Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Summits of Modern Man, by Peter H. Hansen

Peter H. Hansen presents a history of the idea of climbing Mount Blanc, tied to the larger history of mountain climbing, in The Summits of Modern Man: Mountaineering after the Enlightenment. He begins with the earliest history of the area, with tax records and land grants, closely followed by the "discovery" of the area and its exploration. A running theme is the idea of primacy and conflict over firsts; Hansen often shows that those who fight most bitterly to prove their promenance were often followers in others' footsteps, whether Paccard, de Saussure, or d'Angeville. Hansen traces not only the climbing of Mont Blanc, but the ideas and literature inspired by the peak, such as works of Dumas, Shelley, Fanck, and others. He also works in the larger story of mountain climbing, as events on other peaks, such as the Matterhorn, or most notably, Everest, shadow events on Mont Blanc.

His Everest allegory works quite well, as many of the same conflicts played out both peaks. He discusses the early local recognition of Tenzing as the hero of his climb, just as Balmat at first took center stage. Similarly there was a cultural and class difference that played out between the two climbers, whether they liked it or not. Tenzing, like Balmat had climbed much further towards the summit than his ropemate before the final climb and received compensation for his actions that took care of him, but never made him rich.

This is a great book for those who like to think about climbing, not just read about it. Hansen does a lovely job do turning the story of some rather ambitious climbers into the story of the world around them.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

No Summit out of Sight, by Romero & LeBlanc

Jordan Romero and Linda LeBlanc inspire with the tale of a family that lives out a boy's dream in No Summit out of Sight: The True Story of the Youngest Person to Climb the Seven Summits. Romero decides at the age of nine that he wants to see the world from the top of the highest peak in each continent...right away. Any normal set of parents would have told him that he can do whatever he wants when he's a grown-up; Jordan, however, has super-parents (in my humble opinion). His dad and step-mom have a clear understanding, as adventure racers, of what he's in for, and not only believe he can do it, they set aside many of their own adventures to help him train and pave the way for him to follow his quest. Not content just to experience the mountains, they, when possible, set up their own logistics, carry their own gear, and make their own decisions on the mountains. They race up Kilimanjaro when Jordan is ten. Not only does Jordan set a record for youngest recorded ascent, but he climbs better and faster than most of the adults. By age thirteen, he achieves similar success on Kozciosko, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Carstenz Pyramid, McKinley,  and heads for Everest.

Though there is controversy back home over his climb and the ethics of taking someone so young somewhere so dangerous, he finds only support for his efforts on the mountain. For the pre-monsoon season in 2010, they choose the North Side, as it avoids the Khumbu Icefall, and hire three climbing Sherpas to help them in their pursuit of the summit. Jordan climbs quite well, survives an avalanche while approaching the North Col, and even skips spending a night at the highest camp near the Northeast Ridge, opting to climb to the summit from a lower camp. He finishes his quest a year later on Vinson, after navigating the red tape of getting a minor into Antarctica.

The book is well-written, focusing on Jordan, but also acknowledging the contibutions of the many people who made his quest possible. I like, especially, that Jordan seems like a real person in the prose---not quite a hero, not quite Everyman. It's a pleasure to read---a positive story, with a kid who grows up to face his fears and keep on climbing!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Flying Off Everest, by Dave Costello

Dave Costello writes about two intrepid Nepalis, Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa and Sano Babu Sunuwar, who on short notice decide to be the first to paraglide off the summit of the world's highest mountain and descend all the way to the Bay of Bengal via paraglider and kayak, in Flying Off Everest: A Journey from the Summit to the Sea. The plot thickens, as Lakpa does not know how to kayak, or even swim, yet will face a tough series of rapids descending the Dudh Kosi, while Babu has only previously tried a trekking peak once, but retreated from the summit with altitude sickness. Also, they decide six weeks before the 2011 Everest pre-monsoon climbing season to pull off this feat, starting with little cash or climbing equipment, without an appropriate paraglider, or even a kayak. What follows is an amazing adventure, with good faith, good friends, great luck, and determination accomplishing the seemingly impossible.

Costello does a favor to the Everest literature, as so many modern Everest books lack the adventure once associated with the world's highest mountain. Similarly, he tells a story of Nepalis (one Sherpa, and one "Sherpa, " err... Rai) doing great things on their home turf, with the Western climbers, for once, in the background. He hashes out the story in all its complex details, with Lakpa and Babu at times working together and others against each other, with their friends and contacts within the adventure sports community both helping the pair and themselves, while often at odds with each other. This is a story not to be missed. You're going to like it!