The beginning of Steele's book is hard to forget! I've already ranted about the trend of starting your Everest book halfway or more up the mountain. Steele's prose, however, begins in base camp below the Khumbu Icefall, with all the participants of the expedition constructing latrines. While he intends it more as a jibe at the large expedition lifestyle, I can't help but find it a funny difference from the later works of Everest writers. Immediately after this bit, his writing returns to nine years previous, when he worked in a hospital in Kathmandu. At least he doesn't return all the way to his childhood! Unlike his writing companions of later years, Steele continues to wander chronologically throughout the book, making it hard for the reader looking for the facts to get things straight. His prose is so far intelligent and interesting, and he brings a perspective I haven't read before: running the hospital from base camp. The 1971 International Expedition is a big one, covering both the West Ridge and the Southwest Face simultaneously and using some of the world's most famous climbers, including Don Whillans, Dougal Haston, Naomi Uemura, and Carlo Mauri.
I looked forward to this book because 1971 Everest is the only expedition with both of my favorite climbing personalities: Don Whillans and Naomi Uemura. So far, Steele's coverage of Whillans has been enjoyable, but I've been frustrated on the Uemura front. Anything with Uemura makes my day; I still do not understand why there are no books in English on this amazing adventurer. Wickwire gives him some coverage in Addicted to Danger, and Greg Child devotes a chapter to him in Mixed Emotions, but anything else I've found has been a cameo, at best, such as Reinhold Messner's The Crystal Horizon.
So, I'm halfway through the book, and I think the climbers are somewhere in the Western Cwm, but then again, the actual climbing has so far only made passing remarks in the book. Steele does give a good introduction to each of the climbers, and he weaves these into the prose throughout. He gives more detail about the trek into base camp than most, and he makes detailed remarks about the overall health of the climbers. Just as the expedition gets climbing, a lone Spaniard wanders into base camp with acute altitude sickness. Steele injures himself while treating the man, and they are both evacuated to Kathmandu for hospital treatment. The Spaniard sends him a bill for half the evacuation. Steele is nonplussed. He returns to base camp by way of Lukla airport, making an abbreviated trek in, and finds the climbing well underway.
Perhaps we will get to the mountain tomorrow!