Sunday, September 29, 2013

No Place but UP!, by Lance S. Fox

Lance S. Fox, veterinarian from Wisconsin, achieves the summit of his dreams in No Place but UP! An unlikely adventure, his tale chronicles his journey from a novice climber, who experienced altitude sickness climbing Colorado Fourteeners, to a determined father who shows his kids that no dream is too high. He, like several modern Everest climbers, first dreamed about climbing Everest after reading about the troubled 1996 season. A shortage of mountains in Wisconsin sends him to Colorado, Washington, and Mexico for his early mountain experiences, before he skips straight to Everest, with the blessing of Russell Brice. He also has the fortune to find a sponsor to cover his expenses for his climb with Himex in 2009, and to become a part of the Everest: Beyond the Limit television program. In addition to achieving his dream, Fox seeks to help the Sherpa people, using his talents as a veterinarian specializing in cattle to treat hundreds of yaks, both before his climb and on a return to Everest base camp in 2011. 

The climbing goes well, at least for Fox. Brice's operation, relatively new to Nepal, shows what comfort and caution can mean on the south side of Everest. They head up Lobuche Peak, rather than the Khumbu Icefall for early acclimatization runs, the route is strung all the way to the summit (including double lines for technical sections) before any paying climbers head to the top, and the climbers use three, rather than two, oxygen tanks as a norm on summit day. Fox encounters the crowds that are typical of a climb high on Everest lately, and he deals with his many fellow climbers genially, if at times nervously. He feeds on the social aspect of climbing, and makes many lasting friends among his teammates, though his climb strains one already established friendship. He also gets to meet his climbing hero, Ed Viesturs (author of The Mountain: My Time on Everest---look for a review soon!), who climbs in 2009 as a part of the First Ascent Eddie Bauer promotional climb. Fox tells his story well, and has a great attitude---a great first book and first climb.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Everest: Legendary Victors and Vanquished, by Peter Sherwood

Peter Sherwood puts together a small volume on a big mountain in Everest: Legendary Victors and Vanquished. He writes about the history of climbing Mount Everest, focusing on three important seasons: 1924, 1953, and 1996. Though the book is tiny (smaller dimensions than a trade paperback, and 100 pages long), it is chock-full of color photographs, both historical and modern, that accompany Sherwood's prose. He writes about the expeditions intelligently, though not in detail, doing a good job not to focus on heroes or oversimplify. The photographs are a good set, beautifully printed (Thank you, Sherwood for using so many of Noel's hand-colored slides for 1924!), that add quite a bit of color to the limited text. A great book for a gentle introduction to the phenomenon of Everest!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Alive in the Death Zone, by Lincoln Hall

Lincoln Hall, the famous Everest author and survivor, writes a narrative of his climbs for older children in Alive in the Death Zone. Hall ties in his climbing biography to an introduction to Mount Everest to create an exciting storyline that teaches. While he brings to life his climbs of gradually higher and more technical mountains (including features on his climbs on Dunagiri, Annapurna II, and his two climbs on Everest), he also relates some of the history of climbing Everest, the challenges of high-altitude mountaineering, and a bit of the cultural geography of the Everest region.

The largest part of the book focuses on his 2006 climb to the summit of Everest, his near-death experience below the Second Step on the Northeast Ridge, and his rescue and against-the-odds survival. He tells of the expedition in good detail for young readers, in a style that's easy to understand, but not dumbed-down. His focus is slightly different than his adult-readers' memoir of the event, Dead Lucky, with a more journalistic approach that describes many things that adults often take for granted, such as why a tent with a certain shape works better, or the utility of acclimatization. I appreciated his frank writing on his overnight ordeal and the results of his mortification. I found it curious, but perhaps appropriate, that he left out some of the more gruesome details of his troubled rescue.

