Monday, December 16, 2013

Filming the Impossible, by Leo Dickinson

Leo Dickinson, who along with Eric Jones filmed Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler's first ascent of Everest without supplemental oxygen, writes of a life of filming the world's great adventures. Beyond Everest, Dickinson films and participates in such projects as the first filmed climb of the North Face of the Eiger, exploration in Patagonia, the first descent by kayak of the Dudh Kosi (including the highest ever canoe launch at Everest Base Camp), ballooning over the Sahara, attempts at ballooning around the world, and skydiving from both planes and balloons. His writing is as dynamic as his films, with the unaffected perspective of someone who uncovers something new and interesting even in well-trodden paths. He pushes the limits of filming, with cameras mounted on kayaks, lightweight cameras with batteries wired from within a climber's down suit, helmet cams for skydiving (not so standard in the 1970s!), and filming ballooning from a rope ladder attached far away from the basket. Throughout the book are high-quality photographs from each of his adventures.

He meets Reinhold and Ushi Messner at a mountain film festival, and Reinhold first invites him to Dhaulagiri, and then to Everest. Dickinson has some troubles with the altitude, but Eric Jones eventually makes it as far as the South Col of Everest. I did not realize until reading this book, that Messner's filming during his summit climb (which would later cause him snow blindness) was actually for Dickinson's movie. Dickinson provides an outsider's perspective to Messner and Habeler's climb, though with few surprises. He credits their reaching the summit mainly on Messner's determination and belief in himself, pointing out that Habeler waffled quite a bit on oxygen and wished to go down during their summit climb in marginal weather. Dickinson's subsequent film, Everest Unmasked, would later win awards at the Telluride, Trento, and Banff mountain film festivals.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Letters from Everest, by George Lowe

George Lowe, pivotal member of the 1953 climb that made the summit of the world's highest mountain, gives an account of the climb through a series of vivid letters written back home to New Zealand in Letters from Everest: A First-Hand Account from the Epic First Ascent. While working with Lowe on his memoirs (found in the recently published The Conquest of Everest), Huw Lewis-Jones came across several piles of correspondence, including a lovely series of letters from the first ascent of Everest, meant to fill in friends and family on the details of the climb. Within, Lowe writes plainly of climbing Everest, providing a sense of reality lost in many of the carefully edited accounts prepared for the public (think Hunt, Hillary...). Details come to light that would have been otherwise lost, such as Lowe's dicey return from the Lhotse Face with a team a Sherpas during a whiteout (reminiscent of Longland's frightening epic on the North Ridge 20 years earlier), the true extent of John Hunt's physical efforts, or the level of madness surrounding Tenzing upon the team's return to Kathmandu. Perhaps my favorite is a clarification of the context of Hillary's famous, "Well, we knocked the bastard off" comment, with Lowe writing that it was said more incredulously than insidiously.

Lowe is a wonderful personality who perhaps stayed too quiet too long about the Everest climb. He writes quite well and provides a more modern and down-to-earth telling than any of his cohorts. All the more impressive is that it was written at the moment, at high altitude, and with a multitude of distractions and discomforts. This book doesn't quite substitute for a full telling of the first ascent of Everest, but it's an excellent supplement for someone already familiar with the story, and a gem for the true aficionado. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Extreme Landscapes, edited to Bernadette McDonald

Bernadette McDonald oversees a collection of inspired writing, in celebration of the International Year of the Mountain (2002), in Extreme Landscape: The Lure of Mountain Spaces. She invited authors with a wide range of expertise, from mountaineer and photographer to philosopher and ethnobotanist, to contribute to the overall discussion through their essays of mountains, their effect on people, and people's effect on them. And what a discussion! The quality of writing here is well above the average mountain collection, with thoughtful and intelligent prose in a variety of styles---the poetic and hypnotic effusions by Ehrlich on the experience of Greenland, the blurring of landscape and belief by Schaller, the symbolism and human understanding of Amy, the blending of South and North by Davis, and so much more.

Everest is but a small part of this collection---often used as an example to make a point. Sid Marty shows us that in places such as Everest, some of the places that we treasure the most as a natural wonder have also had extreme human impacts upon them. John Amatt tries to create some lessons from his experience with the 1982 Canadian Mount Everest expedition. Dermot Sommers (Everest, '93) laments the slow disappearance of Khaling Rai, among other mountain heritage languages. Reinhold Messner (Everest, '78, '80) looks for a more controlled, intelligent, and natural use of mountains within Europe. Rick Ridgeway (Everest, '76) profiles Doug Tompkins and Yvon Chouinard as they turn their commercial success into mountain conservatories in South America. Ed Douglas connects the story of his visiting the Kama Valley, east of Everest, to the story of his late father and his passing. Both Bernard Amy and Edwin Bernbaum play with Mallory's "Because it's there..." quote, Amy suggesting that people climb mountains more because they are over there than simply because they exist, and Bernbaum defining Mallory's "it" as "the experience of a deeper reality that gives meaning and vitality to [mountaineer's] lives," poetically declaring that Mallory disappeared into the "it" that was there on Everest.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Everest: The First Ascent From North (Col), by Mohinder Singh

My 400th Everest book! I looked for a good one that was hard to come by and also had a good story, as with my other century books, Goswami's Everest, Is It Conquered? (100), Shin's Orient Express to Crystal Summit (200), and Doskov and Petkov's How We Conquered Everest (300). If you've read Krakauer's Into Thin Air, then you should be familiar with the three Indian climbers, T. Samanla, Tsewang Paljor, and Dorje Morup, who were caught high on the Northeast Ridge of Everest during the storm of May 10th; however, their story is told only as a tragic footnote to the events happening nearby, among and around Krakauer's own team. Singh writes their full tale, along with that of their entire expedition in the book presented below!

Mohinder Singh, Commandant (Retd.) ITBP, writes of the successful, yet tragic 1996 Indo-Tibetan Border Police Everest expedition, which he led, in Everest: The First Indian Ascent from the North (Col). Singh had a tough job, following three failed Indian attempts at the North Col route, and working ahead of and among other expeditions to make the sort of climb the ITBP could be proud of. His is the largest expedition on the Tibetan side of Everest in 1996, and they provide the most manpower and material support for stringing the route and supplying the mountain. He shows how much work it can be, to not only lead an Everest expedition, but to lead an Indian Everest expedition, documenting, without complaining, a bit of the bureaucracy he faces, both from China and his home country. He gives a small taste of the great amount of organization that went into his leading the climb, both on the mountain and beforehand, within the text providing lists of the days' accomplishments, schedules, or bullet points for important information.

Once the team makes it away from New Dehli, the text takes the form of a daily journal, with chapters separating important parts of the climb. Singh provides a great amount of information regarding the team's daily accomplishments, with occasional small interpersonal details and the team's interaction with other teams included, as long as they are important to the overall function of the Indian team. I love the focus of this book, as it creates a bit of a microcosm out of their climb, detailing what it takes, and including only what is important to get a large number of climbers to the summit of the world's highest mountain. The expedition and its climbers are considerably more open---Camp II gets a reputation as an Indian restaurant due to their willingness to share with passers-by, they liaise with other teams to string the route, and they lend the use of their satellite equipment to other teams in need. He focuses the narrative on their working together with the Japanese team's Sherpas to work the North Ridge and his continuous communication with the Japanese leader to coordinate their climbs.

That focus makes it all the more tragic when two Japanese climbers and their Sherpas climb past three dying Indian climbers on May 11. The three Indians had made the summit as the storm of May 10th was building, and were not heard from after their radio transmission from the summit. However, May 11th dawned clear enough to see the climbers with binoculars from the North Col, and watch as the Japanese team stopped for a rest and a snack 40 meters beyond one of the stricken Indian team. After reaching the summit, they again climbed past the three Indian climbers. While Singh does not credit the Japanese with his teammates' deaths, he does find their actions inexcusable and unexplainable. After a period of mourning, he turns to his team to decide a future course. They return to place five more climbers on the summit in a single push a week after the first ascent and the storm.

Some interesting facts from this book: They have a Sherpa, Wangde, who becomes ill from an old complaint, returns to Kathmandu with a team member, and dies in the hospital while they are still on the mountain; this death is not generally recorded in the tally for 1996, though a similar death (Ngawang Topche's) from the South is. Singh claims that his second summit team noticed Dorje Morup, not Tsewang Paljor, in the hollow near the First Step, though most secondhand accounts switch them. Based on the photographs in the book, you'll see that every team member for this climb was issued with green boots---it was not just "Green Boots," (the irreverent name given to the climber in the hollow), with a wild fashion sense. Lastly, this is the only Everest book I've so far read with a section on edible and medicinal Himalayan herbs.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Off Peak, by Patricia Glyn

Patricia Glyn writes of a much happier, later South African climb of Everest than the fraught 1996 expedition, in Off Peak: The Discovery Everest Expedition Diary. Her team, or rather the team she covers, heads to the Nepal side of Everest during the 2003 pre-monsoon anniversary season. Deshun Deysel returns, along with Sean Wisedale, Mark Disney, and a collection of climbers, a paramedic, and Glyn. They get off to a good start, make contributions to the stringing of the route, and are fortunate to have a somewhat average and uneventful climb of Everest, though with a surprise ending.

It's Glyn's writing, however, that makes this book worth the read. Though stuck in Base Camp, she makes the most of things with good humor and a some friendliness/nosiness with the other expeditions on the mountain. Her writing is deliberately un-adventurous, jokingly calling nights on the mountains "sleepovers" and commenting on the many ironic joys of the grand pastime of high-altitude mountaineering. She turns a relatively mundane (for Everest) Everest climb into a gem of the literature with her off-kilter style.

