Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Wind of Morning, by Hugh Boustead

Hugh Boustead writes his memoirs, including of his participation in the 1933 Everest expedition, in The Wind of Morning. Boustead describes his double career, first in the military, and then as a civil servant in Africa and the Middle East. As a young man, he participates in the Great War, first in the Navy, before deserting to join the Army and fight in the Western Front. He writes as though he was terribly impressed rather than taken aback by the great casualties around him, including his own wounding. He becomes attached to soldiering, and after the war fights first in Russia against the Reds and then moves on to Egypt and the Sudan, where he commands the final mounted unit in the British Empire, the Sudan Defense Force's Camel Corps. After a brief hiatus as a development officer, he returns to military service in Africa during the Second World War, running the Italians out of Ethiopia by 1941. His service as a development officer recommences after the war, serving in Sudan, (what would later be) Yemen, and Oman. His career highlights some lesser-known parts of well-known conflicts, such as his Navy service in southern Africa during WWI, the East African Campaign of WWII, and the southern theater of the Russian civil war. Also, his civil service memories give some interesting early history to regions currently in the news, including Sudan, Darfur, and Yemen.

His Everest material comprises a chapter relatively early in his memoir. He actually went to school at Charterhouse and studied English and History under George Mallory, who kindled his interest in mountaineering. After several Alpine climbing seasons and meeting with Norton after the 1924 expedition, he finds that if he can reach the Zemu Gap below Kanchenjunga, Norton will back him for a future Everest expedition. With the help of Shebbeare and several Everest-veteran Sherpas, he organizes and carries out his climb to the Gap and receives full backing for the 1933 climb. He was actually on his way out of Cairo for a desert expedition in 1932 when a RAF plane landed close by with a telegram invitation for the climb. His description of events on the mountain are fairly similar to other material on the climb, though his presence in the early stages of the climb is readily apparent here, whereas he seems to be a bit of a cipher in many other accounts. (I'm not sure why---perhaps because he had to leave the expedition just as the summit climbs were commencing due to the expiration of his leave.) Like Norton, he believes that recrossing Tibet in the summer on the way back to Darjeeling is worth the effort of the entire trip.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Other Side of Everest, by Matt Dickinson

Matt Dickinson writes a first-person account of the 1996 Everest disaster from the north in The Other Side of Everest: Climbing the North Face Through the Killer Storm (AKA The Death Zone). The book covers his expedition to Everest to film Brian Blessed's attempt in 1996 to climb the classic Mallory route, as well as telling the story of the 1996 tragedy as it unfolded in Tibet. As a novice high-altitude climber and paid observer on Everest witnessing an extreme season, he comes to fresh insights on the act and business of climbing Everest, analyzing many of the things Everest climbers and readers take for granted, such as the true depth of meaning within the phrase "death zone" and the level of physical degradation that is accepted as normal while on the mountain. He is especially concerned with climbers' morality, as two Japanese and their high-altitude porters pass dying Indian climbers the morning after the storm, and his team is faced with a similar situation on their own climb. Is the death zone a place for morals? Is it possible to save a climber at the brink of consciousness high on the Northeast Ridge?

His team climbs under the leadership of Simon Lowe with Himalayan Kingdoms. Dickinson and his film crew (including mountaineer Alan Hinkes as the high-altitude cameraman) are there to focus on Brian Blessed's climb, an against-the-odds third attempt at the age of 60. Dickinson needs this climb to go well for Blessed, as Blessed had already starred in a film, Galahad of Everest, in which he climbed high on the North Ridge. Based on Blessed's reaching 8300 meters on his last try, via the South Col, Dickinson believes there's a pretty good chance with good weather and excellent support he'll make it. They happen to be in Camp III when the storm of May 10th arrives, as the pros on their team decide to stay put based on unstable weather seen to the north on an otherwise beautiful day (a view climbers from the south would not have the luxury of seeing until they were high on the Southeast Ridge, if they were paying attention). The storm is incredibly violent at Camp III, and Dickinson is loathe to think what the climbers higher on the mountain are facing. In addition to the tragedy of the three Indian climbers that he and his fellow climbers witness, they hear over the radio of the terrible events also taking place on the Southeast Ridge. They continue on with their expedition, largely unaware of the media frenzy over the southern climbers, making what they can of already being set up for a summit climb. Things don't go quite as planned, though Dickinson reaches the summit. His analysis of the events of his summit climb was a welcome change from the cut-and-dry how-I-made-the-summit narrative of the average Everest book.

