Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The World at Their Feet, by Philip Temple

Philip Temple writes a history of New Zealand's mountaineers in The World at Their Feet: New Zealand Mountaineers in the Great Ranges of the World. The book, published in 1969, covers the classic age of New Zealand alpinism, from the late 19th Century beginnings of climbing in the race for Mount Cook, to its early Himalayan odysseys, to climbers searching for adventure even farther afield. Temple writes with fellow New Zealand climbers in mind, expecting his audience to have some familiarity with the most famous mountaineers, and even know the well-trodden (for New Zealanders) story of the rescue of Ruth Adams from La Pereuse. (Look for details on that one in Hillary's Nothing Venture, Nothing Win.) Temple generally paints the rosiest possible picture for the accomplishments of Kiwi climbers, beginning with the supposition that they were as good or better than their European counterparts. He supposes that Dan Bryant was a pivotal member of the 1935 Everest reconnaissance, Ed Hillary was the best possible man for the job in 1953, and Norman Hardie practically paved a golden walkway for the summit climbers on Kanchenjunga in 1955, to name a few. I found it fascinating to look at many of the classic climbs and adventures (Fuch's fun in Antarctica) from a nationalist perspective other than the traditional British one and also to focus on the role of minor (I mean, terribly important) players on the climbs I thought I already understood.

Temple's Everest material largely comes from traditional sources. He covers the 1935 reconnaissance, the 1951 reconnaissance, the 1952 Cho Oyu climb, and the 1953 ascent in general details, though he focuses on Bryant, Riddiford, Hillary, and Lowe. As an veteran Everest reader, I was most interested in the extra details that made it into the book. I hadn't realised that Hillary had originally tried to get a Himalayan climb going on his own (while on a trip to Europe) before joining Riddiford's team, or that Norman Hardie was a backup climber for 1953 and did administrative work for the expedition. Also, Temple insinuates that Harry Ayres was Hillary's guide, rather than just a climbing mentor, during Hillary's formative climbs. One of the key arguments of the book, with which I agree, is that Dan Bryant's participation in the 1935 expedition and Riddiford's 1951 Murkut Parbat expedtion were the pivotal moments in New Zealand climbing that opened up a world of possibilities for New Zealand mountaineers.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Great Adventures with National Geographic, edited by Melville Grosvenor

Melville Bell Grosvenor presents a collection of National Geographic's most exciting stories, circa 1963, in Great Adventures with National Geographic: Exploring Land, Sea, and Sky. The book, written during the United States' space age, is especially focused on the intertwining of technology and geography, with people riding automobiles (circa 1930) across Asia or into the Gobi, using fancy cameras to observe insects, building a station at the South Pole, flying in planes and rockets, or diving with aqualungs, bathyspheres, or submarines. It seems a bit as if the classic adventure, such as Peary's dog sledding to the North Pole (even that story focuses on his fancy boat) or Roosevelt's journey into the Amazon, has gone out of style, and something much more exciting has arrived (like space flight). Regardless, there are a number of grand expeditions here, including Fuch's crossing of Antarctica, flying from Britain to Australia (1930s), reaching the bottom of the Mariana Trench, circling the globe without surfacing in a submarine, and crossing North America in an airship, to name only a few.

Regarding Everest, Edmund Hillary presents an original description of his summit climb for National Geographic audiences, and Grosvenor effuses over the success of the recent American expedition. Hillary's narrative covers his arrival at the South Col (second time) through his descent to the Cwm. He's more frank here than similar descriptions, such as writing of his frustration at the illness of Pemba or describing the dangerous snow conditions as they near the South Summit. I'm not a huge fan of it, overall, but it provides more factual information than either his official account contribution in The Ascent of Everest or his later narrative in High Adventure. Grosvenor is very excited by the Americans' success on Everest in 1963, including his own staffer, Barry Bishop, reaching the summit with the National Geographic flag. Though no narrative of the climb appears here, Grosvenor features the climb in his introduction, as well as in his prelude for the mountain section. Also of interest for Everest aficionados, Joseph Rock presents a narrative of his two expeditions to the mountains of western China, from which he gathered that he set eyes on the world's true highest mountain, Minya Konka, later proven to be much shorter than Everest and climbed by an American party. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Rocky Horrors, Frozen Smiles, by Peter Austen

Peter Austen muses over a life of climbing in Rocky Horrors, Frozen Smiles: A Climber at the End of His Rope. He writes of his development as a climber and travels, from British crags, to the Alps, on to the Canadian Rockies, and beyond. This is a short, humorous work, in which he highlights climbing's ironies and amusements without losing focus on the difficulties and dangers also involved. His climbing covers the gamut, and he writes about rock routes, classic Alpine climbs, aid climbing, ice climbing, mixed, and expeditions. His narratives often are as much about his ropemates as they are about the climbs, and he drives home that most climbing is a shared experience.