Even if they managed to get someone to the summit, this is not the expedition in which Sibusiso Vilane made his first climb of Everest. He summited as a part of the Jagged Globe commercial operation. See his To the Top from Nowhere for details on his climb.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Will to Climb, by Richard Harris

Richard Harris writes about his climbs with his son, Christopher, including their quest for the Seven Summits and their attempt on Everest, in The Will to Climb. Christopher starts his climbing life early, becoming the youngest climber to scale Mount Cook, at 13, in 2002. Father and son climb together, working on higher and more technical mountains with an eye towards Everest. Sponsorship gets them to Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, and Aconcagua, before landing a last-minute gift that covers enough to get them, and a film crew, to Everest in 2006. Harris writes about his Everest experience in a diary-style, with daily entries and a blow-by-blow of events. Much of the narrative focuses on the author's experiences, though it's clear he has high regard for his son. Fate is not so kind to father and son on Everest, but their high-altitude cameraman, Lincoln Hall (originally famous for his 1984 Everest climb chronicled in White Limbo), gets the chance of a lifetime to climb to the summit with a cadre of their team's Sherpas. Ultimately, their team is but one of many dramas that Abramov's Seven Summits Club expedition faces, with deaths of climbers and near misses by others.

Hall, of course, has a great climb to the summit, but faces cerebral edema, madness, and seeming death on the trip back to high camp. (See his Dead Lucky for a first-person perspective.) Harris' team had the foresight to tape the radio traffic after things started getting out of hand, and he provides transcripts of the
English-language radio messages between the summit, Advanced Base Camp, and Base Camp. The story takes an odd twist as they discover that Hall is actually still alive the next day, but they are already on their way home, as they had planned on his safe return and being back to travel with them. Also, they had already informed Hall's family of his death, and had to contact them once again.

I was hoping to discover the further adventures of Christopher Harris online after reading this book, but alas, I'm out of luck. The youngest yet did manage to scale the Seven Summits in 2006---20-year-old Danielle Fisher. Jordan Romero would later, in 2010, climb Everest at 13 and finish his Seven Summits at 15, when all the red tape was cleared to get him to Vinson, in Antarctica. (See Katherine Blanc's The Boy Who Conquered Everest.)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Incredible Ascents to Everest, by Sumati Nagrath

Sumati Nagrath writes about some of the most inspiring climbs of the world's highest mountain in Incredible Ascents to Everest: Extraordinary stories of ascents from a blind man's success to a Sherpa's record 21 climbs; from the oldest on the mountain to one who was first to ski down Mt. Everest. This large, photographically-illustrated volume tells a selected history of climbing Mount Everest, in which a climb's inspirational value, rather than its technical challenges, warrants its inclusion. The author picks a great set, given these parameters, for a book that should appeal to a wide audience, with the most important climbs of Everest's history mixed in with some of its great stories. The chapters focus on individuals, such as Junko Tabei or Min Bahadur Sherchan, but Nagrath includes a number of other notable climbers alongside, including Tamae Watanabe and Davo Karnicar. I like the international scope of this book, as so many Everest histories are Anglo-centric, and I appreciate Nagrath's attention to detail in her storytelling. The book is well-formatted, with an interesting mix of text, full-page photographs, quotes from climbers, and sub-sections. I found this book both entertaining and well-informed. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Mountain: My Time on Everest, by Viesturs and Roberts

Ed Viesturs, with David Roberts, writes about his ten expeditions to the world's highest mountain, along with a commentary on selected climbs throughout its history, in The Mountain: My Time on Everest: The Irresistible Lure of the World's Highest Peak. The book follows much of the same pattern as his two earlier volumes, on K2 and Annapurna (K2 and The Will to Climb), in that he relates his own experiences on the mountain in question (and others) to many of the great climbs of the past, and he gives much fuller details of his own expeditions to the mountain than in his No Shortcuts to the Top, the tale of his climbing the fourteen 8000-meter peaks.

I appreciated getting full details on his early climbs, including ones that did not get him to the summit. His trip to the Kangshung Face gets a lot of attention, especially his wavering back and forth, as a relatively young climber, between going for it despite the dangers and listening to his survival instincts. His first attempt, via the Great Couloir, that got him within 300 meters of the summit, establishes his abilities at altitude; I had no idea previously that it was a paid-for trip by a group of Arkansas climbers, who decided that some professional guides might make great substitutes for Sherpa. His solo attempt, via the Japanese Couloir, is more than just a bum trip, but rather a trial against horrendous snow conditions and the limits of his mountaineering instincts. More details of the 1990 International Peace climb emerge, in which Viesturs makes the summit for the first time, without supplementary oxygen.

His commercial trips, including his guiding climbs in the early and mid 90s, his film projects, and his Eddie Bauer climb, also come to life. He leaves the details of his 1996 IMAX climb to his earlier works, but he writes considerably more detail on his two early Everest guiding trips, such as how he ended up climbing to the summit without oxygen after his client was too exhausted to continue on his first guided expedition, and his good impression of Erling Kagge, the first to reach the "three poles" under his own power (You may remember that Edmund Hillary drove a tractor to the South Pole, and took a flight with Neil Armstrong to the North Pole...), on his second. His 1997 NOVA climb sounds like a lot more fun than he originally portrayed it, and the crowds during his recent climbs sound like more of a problem than he wanted to admit earlier. Even so, Viesturs doesn't knock commercial climbing, or even say that having so many people on the mountain is necessarily wrong.

His history is perhaps a little more ordinary than his two previous books covering a single mountain. While he can get away with picking favorites while relating the history of K2 or Annapurna (since they've overall had considerably fewer climbs and their histories are familiar to quite few), Everest has an established timeline for English-speaking audiences that's a bit hard to ignore. He gives credit to Mallory's mountaineering judgement on the 1921 reconnaissance, though less so in subsequent years. He's impressed by Norton's great effort in 1924. Shipton and Tilman's minimalist ethic catches his attention for the 1930s, stating that if they'd just had better weather in 1938, the history of high-altitude climbing might have been completely different. The 1963 American ascent, via the West Ridge, impresses him as one of the most daring and phenomenal climbs in Everest's history. He also discusses the historical canon of China's two North Ridge climbs, Bonington's Southwest Face climbs, Messner and Habeler's bottle-free ascent, and Messner's return to climb Everest solo. I'm glad he took time to add to the English-language record with his descriptions of the 1980 Polish winter ascent and Loretan and Troillet's 1986 40-hour midnight dash to the summit (See Loretan's Den Bergen Verfallen.). I appreciate that even if Viesturs and Loretan have completely opposite climbing styles, that Viesturs can still show a lot of respect for Loretan's achievements in the mountains. Though I'm grateful for the foreign-language information he did cover, I'm a bit sad he didn't continue on and perhaps discuss the Soviet climb of the Southwest Pillar, the Yugoslav or Bulgarian West Ridge Direct climbs, or the Japanese climbs of either the North Face or the Northeast Ridge Direct. He does help the world out a bit, by bringing attention to the two American climbs on the Kangshung Face in 1981 and 1983, which culminated in six climbers making the summit. Then again, his own Great Couloir climb would have made a lovely parallel to the Australians' climb in 1984, and his Kangshung Face climb would have made an interesting comparison to the 1988 climb nearby by an incredibly small team of four.

I enjoyed this book. I appreciate reading a highly-experienced climber's opinion on the history of Everest, and I'll take whatever I can get. Since I have read so much about Everest already, I most enjoyed getting the gritty on Viesturs' less-vaunted attempts. His history is pretty accurate, and his analysis makes sense. This might be a book directed towards previous Viesturs/Roberts readers, but it is certainly accessible to anyone who's read a climbing book or two. I'm looking forward to more collaborations by Viesturs and Roberts in the future. Hope you like it!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

No Place but UP!, by Lance S. Fox

Lance S. Fox, veterinarian from Wisconsin, achieves the summit of his dreams in No Place but UP! An unlikely adventure, his tale chronicles his journey from a novice climber, who experienced altitude sickness climbing Colorado Fourteeners, to a determined father who shows his kids that no dream is too high. He, like several modern Everest climbers, first dreamed about climbing Everest after reading about the troubled 1996 season. A shortage of mountains in Wisconsin sends him to Colorado, Washington, and Mexico for his early mountain experiences, before he skips straight to Everest, with the blessing of Russell Brice. He also has the fortune to find a sponsor to cover his expenses for his climb with Himex in 2009, and to become a part of the Everest: Beyond the Limit television program. In addition to achieving his dream, Fox seeks to help the Sherpa people, using his talents as a veterinarian specializing in cattle to treat hundreds of yaks, both before his climb and on a return to Everest base camp in 2011. 

The climbing goes well, at least for Fox. Brice's operation, relatively new to Nepal, shows what comfort and caution can mean on the south side of Everest. They head up Lobuche Peak, rather than the Khumbu Icefall for early acclimatization runs, the route is strung all the way to the summit (including double lines for technical sections) before any paying climbers head to the top, and the climbers use three, rather than two, oxygen tanks as a norm on summit day. Fox encounters the crowds that are typical of a climb high on Everest lately, and he deals with his many fellow climbers genially, if at times nervously. He feeds on the social aspect of climbing, and makes many lasting friends among his teammates, though his climb strains one already established friendship. He also gets to meet his climbing hero, Ed Viesturs (author of The Mountain: My Time on Everest---look for a review soon!), who climbs in 2009 as a part of the First Ascent Eddie Bauer promotional climb. Fox tells his story well, and has a great attitude---a great first book and first climb.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Everest: Legendary Victors and Vanquished, by Peter Sherwood

Peter Sherwood puts together a small volume on a big mountain in Everest: Legendary Victors and Vanquished. He writes about the history of climbing Mount Everest, focusing on three important seasons: 1924, 1953, and 1996. Though the book is tiny (smaller dimensions than a trade paperback, and 100 pages long), it is chock-full of color photographs, both historical and modern, that accompany Sherwood's prose. He writes about the expeditions intelligently, though not in detail, doing a good job not to focus on heroes or oversimplify. The photographs are a good set, beautifully printed (Thank you, Sherwood for using so many of Noel's hand-colored slides for 1924!), that add quite a bit of color to the limited text. A great book for a gentle introduction to the phenomenon of Everest!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Alive in the Death Zone, by Lincoln Hall

Lincoln Hall, the famous Everest author and survivor, writes a narrative of his climbs for older children in Alive in the Death Zone. Hall ties in his climbing biography to an introduction to Mount Everest to create an exciting storyline that teaches. While he brings to life his climbs of gradually higher and more technical mountains (including features on his climbs on Dunagiri, Annapurna II, and his two climbs on Everest), he also relates some of the history of climbing Everest, the challenges of high-altitude mountaineering, and a bit of the cultural geography of the Everest region.

