Sunday, May 25, 2014

Everest: Eighty Years of Triumph and Tragedy, edited by Peter Gillman

Peter Gillman covers in detail the history of Everest with a splendid anthology in Everest: Eighty Years of Triumph and Tragedy. I wish that I had read this earlier in my Everest quest, as it informs so much of the history that is otherwise vague or missing in the Everest literature. In addition to the usual expeditions (early climbs, 1953, 1963, 1975, Messner, 1996, finding Mallory, etc.), which by the way are covered quite well and often from less common sources, Gillman finds or commissions translations of accounts of the 1979 Yugoslavian West Ridge Direct climb, the 1980 Polish winter ascent, the 1982 Soviet Southwest Pillar climb, and the 1995 Zakharov Couloir masterpiece. He covers a lot of the modern history in a way that shows what is important, rather than what is written about, such as covering the 1986 Canadian West Ridge ascent by Sharon Wood and Dwayne Congdon rather than the 1982 Canadian South Col mess that was more tragic than triumphant. Similarly, he provides Carlos Buhler's 1983 Kangshung Face account, rather than one of the many American attempts or climbs via the Great Couloir. I feel there is still a bit of British-centricism here, with two accounts of the 1975 Southwest Face climb, two of the 1953 first ascent, and some Brummie Stokes and Rebecca Stephens thrown in, to boot. Overall, however, Gillman gives a fair account of Everest's climbs like no other.

I appreciate the variety of sources in this book. Many of entries are adapted from journal articles, which the majority of readers of this book (such as myself) would have missed, even if they had an interest in Everest. Perhaps a third of them come from books, many of them the standard literature of the world's highest mountain. Besides the translations mentioned earlier, the original entries are what made the book for me, whether Buhler's diaries, Zakharov's essay, or Ang Rita's interview. In addition to the wealth of sources, Gillman has secured permission to include photographs to show the drama and range of climbing on Everest. The back also includes statistics, including all recorded Everest ascents up to the publication of the book (2000), all deaths on Everest, and number of other interesting data. If you love reading about Everest, read this book; if you're not hooked on Everest yet, read this book, and you will be!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Morning Light, by Margaret Griffiths

Margaret Griffiths writes of her husband's sailing from Britain to British Columbia, his son's climbing and dying on Everest, and her husband's subsequent trip to Everest in Morning Light: Triumph at Sea and Tragedy on Everest. George Griffiths decides to, upon his retirement, sail a small vessel across the Atlantic, to Hawaii by way of Panama, and home to British Columbia. (He was, among other things, an officer in the Royal Navy.) He chooses a wood-hulled boat in need of plenty of work, cleans it up, and weathers many storms in an unusually wet and windy solo Atlantic crossing. He meets his two sons, Mark and Blair, in the Caribbean, and sails for home with Mark, along for help and companionship. Meanwhile, Blair is invited to film the 1982 Canadian Everest expedition, based on his successful mountain filming in Peru.

On Everest, things go south quickly for the Canadians, with an avalanche killing three Sherpa. During the funeral, a party restoring the broken route in the Khumbu Icefall falls prey to an even larger avalanche, this time killing Blair Griffiths. Margaret Griffiths, in her writing, gives us Blair's perspective of the climb, based on his diary and his letters home, as well as a general telling of the expedition based on eyewitness accounts and other sources. I appreciate her empathetic writing throughout, and her wonderful way of interpreting and relaying the feeling and experience of things that she knew largely second-hand. She also relates George's climb to the base of Mount Everest to memorialize and connect with the death of his son, trekking in his old age from Jiri to above Lobuche. I'm glad I picked this book after this year's tragedy on Everest, as it makes death, even on a place as cold and far off as the Khumbu Icefall, seem human and natural, without diminishing the awful loss that it inflicts on those left behind. [Only] four people died in the tragedy of 1982, and yet it was an awful experience to live through; I can't imagine the impact on the families and survivors of this year's loss.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Everest: The Testing Place, by John B. West

John B. West returns to the Himalaya to lead the first medical research expedition to Everest in Everest: The Testing Place. He gathers an amazing assortment of doctors, climbers, climbing doctors, and Sherpa to carry out one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken on Everest, with laboratories set up at Base Camp and the Western Cwm, and physiological experiments involving complex equipment conducted at all camps and even at the summit, all back in 1981. With a post-monsoon berth, their expedition is a fight against time, both to collect the data they need for their experiments and to make a serious bid for the summit. To facilitate the quick transport of blood samples, they even end up climbing a new route, just east of Polish South Pillar route. They come up with some surprising results with their experiments, observing the extremes of the human condition and the environment, even finding a relatively high barometric pressure at the summit. Five climbers eventually make the summit, including two doctors. It's a great book, well written, with an approachable presentation of high-altitude physiology.

I have a history with this volume, as it was the first Everest book I ever read, back when I was thirteen years old. I wasn't mature enough to appreciate the good writing or the accomplishments of this great team, and I actually avoided Everest books for several years, assuming that all of them were science-heavy, or at least written for adults. I worked my way back to Everest, through a mess of other books, especially a heavy dose of Reinhold Messner and sorting through the 1996 literary pile, before I discovered the broad range of literature available to the Everest reader. I'm sorry I took so long to get back to this one! I'm glad I did!