Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Call of Everest, by D. K. Khullar

D. K. Khullar looks back on the 1984 Indian Everest expedition that he led in The Call of Everest: First Ascent by an Indian Woman. The expedition was so troubled, that it took Khullar several years before he could look back on it dispassionately. With a short prep time, a large team, improvised logistics and funding, and a mixed-gender expedition that looks to put several women on the summit, the climb is bound to be interesting. The snarkiness and interpersonal conflict in this book is a far cry from the tidy, yet heroic expedition accounts of the 1960s (Lure of Everest, The Everest Adventure, Nine Atop Everest), but is tame compared to Galen Rowell's In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods. Khullar's candid writing is a significant change from the traditional leader's account, writing harshly of both his own performance and that of several of the climbers. It all seems a bit strange for an expedition in which so many climbers (five) made it to the summit.

The team climbs the mountain during the pre-monsoon season alongside the Bulgarian team attempting the West Ridge Direct (see Doskov & Petkov's How We Climbed Everest or Savov's Everest: The Bulgarian Way). They interact with the Bulgarians, especially as the Bulgarians have superior supplies, trading support on the Bulgarians' descent on the Southeast Ridge for surplus oxygen canisters and radios. It seems like Providence had it out for the Indian team, as two support staff die early in the climb, climbers face two major avalanches with multiple casualties, and high winds prevent one of their summit climbs. Also, five of their team would later face climbing deaths soon after this expedition. The climbing ethics of the time come out in this one, as Phu Dorji is castigated for making a solo push to the summit after his two rope mates turn back. Similarly, Khullar receives quite a bit of criticism for only getting one woman to the summit. I can't say it was for lack of trying! Khullar has nothing but praise for Bachendri Pal, the woman who made it. I think he would have been equally happy had Rita Gombu (Tenzing Norgay's granddaughter) also made it. It's a fantastic story and a bit of an odd book. Well worth a read if you find a copy!

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