The largest part of the book focuses on his 2006 climb to the summit of Everest, his near-death experience below the Second Step on the Northeast Ridge, and his rescue and against-the-odds survival. He tells of the expedition in good detail for young readers, in a style that's easy to understand, but not dumbed-down. His focus is slightly different than his adult-readers' memoir of the event, Dead Lucky, with a more journalistic approach that describes many things that adults often take for granted, such as why a tent with a certain shape works better, or the utility of acclimatization. I appreciated his frank writing on his overnight ordeal and the results of his mortification. I found it curious, but perhaps appropriate, that he left out some of the more gruesome details of his troubled rescue.

I'm a huge fan of this book. Not only does it work an exciting story into the often tedious task of introducing Everest, but also it tantalizes with quality prose and images. The book is suffused with Hall's (and others') photography---often first-rate action shots or mountain landscapes, with some documentary photographs that bring the story to life. The format and printing are high-quality, and there's even a visual reference guide for the technical equipment he uses on his climbs. Finally! An Everest book for kids that has it all!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Wo die Schneeloewen Tanzen, by Peter Meier-Huesing

Peter Meier-Huesing writes about the unlikely adventure of a solo flight from England to India and an attempt on Everest in 1934 in Wo die Schneeloewen Tanzen: Maurice Wilsons Vergessene Everest-Besteigung. Meier-Huesing (writing in German, of course) takes Maurice Wilson's story and weaves it into a palatable narrative, adding dialogue within the history and providing background and a sense of place using the writings of earlier Everesters. The author quotes from Wilson's diary and letters, giving a good feeling for who he was and a bit of his personality. The book covers Wilson's upbringing, war experiences, his nomadic young-adulthood, his illness, and his quest to fly to Everest and climb to the summit to show the world the great power of faith, prayer, and fasting. Meier-Huesing shows that Wilson's war experiences had a profound effect on his future, as well as the overbearing expectations of a successful father.

The book is distinctive not only for its being in German. Meier-Huesing's use of dialogue, though interpretive rather than historical, adds quite a bit of flavor to the story and sorts out the attitude and determination within one of Everest's stranger suitors, such as in the back-and-forth between Wilson and the Abbot of Rongbuk. Also, of the three available book-length accounts (See Dennis Robert's I'll Climb Mount Everest Alone or Ruth Hanson's A Yorkshireman on Everest for the other two.), Meier-Huesing goes the farthest in describing the potential intimacy between Wilson and Enid Evans. Oppositely, he seems the least interested in the pre-history of his great conversion to his strange faith. This isn't my favorite of the three accounts, but it's a strong telling and a pleasant read. Hope you like it!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

High, edited by Clint Willis

Clint Willis presents a grand collection of writing from the two highest mountains in the world in High: Stories of Survival from Everest and K2. Willis has a talent for picking good moments of exciting stories, and chooses a lot of winners in this book. In his introduction, he gives a brief history of climbing Everest and K2 for the uninitiated, which should do to give this stories some context. His excerpts are a pretty good size (from ten to thirty pages) and have a nice focus to them, whether presenting Matt Dickenson's summit climb on Everest, or Ed Webster's nightmarish descent of its Kangshung Face. Willis' K2 material includes excerpts from Houston and Bates' Five Miles High and The Savage Mountain, Bonatti's On the Heights, Galen Rowell's In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods, Rick Ridgeway's The Last Step, and Jim Haberl's K2: Dreams and Reality, and well as the articles "Bad Summer on K2," by Krakauer and Child and "The K2 Mystery" by David Roberts.

For Everest, Willis picks a good set. Smythe describes his attempt, in 1933, to climb alone below the Northeast Ridge, after leaving a sick Eric Shipton behind at their tent in Camp Six. Doug Scott and Dougal Haston tell of their 1975 climb, from the Rock Band on the Southwest Face to the summit and back (including a bivouac at the South Summit), in Everest the Hard Way. Brummie Stokes describes the progression of his frostbite injury, leading to amputation, in Soldiers and Sherpas: A Taste for Adventure. Chris Bonington and Charles Clarke tell of their waiting in vain for the return of Pete Boardman and Joe Tasker from their climb of the Pinnacles of the Northeast Ridge in 1982 in Everest: The Unclimbed Ridge. Alan Burgess and Jim Palmer describe the first tragedy to strike the Canadian team in 1982, with an avalanche striking climbers in the Khumbu Icefall, killing three Sherpa in Everest Canada: The Ultimate Challenge. Maria Coffey tells of her experiences in Lhasa and Xigatse on her way to Everest with Hillary Boardman to pay respects to their lost loves in Fragile Edge. Ed Webster escapes the Kangshung Face in 1988 with two of his team, in Snow in the Kingdom: My Storm Years on Everest. Matt Dickinson has a difficult climb to the summit in 1996, even in great conditions, after the tragedy of May 10/11, in The Other Side of Everest. I'm Highly grateful that there are no accounts of the 1953 summit climb here. While I'm a sap for Hornbein's account of 1963, it's a bit over-excerpted, and not here either. Thank you, Clint Willis.

Willis is also the author of The Boys of Everest: Chis Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbing's Greatest Generation, and the editor of Climb: Stories of Survival from Rock, Snow and Ice, Epic: Stories of Survival from the World's Highest Peaks, and Epics on Everest: Stories of Survival from the World's Highest Peak.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Everest, by the Royal Geographical Society

The Royal Geographical Society gives an exhibition of its photo archives from early expeditions to the world's highest mountain in Everest. This large volume contains images from 1921 to 1953 of the Society-supported expeditions (through the Mount Everest Committee), including several new to me and likely previously-unpublished. Though the bulk of the book, containing hundreds of images, rehashes the tried-and-true photographs that make up the canon of Everest photographic history, the sheer number of photos means that even the Everest aficionado will find something here to like, as well.

It seems like, with Lowe and Lewis-Jones' recent The Conquest of Everest, we have two photobooks serving the same purpose, but the Royal Geographical Society's work covers the early expeditions in addition to the 1953 (though in less detail than the first ascent), and the presentations on 1953 have different focuses. Conquest sticks to the action on the mountain in 1953, whereas Everest uses a more documentary style in its photo selections. Lowe's work serves additionally as a memoir, while RGS focuses on its photo presentation, excepting a short introduction by Jan Morris and a couple paragraphs on each of the expeditions. There are two wonderful images of Lowe on the Southeast Ridge in Everest, by the way, that you won't find in Conquest. 

It's amazing to think that these hundreds of photos are but a taste of the tens of thousands of images from Everest expeditions within the RGS' archives. I imagine they are capable of producing books on this scale of each individual expedition, instead of Everest's entire early history. I'm grateful for the many new images I experienced within Everest, but it also makes me hungry for more!  Perhaps in 2021, 2022, 2024....

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Last Hero: Bill Tilman, by Tim Madge

Tim Madge documents the life of one of Everest's most colorful early climbers in The Last Hero: Bill Tilman: A Biography of the Explorer. Describing Tilman is a difficult task, even if the explorer left behind fifteen books of his adventures, many diaries, and thousands of letters, as he hides behind a mask of wit in his writing and was often reserved to the point of shyness in person. Madge sorts him out as best he can, showing that surviving combat in both the World Wars and growing up with a successful and demanding father led to his great need for escape. We learn of Tilman's upbringing, his war tribulations, his time in Africa, his climbs, and his polar voyages, as they refine his character and define his existence. Madge sorts through them somewhat chronologically, adhering to phases in his life, even when they overlap. In case you're unfamiliar, Tilman's adventures include crossing Africa on a bicycle, climbing in Africa and the Himalaya, exploring some of the world's last unmapped land areas, visiting Nepal soon after its opening to Westerners, and sailing small yachts to remote Arctic and Antarctic mountains. He is famous for his thrifty and sometimes ascetic expeditions, during which he would often pull off grand accomplishments with little capital. 

Tilman visited Everest three times, in 1935, 1938, and 1950. He participated in the 1935 reconnaissance and shakedown led by Eric Shipton, during which he suffered from the altitude, but put in a good show on several 20,000-foot mountians. (See Astill's Mount Everest: The Reconnaissance 1935.) After leading a successful climb of Nanda Devi, he was invited (at the request of Tom Longstaff, who would finance the expedition) to lead the 1938 expedition to Everest, which got within striking distance of the summit on a shoestring budget, regardless of an early monsoon and deep, loose snow. (See Tilman's Mount Everest 1938.) He returned in 1950 for a glimpse of Everest from Kala Pattar, by chance, via Nepal and Solu Khumbu, after meeting Oscar Houston in Kathmandu after returning from his own expedition to the Annapurna Himal. (See his Nepal Himalaya.) Madge's Everest material largely comes from Tilman's published accounts, though he provides some analysis and brings up Betsy Cowles Partidge as though he's going somewhere with her story; he's clearly more interested in Tilman's ocean voyaging years.

