Friday, August 30, 2013

Against Giants, by David Lim

David Lim returns to the mountains, and Everest, after a partial recovery from an extreme form of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, in Against Giants: The Life and Climbs of a Disabled Mountaineer. Weeks after leading the successful first Singapore Mount Everest Expedition in 1998, Lim finds himself hospitalized and completely incapacitated by a rare disorder (See his Mountain to Climb for the tale of both the story of the expedition and his health crisis.). This, his second book, continues the story of his recovery, from relearning ordinary things, such as walking and feeding himself, to once again climbing mountains, though with a partially paralyzed leg and hand. He decides while still in the hospital to focus his life and career on climbing, and he works his way from hobbling to the highest point in Singapore (a hill not nearly as tall as the highest skyscraper) to climbing well on the North Ridge of Everest, Cho Oyu, and Shishipangma. Along the way, he makes expeditions to both Aconcagua and Kazakhstan, and regains much of his old strength.

His Everest experience, in 2001 via the North Ridge, was with a small team of Sinaporeans and a Brazilian, using the logistics services of Eric Simonson. They find themselves playing second fiddle to the grand search for Sandy Irvine (of 1924 fame, see Hemmleb's Detectives on Everest for their story.), including the moving of a crucial camp 300 meters higher to facilitate the searchers. Their expedition is as expected, though they face trouble on the North Ridge. Even if they do not reach the summit, he and his teammates set a Singaporean altitude record for climbing without supplementary oxygen. He is happy with the results, as they did the climb in a style that met with their aesthetic and moral standards, and they put in a grand effort.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Destructive Goal Pursuit, by D. Christopher Kayes

D. Christopher Kayes relates the events of the 1996 Everest season to business leadership in Destructive Goal Pursuit: The Mount Everest Disaster. Kayes focuses his text on the problems of goalodicy (a term he created to explain the pursuit of a goal long after evidence shows that it should be abandoned), and their solutions, while presenting the summit climb of Mountain Madness and Adventure Consultants' teams as a running archetypical situation throughout the book. He argues against goal-centered leadership for complex tasks, presenting evidence from both studies and a range of literature that make strong cases against it, and argues for learning-based group dynamics, which generally leads to more positive results. His text is in four sections, with an introduction to the Mount Everest disaster and the concepts he discusses, a discussion of the problems of goalodicy, a section on rethinking organizational goals, and a section on proper organizational governance. His tone is academic, but not difficult to follow, and he writes intelligently without getting overly intellectual.

His Everest material is relatively good. I appreciated that he didn't focus on explaining away what happened on the mountain, but rather used the events as a handy example for his academic conclusions. He quotes a number of books and other sources on the disaster (See Krakauer's Into Thin Air for the most popular account.), and it's clear that he treats events with the proper academic respect. Minor details, such as Reinhold Messner's actually being alone on Everest for his solo climb, at times evade him, but his account is overall trustworthy. I find it interesting that the most successful later commercial operations, such as Brice's Himalayan Experience, took more logistical lessons from the disaster than leadership ones, including radios with every climber, caches of emergency oxygen, and stringing the entire route before any non-Sherpa climbers head to the summit. The true teams on Everest these days, the Sherpa, have actually already tended (there is a bit of a range) to naturally follow many of Kayes' suggestions on good leadership, such as allowing each high-altitude carrier to choose his own physical limit, treating failure to reach a goal as a learning experience rather than a tragedy, and developing tacit coordination within the team.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Climbing Everest, edited by Geoffrey Broughton

Geoffrey Broughton presents a collection, circa 1960, of early Everest writing in Climbing Everest: An Anthology. This now classic collection tells the history of Everest through the writings of the climbers who were there. Broughton introduces the collection, as well as each chapter, with a sense of wonder and drama, showing later anthologists how to present an Everest collection. John Noel writes of the early mapping and exploration of the area in his Though Tibet to Everest. George Mallory writes of his climb of the North Col and the mountaineering possibilities on Everest in Mount Everest: The Reconnaissance. George Finch writes about his attempt, along with Tejbir and Geoffrey Bruce, to climb Everest in 1922 with supplementary oxygen, and Mallory tells of his tragic return to the North Col's slopes, in The Assault on Mount Everest. Col. Norton and Noel Odell narrate their experiences high on Everest in The Fight for Everest. Eric Shipton writes about his 1933 summit attempt, along with Frank Smythe, in Upon That Mountain. W. H. Murray tells of his experiences in the Khumbu Icefall on the 1951 reconnaissance in The Story of Everest. Lambert and Tenzing slog towards the summit in Forerunners to Everest. The British team prepares for Everest and takes the suggestions of some fanciful inventors in The Ascent of Everest. Wilfrid Noyce and George Lowe work out the problems of the Lhotse Face in Noyce's The South Col. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing finally make it to the summit, again in The Ascent of Everest. It's a short collection, at 150 pages, but a great introduction to the early Everest writings. Enjoy!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Reach for the Sky, by Falvey & Collins

