Sunday, July 20, 2014

Blind Descent, by Brian Dickinson

Brian Dickinson writes about an ideal climb of the world's highest mountain gone terribly wrong in Blind Descent: Surviving Alone and Blind on Mount Everest. In the narrative, he weaves in stories of his experiences of training to be a Navy air rescue swimmer as well as explanations of his faith and values. He goes to Everest as part of a Seven Summits bid, after climbs of Kilimanjaro and Elbrus, and a near miss on McKinley. I like how with such a self-focused and potentially lonely story, Dickinson looks out around himself and writes about his family, friends, and climbing partners in a positive and sincere manner; even when he is alone and blind high on Everest, he recognizes people around the world who were praying for him. (It reminds me a bit of the 1963 American ascent, during which the Jesuits in Kathmandu prayed all night for calm weather and a safe return for the four summiteers, who spent all night marooned near the summit.) I find it interesting that modern Everest writers find it important to reference earlier climbers in their travels, such as James Wilde, the climber philanthropist, visiting Hillary's first school, and Dickinson, the military vet, reading Bear Grylls on his way to Base Camp.

Dickinson's climb, during the 2011 pre-monsoon season, is a relatively minimal commercial affair, with logistics, some meals, tents, fixed rope, oxygen, and a summit-climb Sherpa provided. He does quite well with the altitude, after a bit of adjustment. Things go well for him until he drops and breaks his goggles on the Lhotse Face. One of the two layers of UV protection are still in place, so he continues on. Thanks to initially marginal weather and the illness of his ropemate-for-hire, he gets a summit day to himself. By the time the sun is well up and he is on the summit, his vision has almost completely gone. His descent is harrowing and difficult, but his faith and his Navy training help him to stay calm and make it home to his family.

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