There is one additional, earlier biography of Tilman, that I'll get to sometime soon, John Anderson's High Mountains and Cold Seas: A Biography of H. W. Tilman. I've covered one additional book by Tilman, of his climbs after 1938 and his World War II experiences, When Men and Mountains Meet.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Free Spirit: A Climber's Life, by Reinhold Messner

Reinhold Messner writes his autobiography in Free Spirit: A Climber's Life. He covers many of the most important climbs of his career (or is it a calling), from his introduction to the Alps, to solo ascents of Europe's most daunting climbs, to his Himalayan hat trick (climbing the fourteen 8000-meter peaks), the Seven Summits, and beyond. I appreciated getting an introduction to his early Alpine climbing, as my previous reading had focused on his Himalayan climbs, as well as to some of his adventures further afield. An early climb of Carstenz Pyramid was exciting, as was the story of his Breach Wall ascent on Kilimanjaro.

His Everest climbs are, of course, here too. The chapter on his first, without supplemental oxygen, in 1978 along with Peter Habeler, shows some bitterness still present in his writing. He focuses on the weather and the shortcomings of his partner, reducing Habeler's food poisoning to his not feeling well that day and making big news of Habeler's last-minute wavering. His second, solo ascent from the north goes better, even if he still did not get a view from the summit. He uses the climb's tale a bit as a pulpit to push for the abandonment of adventitious aids, such as oxygen and drugs.

For someone with so many adventures to share, this is a short work at 240 pages. His K2 climb warrants just under two pages, his walk across Antarctica, little more. He's written so many books on his various adventures, that taking them all in at once in such a short span is a bit disconcerting. He often leaves out introductions to his climbing partners and sticks to summit day on many of his climbs. Much his interior musing that makes his writing so distinctive is also missing. There are several mountaineers who have written six to seven hundred pages of autobiography, and I think that Messner is perhaps more justified in doing so than they. Then again, perhaps a short autobiography will lead readers to his other books, rather than substitute for them. His other books that I've covered so far include All 14 Eight-Thousanders, The Crystal Horizon, Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate, and The Second Death of George Mallory.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Happy Birthday, Everest Book Report!

Everest Book Report is three years old today! Over the course of my blogging so far, I've covered 387 books, reading approximately 85,000 pages that have some connection to the world's highest mountain. I'm nowhere near completing my quest to read all non-fiction books regarding Everest, with 200 or more to go in languages I understand. The list is also growing, both because so many are written every year, and because I'm working to learn both French and Japanese to expand the literature accessible to me. I'm hoping to cover my first book in French sometime this coming year, and Japanese, gosh, who knows... (At least I can order some beers, tell time, and comment on the weather!)

I was looking for a blog to write three years ago around the same time I was looking for something entertaining to read. I looked up Mount Everest in my local (Los Angeles, at the time) library catalog, and came across 200 books waiting to be read. I thought, "That could keep me busy for a while. I wonder if I could write about it." Everest Book Report was born.

Over time, the format of my writing has changed, from a daily reading journal, to an occasional laundry list of books I've read, to a report/review of each book I get under my fingers. I've tried to make this blog a resource for Everest readers, and that's meant going back over several books I'd already covered poorly and re-reading books I had read before this blog. I love the concept of bibliographies, but the terse (or lack of) descriptions that usually accompany each entry in this format seem more like mysteries to me than help. I hope what I'm doing is more useful and user friendly. I look forward to further developing the format of Everest Book Report and, perhaps even its contents. Though it's been tempting to do otherwise, I'm planning to stay ad-free.

I feel a bit odd that I, of all people, ended up writing about Mount Everest books. I'm not a mountaineer, though I've scrambled up talus heaps of varying elevations. I'm not a writer, even if I did get some scholarships for it as a student. I honestly didn't know much about the mountain before I started writing, even if I had read about 30 books connected to it. I've never seen Mount Everest. I don't currently have any plans to. The mountain explored in Everest's literature is far vaster than anything such an experience can equal, as it also reveals 90+ years of collective history and the gathered life experiences of thousands of people within its details. I will never call myself an expert on Everest, as I honestly have no experience with Everest; I'm not going to tell you which oxygen system to use, or even which side to climb. If you need a book recommendation, however...

Friday, August 30, 2013

Against Giants, by David Lim

David Lim returns to the mountains, and Everest, after a partial recovery from an extreme form of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, in Against Giants: The Life and Climbs of a Disabled Mountaineer. Weeks after leading the successful first Singapore Mount Everest Expedition in 1998, Lim finds himself hospitalized and completely incapacitated by a rare disorder (See his Mountain to Climb for the tale of both the story of the expedition and his health crisis.). This, his second book, continues the story of his recovery, from relearning ordinary things, such as walking and feeding himself, to once again climbing mountains, though with a partially paralyzed leg and hand. He decides while still in the hospital to focus his life and career on climbing, and he works his way from hobbling to the highest point in Singapore (a hill not nearly as tall as the highest skyscraper) to climbing well on the North Ridge of Everest, Cho Oyu, and Shishipangma. Along the way, he makes expeditions to both Aconcagua and Kazakhstan, and regains much of his old strength.

His Everest experience, in 2001 via the North Ridge, was with a small team of Sinaporeans and a Brazilian, using the logistics services of Eric Simonson. They find themselves playing second fiddle to the grand search for Sandy Irvine (of 1924 fame, see Hemmleb's Detectives on Everest for their story.), including the moving of a crucial camp 300 meters higher to facilitate the searchers. Their expedition is as expected, though they face trouble on the North Ridge. Even if they do not reach the summit, he and his teammates set a Singaporean altitude record for climbing without supplementary oxygen. He is happy with the results, as they did the climb in a style that met with their aesthetic and moral standards, and they put in a grand effort.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Destructive Goal Pursuit, by D. Christopher Kayes

D. Christopher Kayes relates the events of the 1996 Everest season to business leadership in Destructive Goal Pursuit: The Mount Everest Disaster. Kayes focuses his text on the problems of goalodicy (a term he created to explain the pursuit of a goal long after evidence shows that it should be abandoned), and their solutions, while presenting the summit climb of Mountain Madness and Adventure Consultants' teams as a running archetypical situation throughout the book. He argues against goal-centered leadership for complex tasks, presenting evidence from both studies and a range of literature that make strong cases against it, and argues for learning-based group dynamics, which generally leads to more positive results. His text is in four sections, with an introduction to the Mount Everest disaster and the concepts he discusses, a discussion of the problems of goalodicy, a section on rethinking organizational goals, and a section on proper organizational governance. His tone is academic, but not difficult to follow, and he writes intelligently without getting overly intellectual.

His Everest material is relatively good. I appreciated that he didn't focus on explaining away what happened on the mountain, but rather used the events as a handy example for his academic conclusions. He quotes a number of books and other sources on the disaster (See Krakauer's Into Thin Air for the most popular account.), and it's clear that he treats events with the proper academic respect. Minor details, such as Reinhold Messner's actually being alone on Everest for his solo climb, at times evade him, but his account is overall trustworthy. I find it interesting that the most successful later commercial operations, such as Brice's Himalayan Experience, took more logistical lessons from the disaster than leadership ones, including radios with every climber, caches of emergency oxygen, and stringing the entire route before any non-Sherpa climbers head to the summit. The true teams on Everest these days, the Sherpa, have actually already tended (there is a bit of a range) to naturally follow many of Kayes' suggestions on good leadership, such as allowing each high-altitude carrier to choose his own physical limit, treating failure to reach a goal as a learning experience rather than a tragedy, and developing tacit coordination within the team.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Climbing Everest, edited by Geoffrey Broughton

Geoffrey Broughton presents a collection, circa 1960, of early Everest writing in Climbing Everest: An Anthology. This now classic collection tells the history of Everest through the writings of the climbers who were there. Broughton introduces the collection, as well as each chapter, with a sense of wonder and drama, showing later anthologists how to present an Everest collection. John Noel writes of the early mapping and exploration of the area in his Though Tibet to Everest. George Mallory writes of his climb of the North Col and the mountaineering possibilities on Everest in Mount Everest: The Reconnaissance. George Finch writes about his attempt, along with Tejbir and Geoffrey Bruce, to climb Everest in 1922 with supplementary oxygen, and Mallory tells of his tragic return to the North Col's slopes, in The Assault on Mount Everest. Col. Norton and Noel Odell narrate their experiences high on Everest in The Fight for Everest. Eric Shipton writes about his 1933 summit attempt, along with Frank Smythe, in Upon That Mountain. W. H. Murray tells of his experiences in the Khumbu Icefall on the 1951 reconnaissance in The Story of Everest. Lambert and Tenzing slog towards the summit in Forerunners to Everest. The British team prepares for Everest and takes the suggestions of some fanciful inventors in The Ascent of Everest. Wilfrid Noyce and George Lowe work out the problems of the Lhotse Face in Noyce's The South Col. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing finally make it to the summit, again in The Ascent of Everest. It's a short collection, at 150 pages, but a great introduction to the early Everest writings. Enjoy!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Reach for the Sky, by Falvey & Collins

Pat Falvey, with Dan Collins, tells of his early life and his quest for the seven summits in Reach for the Sky. A self-made millionaire, who then loses it all, Falvey turns to mountains for renewal and discovers a passion for high places. After climbing Ireland's highest mountain, he makes a personal goal of climbing Everest, back before everyone and their grandma began trudging to the peak. He spends more and more time in the mountains, including working as a rescue climber on his home turf and winters in Scotland and the Alps. He climbs on Ama Dablam with friends before making his first attempt at Everest post-monsoon in 1993, in the shadow of Dawson Stelfox and Frank Nugent's successful climb in May (see Siggins' Everest Calling). His Everest quest becomes a Seven Summits quest, and he begins bagging other continental high points before returning to Everest in 1995 for his summit climb. He finishes with a trip to Antarctica and Australia, in addition to climbing Mount Cook and attempting to reach Carstenz Pyramid, just in case. The book is a mixture of inspiration, humor, and storytelling, with his climbs going considerably better than the average seven-summiteer, even if he makes two trips to Everest. As his father told him, however, success is in the trying; reaching the goal is a bonus.

