Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Call of Everest, edited by Conrad Anker

Conrad Anker leads the 2012 Legacy Climb, celebrating 50 years since the American Mount Everest Expedition, in The Call of Everest: The History, Science, and Future of the World's Tallest Peak. The expedition is jointly funded by National Geographic and The North Face, and just as in the AMEE, is a mixture of science and adventure. The book hosts a large collection of authors (nine), each of whom contribute a chapter focused on their Everest expertise, including its geology, ecology, cultural geography, climbing history, medical tribulations, a narration of the Legacy Climb, etc. It reminded me quite a bit of the iconic Everest childrens' book that authors keep trying to write to introduce the concept of Everest (There are at least 50 of them already, most of them poorly thrown together.), but constructed quite well and written for adults. In addition to the main content (including a wealth of photographic illustrations), the book also hosts short contributions from additional authors, such as Julie Summers, Brent Bishop, and Audrey Salkeld, as well as quotes from wide range of personalities. The overall feel is pleasant and the content is engaging, both for general audiences and dedicated Everest fans.

The Legacy Climb is a grand event that starkly contrasts Everest in 2012 and 1963. I appreciate that Anker picked climbers with similar experience levels to the 1963 crew, a couple with Himalayan experience and several with only rock or ice climbing expertise. The science is primarily geology and medicine. I wish the authors had shared a bit of their initial results, just as in the 1963 expedition book (Though the early authors admitted that data was still being analyzed at the time they wrote, they did at least offer some generalities based on what they had seen so far.), rather than only telling us what they were studying. I did like, however, Lageson's sorting out the history of the study of Everest's geology. Also, the devices used by the medical team sounded fascinating. Jenkins account of the expedition does a good job of sorting out the culture of a modern Everest climb, and shows many of scary problems facing the crowds gathering high on the mountain.

I worry that so many Everest personalities, such Salkeld, Hornbein, Bishop, Breashears, and others, seemed to be summing up their Everest relationship in this book, and I wonder who the future of Everest will bring us to continue its story. Is Everest's future really more of what we already have? Is the future of telling Everest's history simply more accurate or critical revisions of the stories we already know? Is the only event we're predicting a serious accident befalling a mass of climbers exponentially larger than the crowd of 1996? Mark Jenkins reminds us that so much of Everest is empty these days. I hope that the Urubkos and Moros of climbing will have better luck in the future, and that someone will once again remind us that Everest is still a mountain with plenty of space for ambitious, talented climbers, rather than a high-stakes theme park with long lines for the ultimate ride.

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