Pat Falvey, with Dan Collins, tells of his early life and his quest for the seven summits in Reach for the Sky. A self-made millionaire, who then loses it all, Falvey turns to mountains for renewal and discovers a passion for high places. After climbing Ireland's highest mountain, he makes a personal goal of climbing Everest, back before everyone and their grandma began trudging to the peak. He spends more and more time in the mountains, including working as a rescue climber on his home turf and winters in Scotland and the Alps. He climbs on Ama Dablam with friends before making his first attempt at Everest post-monsoon in 1993, in the shadow of Dawson Stelfox and Frank Nugent's successful climb in May (see Siggins' Everest Calling). His Everest quest becomes a Seven Summits quest, and he begins bagging other continental high points before returning to Everest in 1995 for his summit climb. He finishes with a trip to Antarctica and Australia, in addition to climbing Mount Cook and attempting to reach Carstenz Pyramid, just in case. The book is a mixture of inspiration, humor, and storytelling, with his climbs going considerably better than the average seven-summiteer, even if he makes two trips to Everest. As his father told him, however, success is in the trying; reaching the goal is a bonus.

His Everest experience highlights an interesting transition time in Everest expeditions. His 1993 trip, under Jon Tinker, was a commercial expedition, but not a guided one. Though OTT provided logistical support and supplies, each member was expected to pull his weight. Also the members included a research team, including one who died on the mountain. The expedition was deemed a success because two climbers (Maciej Berbeka and Tinker) and two Sherpa, Lhakpa Nuru and Babu Chhiri, made the summit. His return in 1995, again with OTT, was set up more to give all or most of the climbers the chance to summit. Most of the climbers (nine) on the expedition made the summit, as well as six Sherpa. The style of expedition was more service-oriented, and provided overall more amenities, though the close babysitting and route-stringing high on the mountain that is common today was not in force. (See the example of Bob Hempstead, Falvey's teammate, in Greg Child's Postcards from the Ledge.)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hillary and Norgay's Mount Everest Adventure, by Jim Kerr

Jim Kerr writes for kids about the first ascent of Everest in Great Journeys Across the Earth: Hillary and Norgay's Mount Everest Adventure. He tells, in pretty good detail, about preparations, travel to the mountain, the climb, and its after effects. The main narrative sticks to the storyline, while Kerr fills in the details and background with sideline explanations. The illustrations work well with the storyline, including several that are used to make a point, rather than just look good on a page or simply fit somehow with the storyline. I appreciated Kerr's attention to detail, and his avoidance of lionizing his protagonists. Even if he doesn't mention the entire team by name, he focuses the story on "the climbers" and what they were doing, rather than how great or brave they were. I liked the excerpts from participants' diaries he included, and that he explained their success as a combination of planning, technology, determination, and luck. I wish his explanation of Sherpas had been a bit better, as well as of the national rivalry for Everest, but I was very pleased with his treatment of the expedition and the story overall. A great book for kids! Highly recommend!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Fear No Boundary, by Sue Fear & Lincoln Hall

Lincoln Hall and Sue Fear, the second Australian woman to climb Everest, present her life and climbs in Fear No Boundary: One Woman's Amazing Journey. Her story inspires, as she develops from a naive world traveler with a background in the travel industry, to a trekking and mountain guide, to a gifted high-altitude mountaineer. She works her way up, climbing higher and higher mountains, scaling Makalu II, Cho Oyu, and Shishipangma, leading expeditions or climbing with only a partner. She finds inspiration from her father to scale Everest, signing up with Russell Brice's Himex operation to focus on climbing, rather than running the show. Her climb, in May 2003 via the North Ridge, happens to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Everest's first successful ascent, and the publicity machine takes over her life upon her return home. She follows her Everest experience with a climb of Gasherbrum II in 2004. If you happen to read the 2005 edition of this book, you'll get a happy ending, with Fear's positive attitude and adventurous spirit filling up the final paragraphs. If you, however, get a hold on a 2006 edition, brace yourself for the tale of her untimely demise on Manaslu. (See Lincoln Hall's Dead Lucky for his personal perspective.)

