Friday, May 10, 2013

Everest Exposed, by George Band

George Band, participant in the 1953 first ascent of Everest, sets the record straight in Everest Exposed: The MEF Authorized History. His story of Everest is refreshingly readable and accurate, covering the pre-history (surveying, etc.) of the mountain up to the present (2003), with an extended narrative of his experiences and the overall climb in 1953. Band is well-versed in the literature of Everest, and he often quotes earlier accounts and mentions the perspectives of earlier histories. The book's structure is traditional, with the earlier expeditions serving as a lead-up to the first ascent, and subsequent climbs covered in less detail. (I'm a bit of a fan of Ahluwalia's Faces of Everest, in which every climb gets nearly equal treatment; this was considerably easier to do in 1978, however, than 2003.) He makes the early Everest story more enjoyable than most, especially for modern audiences. I actually had trouble putting this one down. His later history is covered in two chapters towards the end, first covering new routes to the top, and then different sorts of records, such as ski descents, oldest, or youngest. He chooses highlights well, mostly on merit, with some British stuff thrown in for his likely audience.

I most enjoyed Band's account of the 1953 climb. So often, modern books treat it like it is long-past history. Band reminds us that many of the climbers are still around (as of 2003), and that the climb is still living in the hearts of its participants. His narrative is fresh, with quotes from the newly available journal of Tom Bourdillon, as well as his own. He writes of his fellow climbers as people, rather than figures, treating Michael Ward with sympathy for his enchainment to his medical duties, George Lowe with respect for his great fitness, and John Hunt with regard for his approachability, in spite of his great responsibility.

This book is well worth your time. In addition to the narrative, Band peppers the chapters with his own experiences, reliving many of the great journeys in Himalayan history later in his life, whether meeting Erhard Loretan on a 40th-anniversary trek to Kanchenjunga or ascending the Rishi Gorge into the Nanda Devi Sanctuary (to name only a couple). He also has the opportunity to meet Ang Tsering, the last surviving member of the 1924 Everest attempt, in Darjeeling, who shares some interesting information on his climbing career, as well as the ill-fated Everest climb.

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