Austen includes a chapter on his Everest expedition, which he led in 1991. He refers the reader to his book, Everest Canada: The Climb for Hope, for details on the expedition, and writes mostly on the joys (or lack thereof) of high-altitude personality conflict. Choosing climbers who will work together at altitude for weeks or months is extraordinarily difficult, and Austen regrets the infighting in his expedition and the loss of one particular friendship. He is grateful, however, that only relationships, rather than climbers, were among his expedition's casualties. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Everest: Where the Snow Never Melts, by H. P. S. Ahluwalia

H. P. S. Ahluwalia writes a reader for teens based on his journey to the top of the world in Everest: Where the Snow Never Melts. The storyline closely follows the first part of his autobiography, Higher Than Everest, including his youth, education, military career, and climbs. He writes a bit more here about his early inspirations to climb great mountains, including his trips to the market with his mother and his reading of mountaineering literature. Also, the shorter narrative in this volume provides a focus on what caused his success in his early climbs, instead of a more general narration in the earlier volume. He gives a personal perspective on his Everest climb, as a part of the 1965 Indian climb (see Kohli's Nine Atop Everest), during which his persistence even in the face of defeat gives him the opportunity to climb to the summit. The book contains a number of photos by Ahluwalia, mostly taken during his Everest expedition, for which he was the expedition photographer. I wish there was a sequel to this book, as I feel that Ahluwalia's subsequent struggle with a spinal injury could make a inspirational story for teens as well. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Beyond Everest, by Pat Morrow

Pat Morrow climbs, skis, and takes photographs around the world in Beyond Everest: Quest for the Seven Summits. After climbing McKinley and Aconcagua (the second as training for Everest), Morrow began thinking about the continental high points. Upon his descent from the summit of Everest in 1982, he decided climbing the remaining peaks would be a grand adventure and a great way to expand his photography career. He had no idea that he would be facing competition for completing his quest (see Bass' and Ridgeway's Seven Summits), nor that he would have to overcome so many logistical and financial hurdles along the way. The book is as much a coming-of-age story as a climbing narrative, with Morrow growing (or regressing, depending on your perspective) from a migratory bohemian climber who happens to take good photographs to part-owner of an adventure travel company and worldwide traveler. In this book, the Seven Summits are fresh adventures, clear of the "fixers" who would pave the way for crowds of people to follow in his and Bass' footsteps. To reach Vinson, Morrow ends up founding the airline and setting up the company that would later shuttle people to and from the mountain, since there is no alternative. To get to Carstenz Pyramid, he works through diplomats and mining executives, setting up a nationally-sponsored climbing exchange with Indonesia, becoming the first foreigner to reach the summit in nine years. This is a book from a different (perhaps simpler) time, when his reaching the East Peak of Elbrus (slightly lower than the main summit) is perfectly OK, as whiteout conditions prevented his climbing further---a huge contrast to the controversy waiting for today's climbers who climb nearly to the top of mountains (see Kammerlander and Lucker's Seven Second Summits).

Morrow's Everest material is breath of fresh air, as far as material about the 1982 Canadian expedition goes. Several writers, including Morrow's teammates seem to think the expedition is either something to be attacked (Burgess and Palmer's Everest Canada) or defended (Amatt's Straight to the Top and Beyond). Morrow plays a little defense for the overall expedition, but he doesn't take sides in the war of words among climbers. He writes with understanding of many of his fellow climbers' controversial decisions, such as Lloyd Gallagher's decision to turn back from Camp IV late in the day, Marsh's much-debated leadership, Rusty Baillie's (and others) leaving the expedition, and Skreslet's solo climb through the Khumbu Icefall. His own climb goes well, largely because he chose to use Skreslet's oxygen set, which had worked to get Skreslet to the summit. Morrow is critical of the diluter-demand oxygen sets purchased from the American medical team (see West's Everest: The Testing Place), as he claims they were responsible for Burgess' failed summit climb and Gallagher's trouble reaching the South Col.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sir Edmund Hillary: To Everest and Beyond, by Whitney Stewart

Whitney Stewart writes a great biography for kids in Sir Edmund Hillary: To Everest and Beyond. Stewart uses a wealth of sources (rare for children's literature), including her own interviews with the subject, his wife, and friends, in addition to books and some unpublished interviews by others. With so many books on Hillary, one might be tempted to think she's reinventing the wheel, but what emerges is a refocused narrative based around Hillary and his family that is often lost in the more dramatic or conventional books. His trip up the Ganges is here represented as a tribute to a lost wife and a means of spiritual recovery, rather than another escapist grand adventure. His journey to the South Pole is shown as a difficult life decision during the beginnings of his young family, in addition to a media frenzy. I like that Stewart trusts kids to know that role models do not stand alone, but are supported and shaped by their family and friends.

The book, published in 1996, contains a lot of the standard facts on Hillary, even if there's a bit of a refocus. His youth in New Zealand, climbing in the Southern Alps, Everest and other adventures, and his life of philanthropy are all here. The Everest material focuses on the trek to Everest and the summit climb, with some bits about the 1951 reconnaissance, Hillary's pre-climb physical, and the build-up of camps thrown in. You won't find, however, the Cho Oyu prep climb (during which Hillary and Lowe sneaked over to the north side of Everest) or Hillary's return in 1981 to visit the Kangshung Face. I still think this is a great research book for kids interested in Hillary and a good pick for libraries.

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