His Everest experience highlights an interesting transition time in Everest expeditions. His 1993 trip, under Jon Tinker, was a commercial expedition, but not a guided one. Though OTT provided logistical support and supplies, each member was expected to pull his weight. Also the members included a research team, including one who died on the mountain. The expedition was deemed a success because two climbers (Maciej Berbeka and Tinker) and two Sherpa, Lhakpa Nuru and Babu Chhiri, made the summit. His return in 1995, again with OTT, was set up more to give all or most of the climbers the chance to summit. Most of the climbers (nine) on the expedition made the summit, as well as six Sherpa. The style of expedition was more service-oriented, and provided overall more amenities, though the close babysitting and route-stringing high on the mountain that is common today was not in force. (See the example of Bob Hempstead, Falvey's teammate, in Greg Child's Postcards from the Ledge.)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hillary and Norgay's Mount Everest Adventure, by Jim Kerr

Jim Kerr writes for kids about the first ascent of Everest in Great Journeys Across the Earth: Hillary and Norgay's Mount Everest Adventure. He tells, in pretty good detail, about preparations, travel to the mountain, the climb, and its after effects. The main narrative sticks to the storyline, while Kerr fills in the details and background with sideline explanations. The illustrations work well with the storyline, including several that are used to make a point, rather than just look good on a page or simply fit somehow with the storyline. I appreciated Kerr's attention to detail, and his avoidance of lionizing his protagonists. Even if he doesn't mention the entire team by name, he focuses the story on "the climbers" and what they were doing, rather than how great or brave they were. I liked the excerpts from participants' diaries he included, and that he explained their success as a combination of planning, technology, determination, and luck. I wish his explanation of Sherpas had been a bit better, as well as of the national rivalry for Everest, but I was very pleased with his treatment of the expedition and the story overall. A great book for kids! Highly recommend!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Fear No Boundary, by Sue Fear & Lincoln Hall

Lincoln Hall and Sue Fear, the second Australian woman to climb Everest, present her life and climbs in Fear No Boundary: One Woman's Amazing Journey. Her story inspires, as she develops from a naive world traveler with a background in the travel industry, to a trekking and mountain guide, to a gifted high-altitude mountaineer. She works her way up, climbing higher and higher mountains, scaling Makalu II, Cho Oyu, and Shishipangma, leading expeditions or climbing with only a partner. She finds inspiration from her father to scale Everest, signing up with Russell Brice's Himex operation to focus on climbing, rather than running the show. Her climb, in May 2003 via the North Ridge, happens to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Everest's first successful ascent, and the publicity machine takes over her life upon her return home. She follows her Everest experience with a climb of Gasherbrum II in 2004. If you happen to read the 2005 edition of this book, you'll get a happy ending, with Fear's positive attitude and adventurous spirit filling up the final paragraphs. If you, however, get a hold on a 2006 edition, brace yourself for the tale of her untimely demise on Manaslu. (See Lincoln Hall's Dead Lucky for his personal perspective.)

The book is a mixture of personal memoir and traditional biography, with Fear and Hall writing alternating chapters. Her chapters focus quite a bit on her interior motivations and her relationships with the people around her. Hall's are a bit more mechanical, but provide a nice balance of exterior analysis. They make a nice counterpoint, as they fill-out the overall narrative of her life and climbs in a way that would be impossible with a single author. I was quite pleased with the overall structure of the book and with the quality of the writing.

Fear's Everest expedition is actually one that I had not read about previously. (It's a rare pleasure these days.) Her Himex companions are merely half of Brice's responsibilities, as an American reality-television crew, including head guide Chris Warner and cameramen Mark Whetu and Jake Norton, prove a major distraction. She runs into trouble with her own guide, but finds a path towards independence and eventual success. The narrative is one of the saner chronicles of a commercial climb and an interesting precursor to Lincoln Hall's 2006 experience, also with Himex. This is a great book, if you can find a copy!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Women in the Wild, edited by Lucy McCauley

Lucy McCauley pulls together a collection of adventurous moments in Women in the Wild: True Stories of Adventure and Connection. The book contains a large number of excerpts, averaging about nine pages in length, from both books and articles, that show the inner game of adventure from women's perspectives. While it is interesting to pick the moments in stories in which the inner and outer self come into conflict, I had trouble with this book----just about as soon as I got interested and involved in a story, it was over, and I had to begin again with a new experience. These are artistic moments that I experienced, but I felt so frustrated with their brevity that I only read about a third of them. I didn't want to become a grumpy person for a week while I read the whole thing. The stories take you all over the world, covering five continents, from authors traveling deep into jungles and deserts to jaunts into their backyards. I liked the interior focus of the excerpts that I read, making adventure something to think about as well as something to do. If short's your thing, and you're the sort of person that likes skimming the cream, then go for it! If you need to drink a full cup of coffee before you've fully decided how it tastes, then it's time to look elsewhere.

Mount Everest is represented in this collection by an excerpt from Chisholm and Bruce's To the Summit: A Woman's Journey into the Mountains to Find Her Soul. I can think of no Everest book that spends more time discussing the goings on in a climber's head than this particular work (although Messner occasionally gets pretty close). Though the excerpt doesn't represent the book in all its complexity, it does show two great moments of contrast, when Chisholm is short-roped by her lead guide up to (Nepalese) Camp II after a difficult day in a whiteout, to her climbing happily and well up to Camp III on a beautiful day. Her "ghosts" and traumas are left out of this excerpt, and she is left dealing with the flesh-y presences of her three guides, mostly in a positive manner.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Nepal Himalaya, by H. W. Tilman

H. W. Tilman recounts his two early forays into a once forbidden kingdom, including a trek through Solu-Khumbu, in Nepal Himalaya. Though the book is known for his briefest of glimpses of Everest from Kala Pattar, Tilman actually covers a great deal of ground between Mustang and Namche Bazaar on his expeditions. In 1949, he takes an opportunity to travel north of Kathmandu to survey areas in the Langtang Himal, the Ganesh Himal, and the Jugal Himal. He, against his scruples, mixes science with exploration and climbing, partly to fund his adventure, and partly to find traveling companions. Peter Lloyd (in addition to a couple scientists), of the 1938 Everest expedition, comes with him, doubling as an amateur surveyor. Tenzing, of 1953 Everest fame, serves as sirdar for the expedition, and seems to be on Tilman's heels whenever there's climbing to be done. It seems a bit of a frustrating trip, as they spend the monsoon season decrying the weather and not climbing much of anything (though they put a good effort in on one peak). They only catch a glimpse of Shishapangma, and take in Manaslu only over an extended time. Tilman's wit carries the book, as his special brand of humor makes this a travelogue well worth a read.

His 1950 trip, including treks in the Annapurna Himal and through Solu-Khumbu, comprises the second half of the book. His team is more climber-heavy, including Charles Evans of the 1953 Everest expedition, Jimmy Roberts, Emlyn Jones, D. G. Lowndes, and W. P. Packard of New Zealand. Again they arrive just in time for the monsoon, but manage to make a serious attempt on Annapurna IV nonetheless. The Everest trip happens by coincidence, as Tilman is invited by Oscar Houston upon his return to Kathamandu. Tilman and Charles Houston have time for only a brief reconnaissance of Everest, without even time to set foot in the Khumbu Icefall. Prospects look pretty bad, but then again, they don't get much of a look at Everest either, mistaking a buttress on the Southwest Face for the Southeast Ridge. He's intelligent enough to say that he didn't see enough to make a well-informed opinion.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mixed Emotions, by Greg Child

Delve deeper into the absurd world faced by climbers in Mixed Emotions: Mountaineering Writings of Greg Child. This, his second collection of essays, after Thin Air, showcases a larger variety of climbing objectives, from an epic ascent out of his teenage years, to a career's climbs on El Capitan, to the adventures surrounding his Himalayan climbs. Also, he profiles several famous climbers and meditates on death and near-death. His wit makes the book well worth reading, and I found that sections of it even appeal to my anonymous test subject (er...wife), who would rather read the phone book than a mountaineering narrative. Great comedy tells truth, and Child is expert at twisting an audience from absurdity to enlightenment, making profound statements that mix easily with laughter. His coming-of-age story, "Taking the Plunge," is perhaps the single greatest narrative of a climber's youth, with a literary form sure to please the academics, humor to appease the masses, and a great bit of heedless danger to draw in the armchair mountaineer.

I love this book (This is my third time reading it.), both because Child is a great climber and writer, and because he is a great climber and writer who climbs with and writes about a number of other great climbers. Doug Scott's personality and climbing style make more sense here than either Scott's own Himalayan Climber or any of the writings of Chris Bonington. Don Whillans' late climbs (Shivling, Broad Peak) and his legacy have a superb interpreter and witness in Child, more positive than Perrin's The Villain, and (wishful thinking here) perhaps more acute. Voytek Kurtyka gets some early recognition in the English-language media here, with a profile that rivals Bernadette McDonald's, in Freedom Climbers. Others, such as Rick Allen, Tom Whittaker (Higher Purpose), Steve Swenson, Pete Thexton, Michael Kennedy, and John Roskelley (Stories Off the Wall) manage to come off as great people in Child's writing, especially in trying moments.