I'm a huge fan of this book. Not only does it work an exciting story into the often tedious task of introducing Everest, but also it tantalizes with quality prose and images. The book is suffused with Hall's (and others') photography---often first-rate action shots or mountain landscapes, with some documentary photographs that bring the story to life. The format and printing are high-quality, and there's even a visual reference guide for the technical equipment he uses on his climbs. Finally! An Everest book for kids that has it all!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Wo die Schneeloewen Tanzen, by Peter Meier-Huesing

Peter Meier-Huesing writes about the unlikely adventure of a solo flight from England to India and an attempt on Everest in 1934 in Wo die Schneeloewen Tanzen: Maurice Wilsons Vergessene Everest-Besteigung. Meier-Huesing (writing in German, of course) takes Maurice Wilson's story and weaves it into a palatable narrative, adding dialogue within the history and providing background and a sense of place using the writings of earlier Everesters. The author quotes from Wilson's diary and letters, giving a good feeling for who he was and a bit of his personality. The book covers Wilson's upbringing, war experiences, his nomadic young-adulthood, his illness, and his quest to fly to Everest and climb to the summit to show the world the great power of faith, prayer, and fasting. Meier-Huesing shows that Wilson's war experiences had a profound effect on his future, as well as the overbearing expectations of a successful father.

The book is distinctive not only for its being in German. Meier-Huesing's use of dialogue, though interpretive rather than historical, adds quite a bit of flavor to the story and sorts out the attitude and determination within one of Everest's stranger suitors, such as in the back-and-forth between Wilson and the Abbot of Rongbuk. Also, of the three available book-length accounts (See Dennis Robert's I'll Climb Mount Everest Alone or Ruth Hanson's A Yorkshireman on Everest for the other two.), Meier-Huesing goes the farthest in describing the potential intimacy between Wilson and Enid Evans. Oppositely, he seems the least interested in the pre-history of his great conversion to his strange faith. This isn't my favorite of the three accounts, but it's a strong telling and a pleasant read. Hope you like it!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

High, edited by Clint Willis

Clint Willis presents a grand collection of writing from the two highest mountains in the world in High: Stories of Survival from Everest and K2. Willis has a talent for picking good moments of exciting stories, and chooses a lot of winners in this book. In his introduction, he gives a brief history of climbing Everest and K2 for the uninitiated, which should do to give this stories some context. His excerpts are a pretty good size (from ten to thirty pages) and have a nice focus to them, whether presenting Matt Dickenson's summit climb on Everest, or Ed Webster's nightmarish descent of its Kangshung Face. Willis' K2 material includes excerpts from Houston and Bates' Five Miles High and The Savage Mountain, Bonatti's On the Heights, Galen Rowell's In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods, Rick Ridgeway's The Last Step, and Jim Haberl's K2: Dreams and Reality, and well as the articles "Bad Summer on K2," by Krakauer and Child and "The K2 Mystery" by David Roberts.

For Everest, Willis picks a good set. Smythe describes his attempt, in 1933, to climb alone below the Northeast Ridge, after leaving a sick Eric Shipton behind at their tent in Camp Six. Doug Scott and Dougal Haston tell of their 1975 climb, from the Rock Band on the Southwest Face to the summit and back (including a bivouac at the South Summit), in Everest the Hard Way. Brummie Stokes describes the progression of his frostbite injury, leading to amputation, in Soldiers and Sherpas: A Taste for Adventure. Chris Bonington and Charles Clarke tell of their waiting in vain for the return of Pete Boardman and Joe Tasker from their climb of the Pinnacles of the Northeast Ridge in 1982 in Everest: The Unclimbed Ridge. Alan Burgess and Jim Palmer describe the first tragedy to strike the Canadian team in 1982, with an avalanche striking climbers in the Khumbu Icefall, killing three Sherpa in Everest Canada: The Ultimate Challenge. Maria Coffey tells of her experiences in Lhasa and Xigatse on her way to Everest with Hillary Boardman to pay respects to their lost loves in Fragile Edge. Ed Webster escapes the Kangshung Face in 1988 with two of his team, in Snow in the Kingdom: My Storm Years on Everest. Matt Dickinson has a difficult climb to the summit in 1996, even in great conditions, after the tragedy of May 10/11, in The Other Side of Everest. I'm Highly grateful that there are no accounts of the 1953 summit climb here. While I'm a sap for Hornbein's account of 1963, it's a bit over-excerpted, and not here either. Thank you, Clint Willis.

