Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Camp Six, by Frank Smythe

Frank Smythe writes about his experiences during the 1933 Everest expedition in Camp Six. 1933 was Smythe's first trip to Everest (of three) and also the expedition in which he climbed the highest. The book is a well-deserved classic of climbing literature, with Smythe describing for a broad audience the business of climbing Everest. He even (horror upon horrors!) describes the joys of late night sub-zero bathroom calls and hints at the foul language climbers used towards the frustrating cookers. Though the official account, Everest 1933, is already an entertaining and rigorous narrative, Smythe's book adds some flavor to the journey and gets away with some commentary that would be inappropriate in an official release. Also, Smythe's use of pet names (Billy, Waggers, etc.) humanize the protagonists a bit more, and his praising of their accomplishments is more forthright here. He explains why he likes to climb with Shipton and also expresses a friendly affection for George Wood-Johnson (who accompanied him to Kanchenjunga).

Smythe is the only Everest climber from the 1930s to give a book-length account of his climb (apart from the "official" books). Greene (Moments of Being) and Boustead (Winds of Morning) would later include details of the 1933 account in their memoirs. Shipton would later write a history of climbing Everest, Men Against Everest, thank includes his personal experiences. I think that Smythe's writing, both before and after his Everest experience, established his reputation as a great man in the history of Everest. His accomplishment in 1933 is staggering (spending three nights at Camp VI and above without oxygen, three forays on the North Ridge, and a difficult solo climb very high on the mountain, all while returning the healthiest man of the assault party), but I think we know of Smythe rather than Wager and Wyn-Harris, who also climbed as high as he did, because of his literary effort. Camp Six is an enjoyable book; I think you'll like it!

To learn more about Smythe's life, read Calvert's biography, Smythe's Mountains.

1 comment:

  1. Frank Smythe was the man! Camp 6 was my motivation to trek to the Everest base camp even so from the Nepal side