This is a great book for veteran Everest readers. Admittedly, I didn't appreciate it much the first time I read it soon after its release. After reading hundreds of Everest books, however, and coming back to this one, I realize that Dickinson has a more sober perspective than most Everest writers, especially those who have bothered to climb it.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Everest Ohne Sauerstoff, by Karl Herrligkoffer

Karl Herrligkoffer, along with eight of his summiteers (of a total of sixteen), tell the story of the 1978 post-monsoon French-German Everest expedition in Everest Ohne Sauerstoff. The book is a short work in German geared towards fellow climbers and fans who know a little of the business of climbing Everest. Herrligkoffer gives a summary of the expedition overall, including its early formation soon after his trouble with the Southwest Face in 1972, and how his climb came to be entangled with Pierre Mazeaud's French expedition, originally slated for post-monsoon 1976. (That slot was gratefully taken over by an American group, see Ridgeway's The Boldest Dream.) He spares the interpersonal details, but he does admit to financial difficulties, including a deficit after the climb, and some expensive improvised logistics involving their oxygen regulators and masks that get this essential gear to them just before their summit climbs begin (reminds me a bit of the Sherpa equipment saga from 1972).  Herrligkoffer's expeditions tend to have rather complicated planning and execution, and this climb is no exception, with responsibility sharing with Mazeaud's French group, separate German and French camps (that they later share), and Rutkiewicz and Kimek receiving a last-minute order to scale Everest, rather than Lhotse.

Each of the summiteers, save Allenbach, officially in the German group provide a narrative of his or her climb to the summit. Sepp Mack, Hubert Hillmaier, and Hans Engl are first, with Mack plowing through deep snow in the lead nearly the entire climb from the South Col, Hillmaier abandoning his French cohorts who take to long to get ready, and Engl becoming the third person, after Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler, to climb to the summit without supplementary oxygen. The next day the French get their chance, with Jaeger and Afanassieff reaching the summit, followed by Mazeaud and Kurt Diemberger (his fourth 8000er). The following day, Sigi Hupfauer, Robert Allenbach, Wanda Rutkiewicz (the first European woman and the first Pole), Willi Klimek, Ang Kami, Ang Dorje, and Mingma made the top (Ang Doje and Mingma, Messner's two biggest disbelievers regarding his ascent, making it without supplemental oxygen). Another pair, Bernd Kullman and Georg Ritter, make the summit in the beginnings of a storm, and return for a safe descent. Each of the narratives is fairly vanilla, though Hupfauer gets a dig at Rutkiewicz into his, and Rutkiewicz complains of the unreasonable men on her summit climb (with a note underneath by the author saying that she had nothing to complain about, and she didn't do a good job filming, anyway).

This book doesn't do a great job explaining the dynamic between the two expeditions while on the mountain. I imagine there was quite a bit of friction, as it seemed a bit of a haphazard arrangement, but it's largely left unstated here. I'm curious if the French book on the climb, Claude Deck and Pierre Mazeaud's Le Route de l'Everest avec l'expedition francaise, is any more explicit, or if they largely ignore the Germans in their narrative as well. My French is rather poor, and I didn't have much success hammering my way through a couple other French Everest books. Have you read it? Tell me about it!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mount Everest, by Sarah de Capua

Sarah De Capua writes a short book for beginning readers in Mount Everest. The content is very basic, with a sentence or two on every page. What she writes is pretty accurate, with tidbits of information on Everest's physical and cultural geography, as well as its climbing history. (Hillary, however, might be a bit offended by Tenzing's being his "guide" in this book.) There's even a photo-glossary at the end. What's quite strange in this book is that, even though there are photos of mountains throughout this book, Everest only makes an appearance in the background of the photo on page 18 of two Sherpa and in the glossary under the illustration of a glacier. There's pictures of climbers ascending the Lhotse Face as well as on the summit, but all the photos of mountains are of Ama Dablam, Nuptse, and Lhotse (in addition to a pretty picture from the Rockies), including the ones labeled "Mount Everest." I enjoyed reading this one with my young daughter, even if I felt strange about the photos. 

