Monday, October 29, 2012

Ghosts of Everest, by Hemmleb, Johnson, & Simonson

Jochen Hemmleb, Larry Johnston an Eric Simonson turn over the story of their quest to solve the mystery of Mallory and Irvine to Bill Nothdurft in Ghosts of Everest: The Search for Mallory & Irvine. The book narrates both the 1924 Everest expedition in which Mallory and Irvine walked into the clouds and the 1999 research expedition that found George Mallory's final resting place. Though Conrad Anker's mountaineering intuition ultimately led to their great discovery (See Anker and Roberts' The Lost Explorer.), Hemmleb's enthusiasm and intellect really seems to have set the ball rolling and gotten the searchers to the general location. Hemmleb and Johnston band together with Graham Hoyland, who was working to get a 75th anniversary search expedition off the ground (See his Last Hours on Everest.) through the BBC and Eric Simonson. According to this book, the BBC was a bit of a pain, but a necessary one, though I'll bet Peter Firstbrook, the director, disagrees. (See his Lost on Everest.) They head to Everest, and the North Face has blessedly little snow during their search. The rest is history.

When I saw Hemmleb's name first on the cover, I initially thought I would be reading something thoroughly academic. The book is a bit more basic, but entertaining, aiming to please a general audience. Hemmleb's talent shows through, however. He identifies cadavers by the color of their socks, and using photographs triangulates the location of the Chinese camps that would serves as a reference points for their search. His analysis of the photographic evidence of the 1960 summit climb is lovely. His working out the possibilities of Mallory and Irvine's oxygen consumption is compelling, and his analysis of Odell's many statements on his vision is thorough. I felt voyeuristic seeing the pictures of Mallory's body clinging to the slope. I do not believe I (and the rest of the world) should be seeing them, but I do find it poetic that history has shown us Mallory's bare buttocks instead of his summit photos!

For a revision of the Mallory story based on the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition's findings, see Breashears and Salkeld's Last Climb. This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier entry, found here.

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