Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Epic Climbs, by John Cleare

John Cleare documents for young readers the most exciting attempts on five famous mountains in Epic Climbs. The book features fold-out pages with maps, routes, and a range of illustrations that cover the Eiger, K2, Mount Everest, Mount McKinley, and the Matterhorn. Cleare, both a mountaineer and photographer (He helped document the ill-fated 1971 international Everest expedition for the BBC.), picks interesting and relevant information on the mountains to go with the many photographic illustrations, many of which are his own photos. Also, he lays out a lot of data in easily-deciphered tables and diagrams. He covers the history of climbing each mountain, focusing on the more dramatic climbs, such as the 1924 attempt of Everest, or the 1953 epic on K2. The text is broken up to go with the illustrations, mixing in some geographic trivia and color to the histories. There is some cultural stereotyping in this work, such as "Baltis are fiercely proud and often belligerent," but overall the information in the book is pretty good. I'm not sure Diane Roberts would want to be remembered as the cook for the 1975 K2 expedition, however, and one diagram shows the 1953 K2 expedition nearly making the summit (switched with 1939). These are pretty minor things, though, unless you're Roberts or Wiessner.

Everest gets the biggest foldout in this one, as well as the most page space. Cleare covers the geologic history of the mountain and focuses on the 1924 and 1953 expeditions, as well as Reinhold Messner's 1980 solo climb to the summit. Another section discusses the current crowds on Everest, keeping the tone neutral except for garbage left on the mountain, as well as the weather on Everest and a discussion of avalanches. The large fold-out diagrams the two most popular routes up Everest and the features that climbers encounter en route, such as the Khumbu Icefall and the Second Step. The "Reference" section also includes a table of notable ascents of Everest. I'm not sure what to think of his labeling in the table the 1979 West Ridge Direct climb as Slovenian. The leader, Stremfelj, was from Slovenia, as well as most of the climbers, but at the time, it was considered a Yugoslavian expedition. (Note that Stipe Bozik, one of the summit climbers, was Croatian.) Perhaps this is updating history, but it seems a bit anachronistic to me.

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