This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier entry, found here.

To the Vertical End of the Earth, by Steven Wong

Steven Wong writes the official account of some unlikely heroes from a small country in To the Veritcal End of the Earth: The Story of the 1st Singapore Mount Everest Expedition. He tells the story of the ten-year development of Singapore's climbing community from a couple of people who had made some treks in the Himalaya or climbs in the Alps to a group with enough skills and experience to take on the world's highest mountain. It was a difficult and expensive journey, as not many people or businesses were interested in sponsoring such a strange venture, and the climbers needed a number of training climbs on high mountains before they should make an attempt on Everest. The group, headed by David Lim (author of Mountain to Climb and Against Giants), attempt Nun Kun, and climb Dhaulagiri VII and Cho Oyu, in addition to making small-group trips to New Zealand and the Alps for technical training.Their Everest climb, during the 1998 pre-monsoon season via Nepal, goes fairly well, though they face some unexpected hurdles. They return home to both jubilation and controversy, as their summiteers were Permanent Residents, rather than citizens, but their summit photos with the climbers posing with the Singapore flag seem to smooth things over.

The book is one of three (that I'm aware of) accounts of the 1st Singapore Mount Everest Expedition. The expedition leader, David Lim, wrote an account of the expedition that also covers his coming down with Guillaine-Barre Syndrome soon after his return, in Mountain to Climb. Khoo Swee Chiow, one of the summit climbers, writes about his participation in the expedition, in addition to his subsequent life of adventuring, in Journeys to the Ends of the Earth. Wong's book is perhaps the most balanced of the three. The other two are personal accounts, and though Lim's book tells a bit more about the overall 1998 Everest experience (including the friction between teams), Wong's gives the clearest picture of the Singapore expedition. He doesn't shy away from conflict between members, though he is reticent to name names when speaking of the actions of other expeditions. (He actually has a number things to say about Bear Grylls and Mick Croswaithe, though you have to know their story to know whom Wong is speaking of.) The book is a bit of a throwback, with a number of appendices on specific topics by expedition members and experts. The chapter on the technology brought to the mountain is quite impressive, if you can remember what the internet, digital cameras, etc. looked like in 1998. The book is a pleasant read---nothing deep and philosophical, but well-written.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Story of Twentieth-Century Exploration, by Charles E. Key

Charles E. Key highlights the explorers seeking out the last blanks on the map in The Story of Twentieth-Century Exploration. This is a relatively old volume (1938), cited in Reuben Ellis' Vertical Margins, that covers the exciting happenings within the Modern Age of exploration, including reaching the North and South Poles, searching the Sahara and Gobi deserts, exploring Tibet, climbing Himalayan Peaks, and delving into the interiors of the Amazon, Australia, and New Guinea. Because of the academic nature of Ellis' work, I expected intelligent writing here as well, but I was not quite so lucky. The book is a general-audiences summary of modern exploration, and not a particularly great one. Key focuses on the most sensational or interesting stories on his topics, often introducing them out-of-context---covering, for instance, the Duke of Abruzzi's expedition to the Ruwenzori as though it was the first and only expedition to attempt or climb those mountains. (Remember that Wollaston preceded the Duke and nearly stole his prize.) Key provides little analysis or commentary, though the explorers he omits are often commentary enough, such as "various parties" attempting Kamet before Smythe's crew, or the complete omission of the name Frederick Cook (might have to agree with him there). He includes a couple surprises, such as Freya Stark's travels in South Asia and Hassanein Bey's trip into the Libyan desert.