The book is a mixture of personal memoir and traditional biography, with Fear and Hall writing alternating chapters. Her chapters focus quite a bit on her interior motivations and her relationships with the people around her. Hall's are a bit more mechanical, but provide a nice balance of exterior analysis. They make a nice counterpoint, as they fill-out the overall narrative of her life and climbs in a way that would be impossible with a single author. I was quite pleased with the overall structure of the book and with the quality of the writing.

Fear's Everest expedition is actually one that I had not read about previously. (It's a rare pleasure these days.) Her Himex companions are merely half of Brice's responsibilities, as an American reality-television crew, including head guide Chris Warner and cameramen Mark Whetu and Jake Norton, prove a major distraction. She runs into trouble with her own guide, but finds a path towards independence and eventual success. The narrative is one of the saner chronicles of a commercial climb and an interesting precursor to Lincoln Hall's 2006 experience, also with Himex. This is a great book, if you can find a copy!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Women in the Wild, edited by Lucy McCauley

Lucy McCauley pulls together a collection of adventurous moments in Women in the Wild: True Stories of Adventure and Connection. The book contains a large number of excerpts, averaging about nine pages in length, from both books and articles, that show the inner game of adventure from women's perspectives. While it is interesting to pick the moments in stories in which the inner and outer self come into conflict, I had trouble with this book----just about as soon as I got interested and involved in a story, it was over, and I had to begin again with a new experience. These are artistic moments that I experienced, but I felt so frustrated with their brevity that I only read about a third of them. I didn't want to become a grumpy person for a week while I read the whole thing. The stories take you all over the world, covering five continents, from authors traveling deep into jungles and deserts to jaunts into their backyards. I liked the interior focus of the excerpts that I read, making adventure something to think about as well as something to do. If short's your thing, and you're the sort of person that likes skimming the cream, then go for it! If you need to drink a full cup of coffee before you've fully decided how it tastes, then it's time to look elsewhere.

Mount Everest is represented in this collection by an excerpt from Chisholm and Bruce's To the Summit: A Woman's Journey into the Mountains to Find Her Soul. I can think of no Everest book that spends more time discussing the goings on in a climber's head than this particular work (although Messner occasionally gets pretty close). Though the excerpt doesn't represent the book in all its complexity, it does show two great moments of contrast, when Chisholm is short-roped by her lead guide up to (Nepalese) Camp II after a difficult day in a whiteout, to her climbing happily and well up to Camp III on a beautiful day. Her "ghosts" and traumas are left out of this excerpt, and she is left dealing with the flesh-y presences of her three guides, mostly in a positive manner.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Nepal Himalaya, by H. W. Tilman

H. W. Tilman recounts his two early forays into a once forbidden kingdom, including a trek through Solu-Khumbu, in Nepal Himalaya. Though the book is known for his briefest of glimpses of Everest from Kala Pattar, Tilman actually covers a great deal of ground between Mustang and Namche Bazaar on his expeditions. In 1949, he takes an opportunity to travel north of Kathmandu to survey areas in the Langtang Himal, the Ganesh Himal, and the Jugal Himal. He, against his scruples, mixes science with exploration and climbing, partly to fund his adventure, and partly to find traveling companions. Peter Lloyd (in addition to a couple scientists), of the 1938 Everest expedition, comes with him, doubling as an amateur surveyor. Tenzing, of 1953 Everest fame, serves as sirdar for the expedition, and seems to be on Tilman's heels whenever there's climbing to be done. It seems a bit of a frustrating trip, as they spend the monsoon season decrying the weather and not climbing much of anything (though they put a good effort in on one peak). They only catch a glimpse of Shishapangma, and take in Manaslu only over an extended time. Tilman's wit carries the book, as his special brand of humor makes this a travelogue well worth a read.

His 1950 trip, including treks in the Annapurna Himal and through Solu-Khumbu, comprises the second half of the book. His team is more climber-heavy, including Charles Evans of the 1953 Everest expedition, Jimmy Roberts, Emlyn Jones, D. G. Lowndes, and W. P. Packard of New Zealand. Again they arrive just in time for the monsoon, but manage to make a serious attempt on Annapurna IV nonetheless. The Everest trip happens by coincidence, as Tilman is invited by Oscar Houston upon his return to Kathamandu. Tilman and Charles Houston have time for only a brief reconnaissance of Everest, without even time to set foot in the Khumbu Icefall. Prospects look pretty bad, but then again, they don't get much of a look at Everest either, mistaking a buttress on the Southwest Face for the Southeast Ridge. He's intelligent enough to say that he didn't see enough to make a well-informed opinion.