Friday, October 5, 2012

See It From the Top, by Yury Pritzker

Yury Prtizker tells his Everest story and provides a practical guide for others thinking of climbing the world's highest mountain in See It from the Top: How to Climb Everest without Quitting Your Day Job. His own ascent took place in the pre-monsoon season of 2009 under Dawa Stephen Sherpa's Asian Trekking Eco Everest Expedition. He dreamed it, rationalized it, and then achieved his trip to Everest through a home-grown regimen of preparation. His utilitarian focus on his equipment, his information gathering, and his physical training and the hard logic that causes him to maximize the effectiveness of each gives a rare prolonged look into the rational, rather than the idealistic, choices that help get climbers to the top of Everest. He discusses everything from the types of expeditions available and their costs to the calculation of a climber's oxygen consumption for a summit attempt. (The only thing missing was a rubric for negotiating with employers for prolonged leave!) The book is a guide based on how he climbed Everest, and while it contains a lot of information on other options, the most detailed descriptions come from his personal experience.

Pritzker's experience is both iconic and unique. He grew up in Russia taking holidays in the Caucuses, manufacturing climbing equipment with whatever materials he could scrounge, before immigrating to the United States. He progresses from weekend climbing trips from his home in Chicago (Finally, a Midwesterner writes an Everest book!) to climbs of Mounts Rainier, Hunter, and McKinley. He decides to climb Everest next, without previous Himalayan experience, for financial and emotional reasons, but prepares himself rigorously and thoughtfully for the challenge. He once again makes some of his own equipment, enlarging his ascender handle and coming up with a new system for heating his hands and feet. He relies on speed and technique for safety, climbing efficiently and passing many. He felt comfortable making important decisions for himself and chose Asian Trekking for their supported, but unguided climb. He was scrupulous about his health and followed a strict acclimatization scheme to give himself maximum advantage on his summit attempt. If you want specifics, read the book! As a postscript, he interviews his wife, Svetlana, about her experience at home and about her program of visualization and motivation that she uses to coach others, including her husband.

Speaking of postscripts --- his book is self-published, and some of his typos made for some wonderful mental images, such as "chain strokes," rather than Cheyne Stokes, breathing, that makes me think of a power tool that is having trouble starting, much like the climber in his sleeping bag. Also, his "Yellow Bend" (Yellow Band) brought to mind the great U-shape of Everest massif, and his "wondering around" made me think of the mental state I am often in as I wander. I don't hold any of these unintentional puns against the author, I rather enjoyed coming across them!

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