Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lure of the Mountains, by Michael D. Lowes

Michael D. Lowes writes a long-overdue biography of an overlooked adventurer and climber in Lure of the Mountains: The Life of Bentley Beetham, 1924 Everest Expedition Mountaineer. Beetham, like Mallory, was a teacher and author outside of climbing, who was a specialist in ornithology, specifically the native birds of Britain. He also had a talent for photography, going to great lengths to document birds in their natural habitats. His natural intelligence and interest, as well as his publications, land him a job at his alma mater, Banard Castle School, which he keeps until his retirement. He develops an interest in climbing in adulthood, and takes to it like a fish to water, with his boundless energy finally finding an appropriate outlet. He learns to climb with Somervell, and along with Odell puts in an impressive performance in the Alps in 1923, leading to his recommendation for the Everest climb of 1924. His love of climbing would later lead to a long-term affair with the Atlas Mountains, in addition to the developing of his local crags, along with his students.

His participation in the Everest expedition of 1924 goes largely under the radar. Though he has the drive, energy, and good acclimatization to go far, a bout of sciatica keeps him from the higher reaches of the mountain. He drags himself to Camp III even with the condition, to the consternation and amazement of his teammates, before he is ordered down by the expedition leadership. There is some evidence he was meant to be the still photographer for the expedition, even with Noel's media contract in place. Beetham's photographs are a lovely set, with Somervell appearing in many, and a sense of action among the wonderful settings of the party's travels.

Lowes' writing is at times sentimental, but is unlikely to offend his readers, as a Beetham biography is for true enthusiasts, either of ornithology or Everest. He writes about a man who was described by Somervell as able to get along amicably with anyone, and yet was thought of by some of his students as a sadist, who took his students climbing, never lost or injured anyone, and yet he himself nearly died in a climbing accident. Lowes captures the complexities of his subject, and lets them be, rather than trying to explain away his humanity. A good book and a service to the history of Everest!

No comments:

Post a Comment