Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Everest & Conquest in the Himalaya, by Sale & Rodway

Richard Sale and George Rodway write a history of Himalayan climbing with a focus on its connection to the development of high altitude physiology in Everest & Conquest in the Himalaya: Science and Courage on the World's Highest Mountain. The authors argue that is was more the development of high-altitude science that helped climbers scale the last 1000 feet of Everest's height rather than the will power or great abilities of its first climbers. They trace the growth of climbing science, from the earliest experiments at altitude to Kellas' scientific explorations, to the work of Pugh and Ward, to the recent (2007) Caudwell Xtreme Everest Expedition. They show that early climbers (even as late as 1952) were not held back by a lack of effort, or even their older clothing, but rather their lack of understanding of what they were up against. Sale and Rodway argue that it was the development of an efficient oxygen system along with Pugh's intensive research regarding proper oxygen use, diet, and hydration that got two men to the summit of Everest in 1953 (a point made earlier by Michael Ward in Everest: A Thousand Years of Exploration). What's new is the authors' continuation of the history of high altitude experimentation, including Italian research that argued against Kellas' belief that man could reach the summit without oxygen, the Silver Hut experiment, West's 1981 scientific climb of Everest, and some early results from the 2007 Caudwell Xtreme climb.

Alongside the science, they provide a pretty good, concise history of Himalayan climbing, with a serious focus on Everest. They give some early credit to Kellas (see also Mitchell and Rodway's Prelude to Everest) for his climbs and his scientific studies that provided early evidence that people should be just able to reach the summit of Everest without supplementary oxygen. The credit Hermann Buhl and Diemberger with reaching the summit of an 8000-er for the first time (Broad Peak) in the best style, and note that others on their team later made the first alpine-style ascent of a Himalayan peak. They note just about every climb on Everest up to 1978. They show the irony that Messner's two biggest critics of his gas-free ascent of Everest (the Sherpas who accompanied to the South Col on his first attempt), were among the next climbers, along with Hans Engl, to make the climb gas-free. The authors assume their readers have some previous knowledge of Everest's history, as they gloss over some of the most well-known details, such as the 1953 ascent and the 1996 disaster. They comment on the modern trend of commercial climbing, including a critique of Sale's experience on an early commercial climb, without getting especially negative. Overall, it's a great read with intelligent commentary. I think you'll like it!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Himalayas, by Charles W. Maynard

Charles W. Maynard writes a children's book about the geography of the world's highest mountains in Great Mountain Ranges of the World: The Himalayas. He includes a variety of topics, including the Himalayan physical and cultural geography, surveying, climbing Everest, and the Yeti. There's a bit about plate tectonics and how glaciers form valleys, different climate zones and vegetation, and local animals and people, too (as well as a possible mythical hybrid). Everest features prominently throughout the book, including the cover  (an aerial photo of the Southwest Face), its surveying history, its different names, the lack of oxygen at its summit (a misnomer---same amount as everywhere else, just lower air pressure), its height (five years out of date for a book published in 2004), and a little about Sagarmatha National Park. The page on climbing Everest includes the facts that Mallory and Irvine tried to climb it in 1924 and never returned, Hillary and Tenzing made it in 1953, hundreds have made to the top since, and several have died trying. (The illustration labeled Mallory and Irvine is actually a photo of Mallory and Norton from the 1922 expedition). The book is average for kids' nonfiction, with the most readily accessible information (not necessarily the most accurate) presented in a simplified manner with some nice photos and formatting.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Postcards from the Ledge, by Greg Child

