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!

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