Monday, May 6, 2013

Beyond the Icefall, by Sorrel Wilby

Sorrel Wilby documents the 1988 pre-monsoon Australian climb of Everest with words and photographs in Beyond the Icefall: Australia's Everest Expedition. (Happy 25th anniversary, guys!) She refreshes with her frank, but not too serious style that presents an up-close climbing novice's perspective on the business of large-expedition Everesting. They climb the standard route via Nepal alongside the Japan-China-Nepal Friendship Expedition, which is attempting North-South traverses of the mountain, along with a live broadcast from the summit on a Japanese national holiday. (Of all the 1988 books in English, this one presents the most information on the Asian Friendship climb.) The team pushes to arrive at the mountain early to avoid entanglements with the other climbers, fees for icefall setup, and a diluting of their no-Sherpa support efforts. They string the icefall and make headway to Camp II before the other team catches up, at which point they make compromises in their independence to ease logistics. Wilby covers the trip to the mountain up through the establishment of Camp II with her own perspective, as she had to leave the mountain early to promote her previous book, but she does a good job of narrating the rest of the climb, even if her style gets a little drier. There's a serious close call with their first summit team, which makes a miracle summit climb after a week storm-bound on the South Col. Jon Muir makes a dash (or is it dance?) to the summit when he realizes a rescue is unnecessary for the first team and after recovering from an advanced case of worms.

Wilby's photographs are worth the price of admission for this book. They're some of the clearest and most interesting in print for the parts that she covers, especially the journey to the mountain. Also, Bruce Farmer's contributions add some beauty to the higher reaches of the mountain. The team includes a number of climbers with previous Everest experience, including Farmer (see Dingle and Perry's Chomolungma), Reinbeger, and Muir (see Hillary and Elder's In the Ghost Country). Though critics thought that their ascent would set Australian mountaineering on Everest back, due to the amazing climb by Macartney-Snape's White Limbo crew (see Hall's White Limbo) in 1984, I find their climb, and this book, well worth the effort.

1 comment: