Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Near Death in the Mountains, edited by Cecil Kuhne

Cecil Kuhne brings together a collection of excerpts from some of the most famous mountaineering literature in Near Death in the Mountains: True Stories of Disaster and Survival. His cuts are relatively large, with only thirteen book excerpts for a 500-page collection. You really get a feel for the books this way. Some of his excerpts, especially those from episodic works, such as Peter Potterfield's In the Zone or Bonatti's The Mountains of My Life, worked quite well. Also, Parrado's Miracle in the Andes made a great story, as the climbing section of the book works well on its own. Several of the excerpts, however, were pretty awkward. Davidson's Minus 148 Degrees leaves off before the great storm with the unbelievably low temperature or the summit push. Simpson's Touching the Void stops after he breaks his knee, but before his abandonment and epic descent. Several others end just as things start to look like they might work out, and then the editor explains the end of the book. I found it overall a bit icky.

For Everest, Kuhne chose Hornbein's Everest: The West Ridge. Kuhne includes the final stocking of camps and end-run logistics up through the sunrise after the unintended bivouac. Though I'm not certain where exactly I would otherwise stop the story, I hate leaving climbers on the mountain, especially after a night that might have frozen them to its side. If you're curious about The West Ridge, I would suggest reading the whole thing. It's a short book, and it's a great book. Other books excerpted in this collection include Krakauer's Eiger Dreams, Harrer's The White Spider, Herzog's Annapurna, Roberts' The Mountain of My Fear, Roskelley's Nanda Devi, and Tasker's Savage Arena.

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