Willis is also the author of The Boys of Everest: Chis Bonington and the Tragedy of Climbing's Greatest Generation, and the editor of Climb: Stories of Survival from Rock, Snow and Ice, Epic: Stories of Survival from the World's Highest Peaks, and Epics on Everest: Stories of Survival from the World's Highest Peak.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Everest, by the Royal Geographical Society

The Royal Geographical Society gives an exhibition of its photo archives from early expeditions to the world's highest mountain in Everest. This large volume contains images from 1921 to 1953 of the Society-supported expeditions (through the Mount Everest Committee), including several new to me and likely previously-unpublished. Though the bulk of the book, containing hundreds of images, rehashes the tried-and-true photographs that make up the canon of Everest photographic history, the sheer number of photos means that even the Everest aficionado will find something here to like, as well.

It seems like, with Lowe and Lewis-Jones' recent The Conquest of Everest, we have two photobooks serving the same purpose, but the Royal Geographical Society's work covers the early expeditions in addition to the 1953 (though in less detail than the first ascent), and the presentations on 1953 have different focuses. Conquest sticks to the action on the mountain in 1953, whereas Everest uses a more documentary style in its photo selections. Lowe's work serves additionally as a memoir, while RGS focuses on its photo presentation, excepting a short introduction by Jan Morris and a couple paragraphs on each of the expeditions. There are two wonderful images of Lowe on the Southeast Ridge in Everest, by the way, that you won't find in Conquest. 

It's amazing to think that these hundreds of photos are but a taste of the tens of thousands of images from Everest expeditions within the RGS' archives. I imagine they are capable of producing books on this scale of each individual expedition, instead of Everest's entire early history. I'm grateful for the many new images I experienced within Everest, but it also makes me hungry for more!  Perhaps in 2021, 2022, 2024....

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Last Hero: Bill Tilman, by Tim Madge

Tim Madge documents the life of one of Everest's most colorful early climbers in The Last Hero: Bill Tilman: A Biography of the Explorer. Describing Tilman is a difficult task, even if the explorer left behind fifteen books of his adventures, many diaries, and thousands of letters, as he hides behind a mask of wit in his writing and was often reserved to the point of shyness in person. Madge sorts him out as best he can, showing that surviving combat in both the World Wars and growing up with a successful and demanding father led to his great need for escape. We learn of Tilman's upbringing, his war tribulations, his time in Africa, his climbs, and his polar voyages, as they refine his character and define his existence. Madge sorts through them somewhat chronologically, adhering to phases in his life, even when they overlap. In case you're unfamiliar, Tilman's adventures include crossing Africa on a bicycle, climbing in Africa and the Himalaya, exploring some of the world's last unmapped land areas, visiting Nepal soon after its opening to Westerners, and sailing small yachts to remote Arctic and Antarctic mountains. He is famous for his thrifty and sometimes ascetic expeditions, during which he would often pull off grand accomplishments with little capital. 

Tilman visited Everest three times, in 1935, 1938, and 1950. He participated in the 1935 reconnaissance and shakedown led by Eric Shipton, during which he suffered from the altitude, but put in a good show on several 20,000-foot mountians. (See Astill's Mount Everest: The Reconnaissance 1935.) After leading a successful climb of Nanda Devi, he was invited (at the request of Tom Longstaff, who would finance the expedition) to lead the 1938 expedition to Everest, which got within striking distance of the summit on a shoestring budget, regardless of an early monsoon and deep, loose snow. (See Tilman's Mount Everest 1938.) He returned in 1950 for a glimpse of Everest from Kala Pattar, by chance, via Nepal and Solu Khumbu, after meeting Oscar Houston in Kathmandu after returning from his own expedition to the Annapurna Himal. (See his Nepal Himalaya.) Madge's Everest material largely comes from Tilman's published accounts, though he provides some analysis and brings up Betsy Cowles Partidge as though he's going somewhere with her story; he's clearly more interested in Tilman's ocean voyaging years.