Though this book predates Child's Everest climb (See his Postcards from the Ledge for that bit.), there's certainly some Everest material here. Both in Doug Scott's and Don Whillans' profiles, Child brings up their Southwest Face climbs. Roskelley's thwarted attempts on technical routes on Everest are provided as an explanation of his angst at so many climbing the standard routes during his and Child's attempt on Menlungtse. Several Everest climbs are brought up in "The Other Presence," which discusses unexplained companions high on mountains during trying circumstances, long before Maria Coffey ever got around to writing Explorers of the Infinite. Did I mention that this is a great book? Please read it. Please?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Man of Everest, by Kenneth Moon

Kenneth Moon writes an early (1962) young readers' biography of the first person to stand on the summit of Everest in Man of Everest: The Story of Sir Edmund Hillary. Written back when publishers believed kids were perfectly capable of having an imagination and an attention span, the unillustrated, 100-page book reads like a classic boys' adventure novel (and almost is one!). Moon's own imagination played an important role in the narrative, as many facts are jumbled, or just plain wrong. The story is dramatic and fun, but there's not much else to be said for this book. The author covers Hillary's early life and climbs, his initial Himalayan adventures, his climb of Everest, his return for the yeti, and a jaunt to the South Pole. He passes off the Silver Hut expedition as some kind of science thing, and he prefers not to mention Makalu at all (just substitute "Barun Glacier," and it take less explaining, right?). He poses Hillary's Everest experience as a hero's quest against the "White Giant," showing how Hillary led the team through the Khumbu Icefall, and all the way to the summit. If you don't mind a bit of historical absurdity, this one can actually be a bit of fun.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

On the Ridge between Life and Death, by David Roberts

David Roberts reveals even more details of climbing career, especially the effect that three early traumatic experiences had upon his attitude and outlook, in On the Ridge between Life and Death: A Climbing Life Reexamined. Considerably more mature than The Mountain of My Fear and more thorough than "Moments of Doubt," Roberts' current volume (in addition to the standard biographical stuff) analyzes his many climbs in Alaska and weighs them against his home life, his career, and his psyche. At times, especially during grad-school and teaching, his career is but an off-season to his summers of climbing. Meeting and marrying his wife complicates his climbing to a degree, but he for the most part remains driven. Ultimately, he defines himself for a long time by his climbs, and looks to them for emotional and intellectual sustenance. He's not certain that his attitude is the right one, and he works to explain his mental universe during his expeditions to find an answer to the riddle of why he (and others like him) climbs.

The book is more universal than it appears, as its lessons will haunt anyone who defines himself by what he accomplishes. Roberts' death-defying climbs are an extreme case of what men will do to gain the recognition of their peers. However, is our pride in what we do (career, hobby, vocation) misplaced? Aren't there more important things out there? What are we actually accomplishing?

This book's connection to Everest is tenuous, at best. I saw several mentions of Everest in the index and went for it, especially since I wanted to read this book, anyway. Roberts happens to be first on the scene at the death of Dan Doody, participant in the 1963 American Mount Everest Expedition. On of his students (and later a life-long friend) happens to be Jon Krakauer, who would later write probably the most famous book on Mount Everest. Interestingly, it took some prodding by Roberts and others before Krakauer considered writing for a living. Roberts collaborated with Conrad Anker on a book about Anker's discovery of Mallory on Everest, The Lost Explorer, but little about it is here. There's also a bit of background to his interviews with Messner and Habeler that would make up "Alone at the Top," found in his Moments of Doubt. Disappointing for me, Roberts overall writes little about his literary career, beyond his early books and his transition away from teaching. I would have loved to have read the back stories to his many subsequent books, as well as his many adventures after his hardcore climbing career. I cannot complain, however, as the title clearly states that the book has another focus. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Conquering Mount Everest, by Jackie Glassman

Jackie Glassman writes for young readers a short introduction to the world's highest mountain, focusing on the 1996 disaster, in Conquering Mount Everest. It's another rough throw-together of a book on Everest, with some good information, and some bad. How can a book with a author, an editor, and a content consultant get so many details wrong? The Mountain Madness and Adventure Consultants team didn't climb the South Face of Lhotse (as cool as that would have been---see page 19). Down suits normally worn on Everest aren't designed to protect against -100 degrees Fahrenheit. Sherpas are not born skilled climbers, nor did they move to Khumbu to be near Everest, the home of their gods. Mani Rimdu is not a dance that seeks protection for safe climbing. George Mallory did not lead the 1921 reconnaissance of Everest, nor any of the other early climbs, and his body was not found in 1996. The youngest climber as of the publication of the book (2002) was not six years old, nor do I hope that anyone will ever drag such a young child to the summit. Reinhold Messner is Italian, not Austrian. Hans Kammerlander is fast, but he didn't climb Everest in under seven hours. Though people suffer from lack of oxygen up high, it's the air pressure that's so low rather than the amount of oxygen. I could go on, but this is getting boring.

Incongruously, the tale of the 1996 climb goes fairly well. Using nearly half the pages of the book, it tells of the summit day, and the difficulties faced by the climbers, such as long lines at the Hillary Step, an unfortunate storm, and ambitions overriding safe judgement. We meet Krakauer, Hall, Hansen, and Breashears in the prose, and Weathers and Fischer in the photos. Plenty of folks die in the end. Yea! I'm not certain that if you didn't know the story already, that you'd have a good grasp of what was going on based on this telling, but the facts used for 1996 are mostly good. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Maurice Wilson: A Yorkshireman on Everest, by Ruth Hanson

Ruth Hanson retells the story of one of the world's most intrepid and unusual solo adventurers in Maurice Wilson: A Yorkshireman on Everest. Wilson, without flying or climbing experience, decides in 1932 to fly Everest, crash on its slopes, and climb to the summit alone so that all the world will know the healing power of extreme fasting and prayer. He takes flying lessons, but assumes all he'll need is fitness to get to the top of Everest (perhaps if he'd waited 70 years). Hanson's book traces his unlikely and ultimately tragic journey, from a disillusioned youth returning from the Great War to the slopes of Everest. She adds to his story details regarding his physical and cultural surroundings during his contingency-plan walk from Darjeeling to Rongbuk, based on her own travels and studies. Also, she pieces together what she can of the bureaucratic shenanigans of the officials trying to put his solo flight to an end.

The book is a nice addition to Dennis Roberts' I'll Climb Mount Everest Alone. His strong suit is the details of Wilson's flight halfway around the world, and while he makes the journey across Tibet sound difficult, he doesn't discuss the surroundings much. Hanson brings the people and landscape to life during the second phase of Wilson's journey, especially during his stay at Rongbuk, reminding us that the monastery was the center for cultural life in the area, and not merely a stopover on Wilson's journey. She also follows up on the fate of Wilson's three Sherpa companions, including Darjeeling officials' decision not to press charges against them and two of their returning to Everest in 1935. There is one more book out there about Wilson, Peter Meier-Huesimg's Wo die Schneeloewen Tanzen: Maurice Wilsons vegessene Everest-Besteigung, that I hope to read soon (that is, as soon as it works its way over to me via surface mail from Germany!).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Call of Everest, edited by Conrad Anker

Conrad Anker leads the 2012 Legacy Climb, celebrating 50 years since the American Mount Everest Expedition, in The Call of Everest: The History, Science, and Future of the World's Tallest Peak. The expedition is jointly funded by National Geographic and The North Face, and just as in the AMEE, is a mixture of science and adventure. The book hosts a large collection of authors (nine), each of whom contribute a chapter focused on their Everest expertise, including its geology, ecology, cultural geography, climbing history, medical tribulations, a narration of the Legacy Climb, etc. It reminded me quite a bit of the iconic Everest childrens' book that authors keep trying to write to introduce the concept of Everest (There are at least 50 of them already, most of them poorly thrown together.), but constructed quite well and written for adults. In addition to the main content (including a wealth of photographic illustrations), the book also hosts short contributions from additional authors, such as Julie Summers, Brent Bishop, and Audrey Salkeld, as well as quotes from wide range of personalities. The overall feel is pleasant and the content is engaging, both for general audiences and dedicated Everest fans.

The Legacy Climb is a grand event that starkly contrasts Everest in 2012 and 1963. I appreciate that Anker picked climbers with similar experience levels to the 1963 crew, a couple with Himalayan experience and several with only rock or ice climbing expertise. The science is primarily geology and medicine. I wish the authors had shared a bit of their initial results, just as in the 1963 expedition book (Though the early authors admitted that data was still being analyzed at the time they wrote, they did at least offer some generalities based on what they had seen so far.), rather than only telling us what they were studying. I did like, however, Lageson's sorting out the history of the study of Everest's geology. Also, the devices used by the medical team sounded fascinating. Jenkins account of the expedition does a good job of sorting out the culture of a modern Everest climb, and shows many of scary problems facing the crowds gathering high on the mountain.

I worry that so many Everest personalities, such Salkeld, Hornbein, Bishop, Breashears, and others, seemed to be summing up their Everest relationship in this book, and I wonder who the future of Everest will bring us to continue its story. Is Everest's future really more of what we already have? Is the future of telling Everest's history simply more accurate or critical revisions of the stories we already know? Is the only event we're predicting a serious accident befalling a mass of climbers exponentially larger than the crowd of 1996? Mark Jenkins reminds us that so much of Everest is empty these days. I hope that the Urubkos and Moros of climbing will have better luck in the future, and that someone will once again remind us that Everest is still a mountain with plenty of space for ambitious, talented climbers, rather than a high-stakes theme park with long lines for the ultimate ride.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Beyond Risk, by Nicholas O'Connell

Nicholas O'Connell interviews seventeen famous climbers about their careers and motivations in Beyond Risk: Conversations with Climbers. His subjects, Walter Bonatti, Chris Bonington, Riccardo Cassin, Tomo Cesen, Peter Croft, Catherine Destivelle, Kurt Diemberger, Jean-Claude Droyer, Wolfgang Gullich, Warren Harding, Lynn Hill, Edmund Hillary, Voytek Kurtyka, Jeff Lowe, Reinhold Messner, Royal Robbins, and Doug Scott, come from a variety of Western countries and showcase a range of climbing styles. O'Connell does a good job of covering the history and styles of climbing, though I would have been fascinated to read an interview or two with Asian climbers to get a full range of cultural perspectives (Kohli, Ang Rita, Fuzhou, or similar), since much of the subject matter is similar. Regardless, O'Connell picks a great set of highly-motivated and dedicated individuals, with a range of personalities. They are ultimately more similar than I'm sure most of them would like to admit, in areas such as risk-assessment, creativity, vision, and the rewards of climbing. However, O'Connell also picks questions that show what makes each climber who they are (or perhaps who we expect them to be), such as asking Bonington about the organization of large groups, or Lowe about ice climbing and gear design. Since I was already familiar with the careers of these great climbers, I was personally drawn to the questions about the inner game of climbing and felt like I could have spent all day reading about what makes these people tick. Whereas personalities such as Messner and Bonatti are already pretty open in their writing, it was nice to get into the heads of some of the more reserved climbers such as (surprisingly) Chris Bonington or Jeff Lowe.