Greg Child presents an anthology of his works in Postcards from the Ledge: Collected Mountaineering Writings of Greg Child. The articles and essays are from his work at Climbing and Outside, with several short entertaining works from his serial column, "Postcards from the Edge." The collection is a mix of essays about his own climbs as well as essays on other climbers (much like his Mixed Emotions), of an overall (good) quality rarely seen in mountaineering writing. The topics range from his struggles as a beginning climber ("The Invention of the Chin Hook") and the unbelievably dirty lives of climbers ("The Disgusting Mountains"), to his devotion to Trango Tower ("I Was a Trango Love Slave") and many of the climbing controversies of his time ("Burden of Proof," "Death and Faxes," etc.). His mix of wit and wisdom with some serious climbing know-how thrown in entertains while it instructs; I feel like you'd have to be pretty foolhardy to argue against this guy. When there's a side worth taking, such as in the Allison Hargreaves controversy, he picks up on the true enemy (slimy media), while showing empathy for the human tragedy; where details are a little more prickly, like the Tomo Cesen controversy, he presents the best facts he can find and keeps a journalistic distance. The narratives of his own climbs often serve as a platform for commentary on great personal qualities or climbing talents of his ropemates (It pays to climb with Greg Child.), as well as some humor related to his own efforts, such as in "Dawn to Dawn on Russian Tower with Lynn Hill" or "Mortals on Combatant." I love that he not only writes well and climbs well, but that he seems to love what he does and make the most of the company.

There is quite a bit about Everest and its climbers in this book, including a couple essays on his own ascent, via the North Ridge, pre-monsoon 1995. He's always been a bit jaded about Everest, including during and after his climb ("just because it's the biggest shitpile, doesn't mean it's the best shitpile"), but he agrees to accompany Tom Whittaker on his second attempt to be the first disabled person to climb Everest (see Whittaker's Higher Purpose). Along the way to the summit, he also manages to rescue Bob Hempstead (see Noland's Travels Along the Edge). He makes the most of an unsavory experience, as he helps rescue several ungrateful climbers, even helping a climber that he did not realize has stolen his ice ax. He writes a commentary about the 1996 Everest controversy, and rightly predicts that there will only be more climbers on Everest in the future. (As an observer, I find it quite astonishing how many later Everest writers were inspired to climb, rather than avoid, Everest after they read Krakauer's Into Thin Air.) He also interviews Lydia Bradey several years after her "illegal" climb, without supplementary oxygen, via the Southeast Ridge in 1988, documenting the controversy around her climb and stating that he has little doubt that she actually made the summit. He discusses Alison Hargreaves, mainly in the context of her K2 climb, but brings up her unsupported, non-supplemental-oxygen climb of Everest as well. Everest also makes cameos in "Masters of Understatement" and "Gunning for Second Best."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mountain Journeys, edited by James P. Vermeulen

James P. Vermeulen compiles an American'-focused anthology of climbing book excerpts in Mountain Journeys: Stories of Climbers and Their Climbs. He organizes his excerpts by what part of the climb they relate, starting with five essays on the need or call to climb (including excerpts from Benuzzi's No Picnic on Mount Kenya, and Galen Rowell's High and Wild), and then following the phases of a climb. For preparations, he includes part of Clinch's A Walk in the Sky, that relates his hurried gathering of materials and climbers for the first ascent of Hidden Peak, and Tom Patey's "A Walk with Whillans," among others. In the section headed "Trials and Tragedy," he picks four classics of American mountaineering literature, Davidson's Minus 148 Degrees, Houston and Bates' The Savage Mountain, Craig's Storm and Sorrow in the High Pamirs, and Roberts' Mountain of My Fear. For "Summits" Vermeulen included Julie Tullis' and Kurt Diemberger's 1984 alpine-style ascent of Broad Peak from her Clouds from Both Sides, a rare treat of an ascent of a South American waterfall from David Nott's Angels Four, and Rick Ridgeway's account of Jim Wickwire's night out near the summit of K2 from The Last Step (see also Wickwire's Addicted to Danger). "Back Into the World" includes a motley assortment, from Gene Mason's return from the snows of McKinley, to Herzog's reminder of how remote Nepal once was in Annapurna, to (this one seemed to be the odd story out, due to its age) Whymper's tragic descent of the Matterhorn.

Regarding Everest, Vermeulen includes two book excerpts: Tom Hornbein's Everest: The West Ridge and Tenzing and Ullman's Tiger of the Snows. Hornbein's excerpt starts with Hornbein and Unsoeld at the summit and works its way to the sunrise after their bivouac (good standard fair). We read about Tenzing after his climb, from the treatment he receives in the Western Cwm by his fellow Sherpas, to his harassment by political intriguers just outside Kathmandu, to his trip to London to be honored by the new queen.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Tiger of the Snows, by Burleigh and Young