There is one additional, earlier biography of Tilman, that I'll get to sometime soon, John Anderson's High Mountains and Cold Seas: A Biography of H. W. Tilman. I've covered one additional book by Tilman, of his climbs after 1938 and his World War II experiences, When Men and Mountains Meet.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Free Spirit: A Climber's Life, by Reinhold Messner

Reinhold Messner writes his autobiography in Free Spirit: A Climber's Life. He covers many of the most important climbs of his career (or is it a calling), from his introduction to the Alps, to solo ascents of Europe's most daunting climbs, to his Himalayan hat trick (climbing the fourteen 8000-meter peaks), the Seven Summits, and beyond. I appreciated getting an introduction to his early Alpine climbing, as my previous reading had focused on his Himalayan climbs, as well as to some of his adventures further afield. An early climb of Carstenz Pyramid was exciting, as was the story of his Breach Wall ascent on Kilimanjaro.

His Everest climbs are, of course, here too. The chapter on his first, without supplemental oxygen, in 1978 along with Peter Habeler, shows some bitterness still present in his writing. He focuses on the weather and the shortcomings of his partner, reducing Habeler's food poisoning to his not feeling well that day and making big news of Habeler's last-minute wavering. His second, solo ascent from the north goes better, even if he still did not get a view from the summit. He uses the climb's tale a bit as a pulpit to push for the abandonment of adventitious aids, such as oxygen and drugs.

For someone with so many adventures to share, this is a short work at 240 pages. His K2 climb warrants just under two pages, his walk across Antarctica, little more. He's written so many books on his various adventures, that taking them all in at once in such a short span is a bit disconcerting. He often leaves out introductions to his climbing partners and sticks to summit day on many of his climbs. Much his interior musing that makes his writing so distinctive is also missing. There are several mountaineers who have written six to seven hundred pages of autobiography, and I think that Messner is perhaps more justified in doing so than they. Then again, perhaps a short autobiography will lead readers to his other books, rather than substitute for them. His other books that I've covered so far include All 14 Eight-Thousanders, The Crystal Horizon, Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate, and The Second Death of George Mallory.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Happy Birthday, Everest Book Report!

Everest Book Report is three years old today! Over the course of my blogging so far, I've covered 387 books, reading approximately 85,000 pages that have some connection to the world's highest mountain. I'm nowhere near completing my quest to read all non-fiction books regarding Everest, with 200 or more to go in languages I understand. The list is also growing, both because so many are written every year, and because I'm working to learn both French and Japanese to expand the literature accessible to me. I'm hoping to cover my first book in French sometime this coming year, and Japanese, gosh, who knows... (At least I can order some beers, tell time, and comment on the weather!)

I was looking for a blog to write three years ago around the same time I was looking for something entertaining to read. I looked up Mount Everest in my local (Los Angeles, at the time) library catalog, and came across 200 books waiting to be read. I thought, "That could keep me busy for a while. I wonder if I could write about it." Everest Book Report was born.

Over time, the format of my writing has changed, from a daily reading journal, to an occasional laundry list of books I've read, to a report/review of each book I get under my fingers. I've tried to make this blog a resource for Everest readers, and that's meant going back over several books I'd already covered poorly and re-reading books I had read before this blog. I love the concept of bibliographies, but the terse (or lack of) descriptions that usually accompany each entry in this format seem more like mysteries to me than help. I hope what I'm doing is more useful and user friendly. I look forward to further developing the format of Everest Book Report and, perhaps even its contents. Though it's been tempting to do otherwise, I'm planning to stay ad-free.

I feel a bit odd that I, of all people, ended up writing about Mount Everest books. I'm not a mountaineer, though I've scrambled up talus heaps of varying elevations. I'm not a writer, even if I did get some scholarships for it as a student. I honestly didn't know much about the mountain before I started writing, even if I had read about 30 books connected to it. I've never seen Mount Everest. I don't currently have any plans to. The mountain explored in Everest's literature is far vaster than anything such an experience can equal, as it also reveals 90+ years of collective history and the gathered life experiences of thousands of people within its details. I will never call myself an expert on Everest, as I honestly have no experience with Everest; I'm not going to tell you which oxygen system to use, or even which side to climb. If you need a book recommendation, however...