Everest makes a number of appearances in the book, especially in the interviews of Edmund Hillary, Reinhold Messner, and Chris Bonington. I found it interesting that though Diemberger had climbed it, Everest ultimately took backstage to his relationship with K2, the mountain of his destiny. There's not really any unique Everest stuff here, but O'Connell does cover some interesting interior motivation material in addition to the frequently asked questions for these climbers. Also of note is that Tomo Cesen is interviewed before the full fury of the Lhotse South Face controversy erupted, and he is relatively comfortable in relating his ascent.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sherpas: The Himalayan Legends, by M. S. Kohli

M. S. Kohli, leader of the successful 1965 Indian ascent of Everest, writes a history and a series of short biographies in Sherpas: The Himalayan Legends: Including the untold story of Phu Dorje, the first Nepalese to climb Sagarmatha. Kohli writes about the Sherpas who climb, focusing on his proteges at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI), but also writing an extended biography of Phu Dorje and short portraits of many of the more modern Sherpa climbers. He begins with an introduction to Sherpas, their culture, how they came to be associated with Himalayan climbing, and their early expedition experiences. He then follows with portraits of many of the most famous Sherpas, many of whom he knew personally, both from his climbs and his working at HMI. Tenzing Norgay, Ang Tharkay, Nawang Gombu, Pasang Dawa Lama, Ang Tsering, N. D. Sherpa, and several others receive chapter-length biographies. Kohli writes about their upbringing, their climbs, and their careers, while adding his personal connection to each. Phu Dorje receives special attention, as the book was originally intended as a biography of him. Kohli discusses his special connection to Everest, both in his participation in many of the early Everest climbs, and his destiny fulfilled upon its slopes. The book includes chapters that introduce many modern Sherpa climbers, including Ang Rita, Apa, and Temba, as well as a chapter on Sherpani climbers (that tells the tale of Pasang Lhamu, among others). There are also chapters that tell of Kohli's involvement in Himalayan tourism, discuss environmental change in the Himalaya, and predict the fate of the Sherpa people.

Kohli's perspective is a unique one. He happened to know many of the most famous Sherpa climbers over a long period of time, first through his climbing, then his work at HMI, and later as a booster for Himalayan tourism. His perspective distinguishes this work from Tashi Tenzing's Tenzing Norgay and the Sherpas of Everest, both because he focuses on Sherpas he already knew well and because much from his profiles comes from personal experience. The Phu Dorje biography is a much-needed tribute to a great climber and person. Overall, this is a handy book for getting to know the climbers on the other side of Himalayan mountaineering, the great Sherpas who do much of the hard work on expeditionary climbs, and yet often receive little attention in other works.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

National Geographic: 125 Years, by Mark Collins Jenkins

Mark Collins Jenkins presents a celebration of the organization behind the world's most recognizable journal in National Geographic: 125 Years: Legendary Photographs, Adventures, and Discoveries that Changed the World. They've come a long way since their founding, and the book traces the development of National Geographic, both through their media and as a supporter of geographical ventures. The book divides the story of the organization roughly into the years it was lead by different people, most notably several generations of the Grosvenor family. In addition to the main narrative, there are plenty of sidelines highlighting the great accomplishments of explorers National Geographic has supported over the years. As it is a celebration, the book focuses on success storiesand the progress of the organization, and it shouldn't be mistaken as a thorough history. I found the tracing of the growth of their media the defining feature of this book, as it notes everything from the first photographic illustration and first monthly issue, to the first cover photograph and color photograph, to the development of their television channel and website. As with any National Geographic publication, the book is full of first-rate photographs.

Mount Everest overall plays a small role in this book, as the film of the 1963 American ascent (which they heavily supported) happened to be the first National Geographic television special. I feel like the editors treated the climb a bit with modern eyes, treating the media rather than the expedition as the great human accomplishment. (See Grosvenor's 1963 Great Adventures with National Geographic, the 75th anniversary celebration book, for an idea of how they saw it at the time.) There are additionally some oblique references to Everest, such as a mention of Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner's climbing the 14 8000-meter peaks.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Conquest of Everest, by Lowe & Lewis-Jones

George Lowe, along with Huw Lewis-Jones, presents a photobook commemorating the 60th anniversary of Everest's first successful climb in The Conquest of Everest: Original Photographs from the Legendary First Ascent. Lowe, the last surviving climber on the team (a couple Sherpa participants still survive), passed just before the anniversary of the ascent, but not before putting together a first-rate memoir and photo exhibition of the climb. He speaks with nostalgia for Himalayan times past, when climbs were still adventures into the collective unknown, and the Everest-industrial-complex hadn't yet taken hold. His narrative of his Himalayan climbs mainly retells stories found elsewhere (see his From Everest to the South Pole, for instance) though the telling here is more mature and focuses more on his photographic duties. His reflections on Everest, however, are quite special, something that could have only come from a witness of great history and lifelong involvement in the Himalaya. Additionally, several other famous climbers (Bonington, Messner, Cool, and others) associated with Everest provide their own take on Lowe's contributon and the history of Everest.

The photographs are a terrific collection. Many of the images are previously unpublished, and they give a broader representation Everest's first climb than any photobook so far. Though Alfred Gregory's images are lovely (see Alfred Gregory's Everest or Alfred Gregory: Images from Everest to Africa), Lowe tended to be at the sharp end more often. Here we see pictures of the initial work in the  icefall, Lowe's epic on the Lhotse Face, and a number of pictures from the South Col and Southeast Ridge. Not all of the images in the collection are by Lowe, but his contributions add quite a bit of action to the photographic record. I also appreciated seeing a number of pictures from the 1951 Murkut Parbat climb and the 1952 Cho Oyu attempt, especially of Lowe's and Hillary's climb of the Nup La. Overall, this is a grand collection---a must have for afficionados of Everest history!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Everest: The First Ascent, by Harriet Pugh Tuckey

Harriet Pugh Tuckey writes a biography of her father, Griffith Pugh, while setting the record straight on his role during the 1953 expedition in Everest: The First Ascent: How a Champion of Science Helped to Conquer the Mountain. Tuckey faced a complex task, as her emotional distance from her father prevented her from getting to know him before his death, his archives were shipped off to California before she started writing, and nearly everything written about Everest fails to mention him. (I should know...I've read most of it!) She writes a sophisticated tale of a man who was terrible to his family, and yet treated others with deference and worked tirelessly to solve adventurers and athletes' problems with altitude, cold, and heat. He came to be a part of the Everest experience as a physiologist through a recommendation from a Himalayan Committee that was determined to get things right in 1953, even if it meant resorting to professionalism, militarism, and (Gasp!) science. Pugh set to work redesigning the climbers shoes, clothes, sleeping bags, stoves, mattresses, tents, diet, hydration, oxygen use, and acclimatization regime with the singular purpose of getting climbers to the top of Everest. He gained what insights he could from the Cho Oyu "training" climb, fighting to get his science taken seriously, and used his results, in addition to experience from the Second World War in preparing mountain troops, to revolutionize the way the world's highest mountains should be approached. Tuckey pieces together his efforts, both through official channels and behind the scenes, to get his scientific innovations to be used, including a drawn-out conflict over how much oxygen should be carried and used. She also defends his conduct on the mountain, as he was treated in early accounts either as a scientific nuisance or comic relief, whereas the primary sources state otherwise. Though he would later be almost entirely written out of the official history of Everest, he never bothered to defend or highlight his pivotal role in getting climbers to the summit.

Tuckey does a good job of placing the conflicts among Committee members, climbers, and scientists into the context of British society at the time. Public schools tended to treat science as an inferior topic, and the cult of amateurism still ruled over both athletics and adventure. It's amazing to me that at the dawn of the age of mountaineering, climbers could not imagine climbing to the top of a mountain without some sort of scientific purpose, and yet one hundred years later, it would take an especially cunning and driven scientist to get climbers to even pay attention. Based on the evidence Tuckey presents, I can understand why John Hunt was on board with Pugh's recommendations, but I am still astonished that he got the climbers (for the most part) to follow through with them as well.

