Thursday, December 5, 2013

Letters from Everest, by George Lowe

George Lowe, pivotal member of the 1953 climb that made the summit of the world's highest mountain, gives an account of the climb through a series of vivid letters written back home to New Zealand in Letters from Everest: A First-Hand Account from the Epic First Ascent. While working with Lowe on his memoirs (found in the recently published The Conquest of Everest), Huw Lewis-Jones came across several piles of correspondence, including a lovely series of letters from the first ascent of Everest, meant to fill in friends and family on the details of the climb. Within, Lowe writes plainly of climbing Everest, providing a sense of reality lost in many of the carefully edited accounts prepared for the public (think Hunt, Hillary...). Details come to light that would have been otherwise lost, such as Lowe's dicey return from the Lhotse Face with a team a Sherpas during a whiteout (reminiscent of Longland's frightening epic on the North Ridge 20 years earlier), the true extent of John Hunt's physical efforts, or the level of madness surrounding Tenzing upon the team's return to Kathmandu. Perhaps my favorite is a clarification of the context of Hillary's famous, "Well, we knocked the bastard off" comment, with Lowe writing that it was said more incredulously than insidiously.

Lowe is a wonderful personality who perhaps stayed too quiet too long about the Everest climb. He writes quite well and provides a more modern and down-to-earth telling than any of his cohorts. All the more impressive is that it was written at the moment, at high altitude, and with a multitude of distractions and discomforts. This book doesn't quite substitute for a full telling of the first ascent of Everest, but it's an excellent supplement for someone already familiar with the story, and a gem for the true aficionado. Enjoy!

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