Robert Burleigh writes a poem and Ed Young illustrates in Tiger of the Snows: Tenzing Norgay: The Boy Whose Dream Was Everest. Burleigh's poem takes the form of a ballad ("a song for Tenzing"), versifying some of the major events around Tenzing Norgay's life. The facts are mostly good, though the point of the poem is more inspirational than informational. There was an aside about an avalanche, however, that is hard to line up with Tenzing's life experiences. Young's pastels are pleasant. Some are general mountain scenery (Burleigh didn't always give him a lot to work with.), a couple are based on famous photographs (such as Hillary and Tenzing ascending to the Balcony with heavy packs), and others are dramatic originals. At the end, there's a page of information that tells of the 1953 climb as well as a bit about Tenzing's career. On the back cover is an endorsement by Tenzing's son, Jamling Tenzing Norgay.

This post is a revision and expansion (Only two sentences last time!) of an earlier entry, which can be found here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

7 Summits, by Patrick Hickey

Patrick Hickey writes a guide to successful living based on his climbs and career in 7 Summits: A Nurse's Quest to Conquer Mountaineering and Life. His target audience is fellow nurses, but the advice he gives applies to anyone searching for positive change in their daily lives. After an introduction to his Mount Everest experience, he provides seven categories for reflection: a balanced life, physical wellness, goals, positive attitude, realization of potential, desiring success, and creating a legacy. Each chapter contains examples from his life (including his upbringing on the family farm, his seven summits experiences, and his travels around the world), how the topic applies to his career in nursing, some advice for fellow nurses, and a checklist for the reader's reflection.

Hickey is a passionate advocate for careers in nursing. He decries the shortage of nurses and has raised funds (including through the sale of this book) for nursing scholarships. He states that he was initially uninterested in nursing, but liked the idea of a job in which he saved lives. From modest academic achievement in high school, he went on to attain a Masters in Nursing and a Ph. D. in public health after a career working in ambulances, emergency rooms, and a surgery center. He reminds his fellow nurses that they need to take care of themselves in addition to their patients, and that they should have a life outside of their careers.

His adventurous spirit led him seek out the Seven Summits. The book primarily focuses on his experience on Mount Everest, though he is sure to mention each of the summits (including Carstensz Pyramid) at some point in the book. He climbed Everest during the 2007 pre-monsoon season via Nepal under Henry Todd's Himalayan Guides service (along with Bo Parfet---see Parfet's Die Trying). As a part of the "B team" he actually makes the last ascent of the season, with a harrowing descent due to inflamed eyes that cause him to lose much of his vision. His success makes him the first nurse to complete the seven summits.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Snow in the Kingdom: My Storm Years on Everest, by Ed Webster

Ed Webster writes one of the very best Everest books in Snow in the Kingdom: My Storm Years on Everest. It's got pretty much everything an Everest reader could ask for: difficult routes, fancy climbing, large teams, small teams, solo climbing, run-ins with famous climbers, newly-discovered Everest history, great photographs, triumph, tragedy, ultra-present danger, even the love interest that critics demanded for the 1924 climb. Webster chronicles his three expeditions to Everest in the 1980s---first a pre-monsoon West Ridge Direct climb via Nepal in 1985 under Dave Saas and Jim Bridwell with a large American team, next he accompanies Roger Marshall to Tibet in 1986 to photograph and chronicle Marshall's monsoon-season solo attempt, and lastly he participates in the 1988 pre-monsoon four-person ascent of the Kangshung Face.

There's a lot going on around Everest while Webster is climbing, and he's gregarious enough to talk to the many people around him. In 1985 he plays poker with Arne Naess (Drommen om Everest), Dick Bass (Seven Summits), and Chris Bonington (The Everest Years) and gets advice from David Breashears (High Exposure). In 1986 he has a front-row seat for Erhard Loretan (Den Bergen Verfallen) and Jean Troillet's night-naked ascent of the Supercouloir, hangs out with British climbing legends Brummie Stokes (Soldiers and Sherpas), Joe Brown, and Mo Anthoine (Feeding the Rat), and gets to know the Chileans. In one telling scene, he accompanies Rodrigo Jordan Fuchs (El Desafio de un Sueno) to the Raphiu La to look over the Kangshung Face---both would later climb it. Though his 1988 climb is characterized by its remote location, he still meets Tenzing Norgay's extended family and visits Tenzing's boyhood home.

