain, and they take a lot of breathtaking photographs, including a panorama on the summit at sunset. He preaches a bit at times about the environment, but he walks the walk, and they carry out all their trash but their high camp tent (due to Andy Henderson's injuries). The tent would later play a cameo in the Great Couloir climb of the Americans, when their first summit team bivouacs in the open after not being able to find it (see Lou Whittaker's Memoirs of a Mountain Guide).

The book includes both the Everest climb and a warm-up, with most of the team climbing a new route on the South Face of Annapurna II. (Their team includes a young and inexperienced Mike Groom (Sheer Will) on Annapurna.) Both climbs face long approaches through rough terrain, mixed climbing, and a very tall wall. Annapurna ends up having a great deal more rockfall, whereas Everest constantly threatens avalanches. Their Everest climb is followed a week later by the deaths of fellow Australians Fred From and Craig Nottle after a fall on the West Ridge, climbing with Peter Hillary (see his In the Ghost Country). An interesting side note: their liaison officer on Everest is Mr. Qu, the man who lost his toes and several fingers to frostbite after climbing the Second Step on the Northeast Ridge with bare appendages in 1960 to set ropes on the final summit assault. Also, Tim Macartney-Snape would later be the first to climb Everest from sea level to the summit (all 8850 meters) in 1993, in his Everest from Sea to Summit. Lincoln Hall would finally make it to the summit himself in 2006, though he almost didn't make it back, in his Dead Lucky.

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