Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mountain Madness, by Robert Birkby

Robert Birkby writes about the man behind the image in Mountain Madness: Scott Fischer, Mount Everest & A Life Lived on High. Birkby, both a friend and client of Scott Fischer, gives a balanced view, detailing his life and climbs, including his childhood, his family, his major climbs, and several commercial trips, including a few that included the author. He shows Fischer to be an exuberant, driven climber fostered in the NOLS program who had a special attraction to Mount Everest. Though ambitious, Fischer's love of climbing always outweighed his organizational and business sense, and he didn't have a lot of respect for authority, including his own. While Fischer could be a great cheerleader and figurehead, Birkby shows that he depended on others to do much of the grunt work in his business as a mountain guide service provider. Birkby pieces his life together with interviews with family, friends, and fellow climbers, with special attention given to Wes Krause, Wally Berg, and Ed Viesturs for some of his bigger climbs. In Fischer's Himalayan career, Birkby uses Rob Hall as a contrast, both in Hall's successes and operations.

Fischer had a long, frustrating relationship with Everest. He organized and nominally led his first attempt, post-monsoon in 1987 via the Australian North Face route. He thought his fellow climbers, none of whom had Everest experience, would be self-motivated to help with load carrying to the various camps, and that all the equipment would sort itself out between the climbers. Despite this, had the weather been obliging, he and several other climbers (including Stacy Allison, see her Many Mountains to Climb) were poised to make a viable, though not strong, attempt on the summit at the end of the season. He returns, this time via Nepal, in the pre-monsoon season of 1989 for On Top Everest medical research expedition, under McConnell and Reynolds, that has the summit as a secondary objective. He and Wally Berg were taken on as ringers to push the route and make the important climbing decisions. Though Fischer makes three attempts at the summit, ultimately a less experienced climber and two Sherpa make the summit after he had exhausted himself, though tragedy strikes on their descent. He returned in 1990 with Glen Porzak's Everest-Lhotse team to become one of the first two Americans to climb Lhotse, but the team was packing their bags before he could get ready for Everest. Finally, in 1994, with a NOLS crew under Steven Goryl billed as the Sagarmatha Environmental Expedition, Fischer made the top without supplemental oxygen along with Rob Hess. His 1996 expedition, of course, is legend. Birkby supplements the usual tale with interviews with his surviving guides Neal Beidleman and Brent Bishop (who led the trekkers), as well as a couple quotes from his clients.

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