Sunday, October 21, 2012

This My Voyage, by Tom Longstaff

Tom Longstaff sums up a lifetime of adventures in This My Voyage. He writes about his experiences mostly in the mountains as both an explorer and a climber. Though he was one of the earliest serious climbers in the Himalaya, he covers climbs worldwide, including the Alps, Caucasus, Rockies, and the Arctic. He climbs with an attitude similar to myself, constantly turning around to see the view, and much more interested in seeing what's on the other side of the mountain than achieving a summit. This did not stop him from climbing the highest summit yet reached, ascending Trisul in 1907 on a trip to the Himalaya with Bruce and Mumm. I had often heard that he climbed to the summit alone, but he makes it clear that made it to the top with two Swiss guides and a Gurkha in a long rush from a relatively low camp. (You may also read that he held the record for highest summit for a long time, but Mitchell and Rodway recently proved that Kellas climbed a higher mountain in 1911. See Prelude to Everest.) Longstaff is known as an early advocate for light travel in the greater ranges, especially for his explorations around Nanda Devi and in the Karakorum. I was impressed by his early use of crampons for fast and light ascents in the Caucasus and for his relatively modern tolerance for discomfort on a mountain climb, such as bivouacs without sleeping gear in good weather. I was happy that he said that his favorite place to climb is the Rockies, both for the quality of terrain and the company in the lower elevations. I also found to my liking his defense of British mountains, both as mountains rather than hills and ranges with their own form and personality rather than just warm-up peaks for the Alps.

He writes, of course, about climbing Everest, both his own experience and a short synopsis of subsequent climbs. I don't know why, but I hadn't connected Longstaff's Trisul ascent with Bruce and Mumm's Himalayan expedition before, which was a consolation climb for a thwarted attempt at obtaining permission to reconnoiter Everest. He also brings up Bruce's attempt to set up and expedition through Nepal in 1908 and Rawling's attempt to set up an expedition for 1915. I appreciated that he gave Wheeler full credit for the discovery of the East Rongbuk Glacier, rather than Mallory. (He also writes about his climbing with Wheeler and his father in the Canadian Rockies.) His tale of the 1922 climb is somewhat short, mentioning his work lower on the mountain, the frostbite and other health problems of the climbers, and his subsequent evacuation of the worst climbers. I was hoping for some details on Irvine from their 1923 Spitsbergen expedition, but he only mentions him once in passing; Longstaff does provide the details from the sea-going side of the expedition. (Irvine was on the sledging party with Odell.) Also, there's some interesting details on Odell from the story of Odell and Longstaff's sledging journey on Spitsbergen during the 1922 Arctic summer. I was hoping to glean some behind-the-scenes details from the Everest committee or other such, as Longstaff was such a pivotal figure in the creation of so many of the Everest parties, but alas, this is not that sort of book! It's an enjoyable read, nonetheless, from a true lover of mountains.