Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Villain, by Jim Perrin

Jim Perrin cuts the legendary Don Whillans down to size in The Villain: A Portrait of Don Whillans. The mountaineering literature is full of conflated, over-the-top Whillans stories, giving his memory a bit of a mythical edge. Having come to know Whillans through the literature, I was disappointed to find out that, alas, even Whillans is human. Perrin sorts through the many Whillans stories to piece together the most likely true character behind the hard-as-nails, yet witty image. You may not have realized that Whillans was a tropical fish enthusiast, that he had a fairly comfortable upbringing (at least, compared to Joe Brown), or that he had a soft spot for kids. Perrin traces his life from childhood, through his gritstone and Rock and Ice climbs, to his Alpine career, and his climbs in the Himalaya and around the world. He shows that Whillans begrudged the shadow of Joe Brown's career, and that he never quite escaped his contempt for his more successful climbing partner. Again with Bonington, he initially accomplishes great things, only to find himself left behind during Bonington's later successes. Perrins paints a complex picture of a man both ambitious and destructive, who has a great talent for climbing, but consistently has trouble in climbing relationships and ruins his own health by the time he's forty.

Whillans is partly known for his participation in two attempts on the Southwest Face of Everest, the 1971 international expedition and the 1972 European expedition, as well as his non-participation in the two Southwest Face climbs by Bonington's crew. Much of what Perrin includes about these climbs is found in other sources. However, he explains the animosity between Mazeaud and Whillans a little more clearly and includes a story of their encounter on the flight to the approach that sharpens Mazeaud's anger a bit. (He was initially miffed that Whillans "stole" the Central Pillar of the Freney after Mazeaud's epic survival of a lengthy storm on the route.) Also, Perrin includes parts of an interview with John Cleare, who explains Whillans' pivotal role in the attempted rescue of Harsh Bahuguna. The 1972 European expedition only gets a couple pages in this book, with no new information or analysis, as although Whillans participated, the expedition for him was defined more by what he was prevented from doing than what he contributed. Though Perrin cites the usual reasons for Whillans non-inclusion in the Bonington climbs, he does include some additional back-story with Whillans' jousting with Estcourt over statistics from the Annapurna climb.

No comments:

Post a Comment