Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Everest guy you've never heard of, the American attempt they don't want you to know about, and some other stuff

I've got five books for you today. I've read John Morris's Hired to Kill, Woodrow Wilson Sayre's Four Against Everest, and I've covered the mountaineering sections in Harry Roskolenko's Solo: The Great Adventure Alone. Additionally, I've reviewed two children's books: Jack Myers' On Top of Mount Everest and Other Explorations in Science and Ian Graham's You Wouldn't Want to Climb Mount Everest!.

After finding out about Hired to Kill, I made a point to look for references to John Morris whenever authors bring up the 1922 attempt (including Noel's Through Tibet to Everest, no less!), and besides passing references to " the NCO transport officer", I never would have known he was there. He did, however, play a vital role to the expedition in his insuring all the gear arrived and that the right boxes ended up at the right camp. Since the 1922 expedition was the first full-scale expedition, proper packaging of loads before arrival at the mountain had not yet been thought through, and when he arrived in Darjeeling to head up the transportation, he discovered that items had all been packaged by product (each box contained about 50 pounds of one item, whether it was strawberry jam or tents) and there was no time to repack before their departure. That the entire march in was not a disorganized farce speaks to his credit. His role in the Everest expedition plays only a small part in this memoir, and he gives interesting details of his life at the Western Front and as an officer in the Gurkha regiment at Landsdowne. He occasionally gets a little graphic in the personal details, and I imagined this was a bit of a shocker in 1960 when it was published.

Speaking of questionable judgment, Woodrow Wilson Sayre decides to make an illegal attempt on Everest in his Four Against Everest. He, two friends, and a Swiss guy they pick up on the way to the mountain head off to climb "Gyachung Kang" in 1962, then the tallest mountain yet unclimbed in the Himalayas. They climb an icefall to the southeast of Gyachung Kang, and then with Sherpa support, they establish a supposed assault camp for the mountain. They send the Sherpa climbers down, and then set off the next morning with 30 days provisions through Tibet towards the East Rongbuk glacier and the North Col of Mount Everest. The four friends have to ferry the supplies in stages, since its more than they could practically carry in a single trip, and they work their way to the North Col undetected, if slightly behind schedule. They supplement their diet from the dumps of both the previous British expeditions and the Chinese expedition of 1960, and they are able to stretch their supplies for 42 days of hard work. They make it up the North Col, and part of the way up the North Ridge, but turn back exhausted, both from injuries sustained in a fall, and efforts of a sleepless night exposed to the elements on the Col. After their prolonged absence, they are reported missing, and they receive quite a reception as they limp back to civilization. Dyrenfurth, the leader of the American expedition of 1963, was certain his expedition would be canceled because of their antics, but it looks like he came out all right. It will be interesting to read the book by Sayre's teammate, Roger Hart, who believes he discovered the secret to life after his fall on the Col.

Harry Roskolenko gathers sundry excepts of books and magazine articles about solo journeys throughout the world in his Solo. I only bothered with the mountaineering section which takes up about 50 pages at the end of the book. I don't really understand what the stories he picked had to do with solo journeys, focusing on Maurice Herzog, Eric Shipton, and Maurice Wilson. While I realize that Maurice Herzog at times imagined that he reached the summit of Annapurna I alone, and Shipton spent an afternoon alone on the Northeast Ridge of Everest, they were both on large expeditions and had only fleeting privacy. Maurice Wilson spent days alone climbing up and camping on the North Col, but even he approached the mountain with the help of three Sherpa, one of whom had to teach him how to cut steps. I really only bothered to read this book because it contains excepts of Dennis Roberts' book I'll Climb Everest Alone, which is a little hard to come by at the moment. The parts on Shipton are from Anderson's Ulysses Factor, a strange book with some serious syntax errors that tries to describe what drives the adventurer. He admits in the intro that he gets all his information on Shipton from Shipton's autobiography, so I may have to give the Ulysses Factor a pass . . . or I may have to read it . . . I really need to set some ground rules for this project!

Jack Myers' On Top of Mount Everest is a great read for kids. For once, a children's author has made a point to be both thorough and accurate! The book contains a number of different articles found in Highlights magazine based on the human machine. The bit about Mount Everest discusses John West's findings from the American Medical Research Expedition (which can be found in his Everest: The Testing Place) on the body's ability to acclimatize. Myers does an excellent job of explaining things without getting overly technical and still keeping the information wholly accurate. I had so much fun with the Everest article, that I have to admit that I read the rest of the book too. The section on why people can roll their tongues was especially fun.

Ian Graham lets the reader participate in the 1953 British ascent of Mount Everest in his You Wouldn't Want to Climb Mount Everest! The book is a lighthearted take on the very serious business of a national expedition to the world's highest mountain. The illustrations are fun, and even though Graham plays around a bit with the reader, his information is seriously accurate. When my daughter gets a little older, I will be buying this book!

Up next, some high altitude detective work!

1 comment:

  1. I was surprised that John Morris did not include anything about his participation in the 1936 Everest expedition. He gets extensive coverage in Ruttledge's "Everest: The Unfinished Adventure." It's funny that he gets quite the opposite treatment in 1922!