Regarding Everest, Key has more to say that he probably should. His description of the snows high on Everest is certainly unique, and his setting up of the climbing of Everest as a four-stage gauntlet adds drama, but misses some of the greater difficulties. He covers each of the expeditions up to 1936 (including the 1933 flight over Everest---though he oversimplifies its story), focusing on the actions of climbers high on the mountain. He gives extra room to dramatic moments, such as Smythe's climbing a ice wall while scaling the North Col or Mallory and Irvine's climb into the clouds. His narrative is at least entertaining and mostly accurate. I like that he euphemizes the accomplishments of the 1936 expedition by saying they garnered a good deal of useful information. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Seven Second Summits, by Kammerlander & Lucker

Hans Kammerlander climbs the second highest summit on each continent in his and Walther Lucker's Seven Second Summits: Uber Berge um die Welt. The book features a great mix of climbs by one of the world's greatest alpinists, whether fighting to get to the top of K2, out for a veritable stroll to the summit of Ojos del Salado with a non-climbing friend, or stomping through days of mud on the approach to Puncak Trikora. I love that the first to make these climbs was a professional climber, rather than an amateur adventurer (see Dick Bass' Seven Summits), as Kammerlander does a great job focusing on the mountain its environment during the narratives. I also like that each of the mountains seems to have an obstacle or difficulty that made their chapter interesting, whether the bureaucratic logistics surrounding Dychtau, the company he keeps on Tyree, the vast summit plateau of Logan, or the messy weather on Mount Kenya. It's a fun book to read, assuming you read German, as Kammerlander is clearly out to enjoy these climbs rather than stomp through them on some sort of mission (excepting Tyree, perhaps). I actually enjoyed reading most the stories of his two shortest mountains to climb, as Puncak Trikora got him the furthest out of his element (including his cook showing him how to climb), and Tyree was bound to be a mess when he teamed up with a bitter rival, since both needed each other if either were to afford to make the climb.

Though this book has very little to do with Mount Everest, I've been waiting for someone to make these climbs and write this book for a long time (14 years, to be exact), ever since I read Greg Child's half-joking comment, in Postcards from the Ledge, that the second highest summit of each continent would actually pose a greater challenge than the Seven Summits. The bits about Everest do add some flavor to this book, such as contrasting the vast emptiness of his Mount Tyree base camp with the circus surrounding Everest, and the controversy over whether he actually finished the list after descending Tyree actually being greater than media frenzy over his 1996 "incomplete" ski descent of Everest. Also, Christian Stangl, in addition to being a thorn in his side over the second summits, claims to have beaten Kammerlander's record ascent of Everest by climbing from the Tibetan ABC to the summit in 16 hours, 42 minutes, a time Kammerlander states is 2 minutes slower than his. I'm amazed these two climbed Tyree together without coming to blows.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mountains: Surviving on Mount Everest, by Michael Sandler

Michael Sandler writes a short biography of Temba Tsheri Sherpa while explaining the geography of Everest and its environs for kids in Mountains: Surviving on Mount Everest. In 2001, Temba became the youngest person to climb Everest, summiting via the North Ridge two weeks after his sixteenth birthday, on his second attempt (a record that lasted nine years, until Jordan Romero climbed Everest at 13---see Blanc's The Boy Who Conquered Everest).  Sandler works Temba's story into the overall culture and geography of the Everest region (focusing on Nepal), including the tale of his two climbs on Everest. He discusses the basics of mountains, Sherpa culture, and animal life in the region, before explaining why and how people manage to climb the world's highest mountain. He writes about gear, routes, Everest's climbing history, the Death Zone, and threats to Everest's environment. The information is overall fairly good for a children's book, though the author perpetuates the less-oxygen-up-high myth (actually, same amount as lower altitudes, just lower air pressure), and the illustration of a West Ridge Direct route is a bit misleading, but not technically wrong. Also, Boivin made his paraglider descent from the summit in 1988, rather than 1998. Temba's story is a great one for kids, both for the inspiration of his effort at such a young age and for the easily-recognizable effects of placing oneself in danger for a difficult goal, as Temba lost parts of several fingers to frostbite in his first attempt to climb Everest.

