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!

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