Sunday, May 12, 2013

Everest, by George Craig

George Craig presents a narrative and photographic history of climbing the world's highest mountain, circa 2003, in Everest: 50 Years of Struggle to Reach the Top of the World. While I object to the subtitle, (people had been struggling considerably longer than 50 years to climb Everest by 2003), I enjoyed this quick presentation of Everest's history. Craig aims for a general British audience (This is a very British-centric telling.), avoiding academic discourse and drawing many conclusions for his readers, so that they can sit back and enjoy the story. The photographs are pretty much the standard set for Everest histories, though he does find some rarely-used pictures to illustrate the 1951 reconnaissance and the 1953 ascent. One photo caption amused me, stating that it was a photo of Edmund Hillary on the summit of Cho Oyu, 20,000 feet above the Nangra La (Three things wrong here.), though it was a glaring exception to most of Craig's accuracy. His representation of George Mallory was a bit off by my standards, but I didn't really have a problem anywhere else in the book. He covers the full range of Everest history, from early surveying to the 1999 discovery of Mallory and the 2002 (to be on television for 2003) fiftieth anniversary climb by descendents of Everest's famous climbers.

His focus, given the anniversary, is on the 1953 first ascent climb, with a quarter of the book devoted to it. It's really the highlight of the book, because Craig puts a good deal of thought into its presentation. He shows that there was a lot to prepare for, and still a lot to overcome by the time the British arrived at the mountain, even though most of the route had already been climbed. He contrasts the efforts of the British with that of the Swiss in 1952, especially in regards to Hunt's leadership, the climbing of the Lhotse Face, and their oxygen equipment. He reminds us of the drama of Bordillon and Evans' ascent of the South Summit and of the difficult journey of Hillary and Tenzing. Overall, a great presentation!

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