I think that without this book, history would have eventually come around on Griffith Pugh. However, Tuckey shows that early inattention to his contributions were inexcusable, and rigidly turns the narrative on its head. Michael Ward, in Everest: A Thousand Years of Exploration (2003), made initial arguments that Everest would not have been climbed without Pugh's help (with authority - he was there). Sale and Rodway, in Everest and Conquest in the Himalaya, (2011) reiterate Ward's point, but also explain his contributions to high-altitude science during the Silver Hut expedition. What Tuckey does is fold the academic argument into historical and biographical narrative appropriate for wider audiences that also reveals the very complex nature of a man so often represented as one-sided.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Natural Wonders: Mount Everest, by Megan Lappi

Megan Lappi writes a young readers' introduction to the world's highest mountain in Natural Wonders: Mount Everest. Her information is pretty standard (physical and cultural geography, plate tectonics, trash, the yeti, surveying, climbing, Seven Summits, etc.), but she does a good job of presenting it. She gets points from me for being one of the few children's authors to explain the thin air at altitude sensibly. The prose is general, but only occasionally overly-so, and the facts are up-to-date, but with occasional errors. Included in the book are photographic illustrations, charts, maps, a timeline, glossary, bibliography, and some activities. The climbing history she covers focuses on the first ascent, with some information on 1924, Messner, and 1996. The rest of the mountaineering information describes the mechanics, environment, dangers, and hired help on Everest. The book has one glaring, unfortunate problem---the cover illustration is a photograph of K2, rather than Everest, the subject of the book. In case you're wondering, Natural Wonders: K2 does not have Everest on the cover. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Last Hours on Everest, by Graham Hoyland

In honor of Mallory and Irvine's walking into the clouds 89 years ago today (June 8), I present Graham Hoyland's Last Hours on Everest: The Gripping Story of Mallory and Irvine's Fatal Ascent. The book is both biography and history, with Hoyland detailing his life's quest of sorting out what happened to them in their final moments and whether they made it to the summit. Also, Hoyland writes a portrait of his uncle (er...cousin), Theodore Somervell, who climbed alongside Mallory and Irvine in 1924's Everest expedition, and who inspired Hoyland to go looking for the Vest Pocket Kodak that might prove that they made it to the summit. The book provides a fresh look at the evidence (including a bit of new information) surrounding their disappearance, providing the most comprehensive review of the details in a single location to date. Hoyland sees Mallory as the active participant in the duo, and he tries to sort out his character and state-of-mind during the climb, using Mallory's writings and those of his close friends.

Hoyland has had a long relationship with Mount Everest, primarily in a professional role as a filmmaker, but with a decided personal interest. It's interesting for me, as a veteran Everest reader, to see him emerge from a personality in others' Everest books (such as Blessed's The Turquoise Mountain or Hemmleb's Ghosts of Everest) to an Everest author. I've been wondering what he might have to say, as other authors tend to make him sound terribly interesting, but never go into detail about him. Though his 1993 ascent makes him the 15th Briton to climb to the summit, his participation in the 1999 expedition that discovers Mallory's body gets him the most attention and causes him the most grief. He returns to the mountain several times afterwards, in ways related to the search for Irvine, including trying out a first-rate replica of Mallory's clothing below the North Col.

There has been quite a number of books adding to the knowledge of Mallory and Irvine's fateful climb. Hoyland explores many of them, discussing their relevance to the story and defending what he sees as the proper representation of these two climbers. (It's a little strange to read of someone else who's read all these books beside myself...) He's clearly opposed to Unsworth's idea of Mallory, has some problems with Davis, calls Robertson's book a hagiography, and generally shows how hard it can be to pin down the personality of George Leigh Mallory. He shows that Hozel's early ideas about 1924 are clearly wrong and that his later conclusions aren't all that far from his critics'. He's impressed by Hemmleb's spirit and dedication, but thinks he might be going a bit far in drawing conclusions.

The physical evidence is ultimately what captures Hoyland's attention, whether Irvine's ice axe, the found oxygen cylinder, or Mallory's body, possessions, and clothing. His detail work here is what makes the book. He shows what each piece of evidence might mean and what it cannot mean, going through the information with surprising insight. He pulls together the analysis of many experts, who go over everything from the trauma on Mallory's body, to the true value of the types of clothing he wore, to the minute physical geography of Everest, to the interpretation of the meteorological data from 1924. Using all of the evidence he presents, he then reconstructs, to the best of his ability, Mallory and Irvine's final climb. Hope you like it!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Conquering Mount Everest, by Robert Sheehan

Robert Sheehan writes a short introduction for young readers to climbing the world's highest mountain in Sensational True Stories: Conquering Mount Everest. He focuses on the two main routes used to the summit, the North Ridge and the South Col, talking about their history, terrain, and the logistics of their ascent. In addition, he discusses the physical geography of the Everest region (including an introduction to plate tectonics), climbing Everest without supplementary oxygen, and a bit about overcrowding and trash on the mountain. Sheehan's history focuses on the most famous climbs of each route----1924 for the North (with a discussion of Mallory and the subsequent discovery of his body), and 1953 for the South (focused on Hillary and Tenzing). He gets the overall stories correct, even if he focuses on the "heroes" of the climbs and gets some small details wrong on the 1953 expedition (number of camps, altitude of highest camp). The book is full of photographic illustrations that tie in well with the prose, with a mix of historical and modern imagery, including great photos of specific locations on the mountain Sheehan describes. The book also includes maps, charts, a glossary, and a comparison of mountains throughout the world. Overall, it's a good effort and a solid introduction for kids to the phenomenon of Everest.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Mountain, by Sandy Hill

Sandy Hill, survivor of the 1996 Everest tragedy, presents a photobook of some of the most beautiful images of the world's high places in Mountain. The book is large in scope, with a hefty size and hundreds of photos, and is a bit much to take in all at once, as I tried to do. A mountaineer or a mountain lover could easily dwell on some of these photos for minutes or hours, as the quality of printing and the level of detail is quite high. I enjoyed tracing imaginary paths through crevasse fields, like mazes, and searching for the small details that put the peaks in perspective. Hill picks a collection that focuses on the human relationship to mountains, with many images of climbers dangling from ropes and mountaineers scaling the heights, in addition to skiers and mountain architecture. Even many of the images without people are often of peaks and places with a special connection humanity, such as Mont Blanc, Mount Robson, McKinley, or Vinson. Though this collection is eye-catching for any audience, aficionados of mountaineering history will appreciate the breadth of this collection (both in time period and geography), and the importance, in addition to the allure, of many of these photos. If this collection has a fault, it might be its American focus, as Ed Cooper gets plenty of attention (though his images are splendid), and American climbers and peaks cover more pages than any other single region. Otherwise, it could easily be the dream collection of an imagined mountaineering photo museum.

Everest figures prominently in the book, as it has in Sandy Hill's life. She credits her 1994 attempt of Everest via the Kangshung Face as a peak in her emotional connection to mountains, and her 1996 summit climb (with Scott Fisher's Mountain Madness crew) nearly cost her her life. The book contains several evocative images of the world's highest mountain, as well as several famous photos from its climbing history. There were a couple new photos for me from Everest's history: one of Ruttledge sighting the mountain with a telescope during the trek through Tibet, taken by Smythe, and a nice image of Hillary from the 1953 climb, taken during the approach through Nepal. Jimmy Chin's modern photographs of Everest impressed me with their scale and detail.

Do find this book! You're going to like it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Ascent of Everest, by John Hunt

In commemoration of 60 years of Everest ascents, I'm (finally) bringing to you Sir John Hunt's The Ascent of Everest, the official account of the first successful climb of Everest. Even 60 years later, this is still a fun book to read. The prose and style are about as different from earlier Everest books as the 1953 climb was from the early British attempts from the north. Whereas the 1951 reconnaissance and the 1952 Cho Oyu training climb were amateur adventures closely related to the early attempts in organization and follow-through, John Hunt brought a level of professionalism and militarism sorely needed to get a group of top climbers and Sherpas to work effectively together towards the extraordinarily difficult goal of placing the first mountaineers on the summit of Everest. Though Hunt cites a number of reasons, including the experience of earlier expeditions, weather, and technology, that his expedition reached the summit, it was only through his determined application of information available to him that his team was able to put the pieces in place to have two separate parties in position to make viable attempts upon the summit. Even if these days an ascent of Everest seems like a relatively easy logistical project, many things that modern Everest climbers take for granted were largely determined by the 1953 expedition, whether the style of oxygen apparatus (and rate of flow), the increased need for fluids up high, aluminum ladders in the Khumbu Icefall, the locations of Base Camp and Advanced Base Camp, the Lhotse Face as an approach to the South Col, stocking assault camps before the climbers arrive, the need for rest between high-altitude forays, proper meal-planning, or even synthetic shoes. Based on my Everest reading, I don't think it was a coincidence that Hunt suddenly got everything right on this climb.

It's so easy to slip into the mistake that the 1953 climb was somehow a story of Hillary and Tenzing. There are literally hundreds of books that will tell you so. Hunt does a good job of making The Ascent of Everest a group story, showing the amazing accomplishments of the climb's many participants, such as Westmacott's work on the Icefall or Lowe's epic on the Lhotse Face. Unfortunately, he also does a great job of focusing the spotlight away from himself. Many of the climbers would later cite his great interpersonal skills and his drive to lead through example from the front of the climb as inspirational. They don't mention, however, his genius in pulling together all of the details ahead of time that would get them up the mountain. His "Basis for Planning," written in November before their climb, is almost exactly the logistics they would eventually follow, down to the number of men needed to carry loads, the days it would take to accomplish each part of the climb, and the climbers needed at the South Col and above. (He even cites the few changes made from the details in this document in the Appendix.) If ever Everest had an unsung hero, it is John Hunt.

I seriously enjoyed coming back to this book after 15 years (since I first read it). It's a lovely book, especially for an "official" account, as Hunt has none of the stuffiness in his style that would be expected from a military man or based on the style of earlier Everest narratives. Though he glosses over some points of conflict, he faces controversy, such as Tenzing's being lionized by the crowds, with realism and some measure of humility. His interpersonal skills work well in print as well as on the mountain, and his climbers come off here as a band of hard-working real-life men, rather than either heroes or minions. He had a tough job trying to please both the Royal Geographical Society crowd and the general audience that would take interest in the book, yet he does a fine job relating logistical and technical information while moving the narrative along. If you haven't yet read this book, it's about time! Congratulations on 60 years, guys!