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.

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