I love how the stories build upon one another. The first climb is pretty much the standard Everest West Ridge narrative---we're a big team, we climbed the shoulder, then weather and/or interpersonal conflict finished us off before we could mount a serious summit bid. (See Tasker's Everest: The Cruel Way or Roskelley's Stories Off the Wall for additional examples.) Webster does have some personal business to attend to, and the climb is an exciting, if conflict-ridden introduction to high-altitude. The next is a more laid-back assignment, but Webster gets a chance to be himself, climb by himself (all the way up Changtse), without any pressure to impress any sponsors. Things don't always go well with Marshall, but with Marshall such is to be expected.

The last climb is really the grand show---an amazing adventure that I feel fortunate to read about. If anybody topped Reinhold Messner's solo climb without supplemental oxygen (The Crystal Horizon) as far as expanding the limits of the possible on Everest, it was this crew---Robert Anderson, Paul Teare, Stephen Venables, and Ed Webster. They climbed a new and difficult route, including technical rock and ice climbing, wallowed through deep snow for thousands of feet, and had enough energy in reserve for three climbers to make a serious try at the summit, sans supplemental oxygen. Their summit climb is followed by a harrowing descent, during which the energy spent on their way up nearly prevents anyone's return.

The book has a number of features in addition. Webster's photographs appear throughout the narrative, including several sections of color images. His bibliography is extensive and subdivided into categories. My favorite feature is his annotated index, that includes note only page references, but a description of the subject, and a list under each heading of the many Everest expeditions of the climbers mentioned.

For a different, and also well-written perspective of the 1988 climb, see Venables' Everest: Kangshung Face.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Romance of Mountaineering, by R. L. G. Irving

Robert Lock Graham Irving comments on the history of mountaineering, including his own time in The Romance of Mountaineering. Irving makes a strong plea against the attitude picked up by such authors as Ruben Ellis (see Vertical Margins), stating that climbing should be a personal act between the mountain and the mountaineer, instead of a sporting venture or an act of nationality. For a British mountaineering author, Irving is refreshingly international in his history, complimenting continental climbers when they do well, though he has a strong distaste for the recent trend of ironmongery and is amused by the pitiable accomplishments of Americans at the time. (Romance was published in 1935.) His facts, of course, are a bit dated, but his analysis and perspective are unique and fascinating. He runs against the emerging trend of climbing as an expression of national identity and the need to "beat" others at climbing. He believes there is a limit to what men should do on mountains, and exposing oneself needlessly to rockfall and using a rope for anything beyond a margin of safety are right out. More than half his book discusses the climbing of his present day, including the trend of face climbing in the Alps, siege climbing, and the emergence of Himalayan climbing. He gives Graham the benefit of the doubt in his supposed 1883 ascent of Kabru, citing Longstaff's party's progress on Trisul as an example of such swift progress. He states that Bauer's party on Kanchenjunga (1929 and 1931) had accomplished some of the most technically demanding climbing ever, and that Willy Merkl had chosen a practical route on Nanga Parbat, though he should have had a greater margin of safety. Irving makes a fascinating observation that climbers had to rediscover snow climbing when they approached the Himalaya, as much of the recent climbing in the Alps was rock work.

Irving interprets the climbing of Everest through the eyes of George Mallory, as Irving was his friend and climbing mentor. While narrating the expeditions, Irving often quotes letters written to him by Mallory as well as Mallory's diary. He does occasionally use Mallory for his own purposes, such as stating that Mallory was against oxygen use in his argument against supplementary oxygen (though Mallory's opinion changed over time). Irving is very complimentary of Mallory, especially noting his balance and climbing form, even though he still believes Mallory died in a fall. He believes that after the 1922 expedition, there was no more need to return to Everest, as the 1922 group definitively proved that it could be climbed. All subsequent expeditions are simply wasteful expenditures in accomplishing a technical and unpractical feat. He sees the Everest committee as funding a dangerous trend in mountaineering nationalism; if someone climbs in the Himalaya, it should be private venture, without pomp or publicity. I wonder if he would argue similarly if Mallory had returned alive and victorious in 1924. I hope so, as his arguments are a breath of fresh air in the often jingoist climbing writing of his time.