This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier entry, found here.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Straight to the Top and Beyond, by John Amatt

John Amatt inspires with his autobiography, Straight to the Top and Beyond: Nine Keys for Meeting the Challenge of Changing Times. After successfully organizing and executing the logistics of the 1982 Canadian Everest expedition, Amatt turned to inspirational public speaking to help others achieve their greatest challenges, in addition to leading some subsequent adventures. He had a varied background before Everest, climbing amongst the British legends of Brown and Bonington (including leading the first ascent of Norway's Troll Wall), before heading off to teach physical education in Canada and eventually making it to the Rockies to found the Banff Mountain Film Festival. In his story, he discusses how he has changed over the years, developing from a shy boy with plenty of potential to a leader and a well-known public speaker. The book is divided into two parts, with Amatt's biography taking two-thirds of the space, and an explanation of his ADVENTURE ethic (an acronym of keys to life happiness, success, and fulfillment) and some further inspiration filling the remaining third. For inspirational and self-help texts tied to Everest, this is the most effective I've come across so far. Of course, Amatt's had a lot of practice inspiring others before getting around to this book, whereas most others write their inspirational Everest books fresh off the mountain (or even before they bother to climb it...I won't name any names.)

The Everest material serves as a nice supplement to the standard sources on the 1982 Canadian expedition, Burgess & Palmer's Everest Canada and Bruce Patterson's Canadians on Everest. Amatt provides his prospective, unique both for his organizational role and his serving as the media mouthpiece in Kathmandu for the men still on the mountain after the breakup of the climbing team due to four deaths. He discusses his difficulties raising money and his need, like Bonington's Southwest Face climb, to find one large sponsor (subsequently Air Canada) to cover the majority of the climb's cost. Due to the confused and false reports on their climb after tragedy strikes, Amatt realizes that both the team and their sponsors need accurate and constant information for the media to counter the bad news from uninformed critics. He turns a messy situation into eventual positive publicity after two Canadians reach the summit, and he uses the success of the expedition to pay the party's debts through team members' speaking engagements throughout the country, leading to his career in inspirational speaking.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Summits of Adventure, by John S. Douglas

John S. Douglas writes a popular history of mountaineering in Summits of Adventure: The Story of Famous Mountain Climbs and Mountain Climbers. He indeed focuses on the well-known narratives, though along with the war horses of Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, and Everest (etc.), he includes the stories of some lesser-known climbs, such as the Meyer family's early explorations of the Alps, Wills' ascent of the Wetterhorn, Mackinder's ascent of Mount Kenya, and some early American ascents. He calls Saussure the "father" of mountaineering, as he provided the catalyst to begin the sport, and comes to a couple other interesting conclusions, such as claiming that Americans did the research that proved key to understanding oxygen use for Everest. (Sale and Rodway would likely dispute this---see their Everest and Conquest in the Himalaya.) For the most part, the book is a fairly good representation of readily available books on mountaineering a la 1954, its publication date. The discussions of mountaineering technology are a bit shaky, the 1953 Everest material is a bit raw, Mont Blanc history is at least pretty good, and the Eiger North Face is full of NAZIs. I was surprised by his relatively neutral portrayal of the 1939 American K2 tragedy, and I was grateful for his Mount McKinley history, even though, at the time Mount Whitney was still the highest mountain in the United States.

Douglas presents the climbing of Everest as the pinnacle of mountaineering achievement, beginning and ending his book with Hillary and Tenzing's final steps to the summit. Most of the early Everest history is presented in quick detail, though Mallory gets a special amount of space and is the focus of the 1921 reconnaissance climb. Most of his information is accurate, though he does include some squirrely details, such as saying that Everest's Northeast Ridge connects to Changtse, that Morshead (rather than Wheeler) accompanied Mallory and Bullock on their climb past the Lhakpa La, including the supposed Russian ascent as though it was hard fact, and saying that Lambert and Tenzing were stopped in 1952 by a "zone of death" above which no man can function. Overall, this is a good book, but not a great one.