Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Vacation Reading

I'll be heading into the land of no Wi-Fi for a while for a Christmas vacation, so I may or may not be posting for about the next 10 days. I'll be reading, though, and you can look forward to some Longstaff, a German work, Fallen Giants, and / or an attempt on the Northeast Ridge. I've posted earlier today several Tenzing and Hillary children's books. Sure are a lot of these out there! Happy Holidays!

First Up Everest, by Styles & Briggs

First Up Everest is a moment-by-moment story for young readers of Hillary and Tenzing's trip from Camp IX to the top of the world written by Showell Styles and illustrated by Raymond Briggs. This is a book framed around the illustrations, and even on the cover, Briggs is listed first. The illustrations are dramatic and full, and I especially appreciate Briggs' efforts for accuracy in both costume and equipment. The mountain is not always to scale, but Briggs uses scale to illustrate Hillary's and Tenzing's fears and emotions. Showell Styles matches Briggs' sense of drama, and he is a stickler for technical accuracy. It was, however, occasionally hard for me to get over his patronizing attitude of Tenzing, such as when he calls him "a little Sherpa" or says that he was helped up the final step with Hillary's "heavy tugs" on the rope. Overall this is a fun and exciting book, but it's not something to hand to kids if you are trying to raise them with a high level of cultural sensitivity.

Learning About Teamwork from the Lives of Hillary and Norgay, by Brenn Jones

Brenn Jones gives young readers advice on working together and a small history and geography lesson in his Learning About Teamwork from the Lives of Hillary and Norgay. He frames the stories of Hillary's and Tenzing's lives around the idea of working together to accomplish great things. He shows that it took a lot of people to get these two men to the top of the world, and that even when they were alone on their summit day, they depended upon on another for survival. Jones covers their early lives, gives a quick nod to Mallory and Irvine, and then gets to the meat of the story: how a team works together to climb a great mountain. It's to bad Jones missed how Hillary and the Sherpas worked together to build the schools and hospitals in the Solu Khumbu region. Jones does mention towards the end that Hillary and his family helped to build the schools, but I was said to see that Jones fails to acknowledge the other half of the team, the Sherpas, who provided some of the materials and much of the labor for building and maintaining these public works.

I would expect someone like Jones, who has written a guide to children's literature and reviews books for a living, to be a little more meticulous in his own writing. There were several factual errors in this book, such as Tenzing stopping partway up the summit climb to brew some tea or Sherpas normally calling Everest Sagarmatha, its Nepali name. He includes a picture of "Mount Everest" that is some other mountain and a picture of "Sherpas" who look quite Hindu. Also, he misspells the names of both Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans. I could go on, but this is getting boring. Time to move on to another book!

The World's Great Explorers: Edmund Hillary, by Timothy R. Gaffney

Timothy Gaffney writes another young readers' biography of Sir Edmund Hillary to add to the burn pile in The World's Great Explorers: Edmund Hillary. Though it is more thorough than most of Hillary's other young readers' biographies, the book makes a habit of mixing fact and fiction. It seems like Gaffney took pretty good notes on Hillary's books, but when there was something to add beyond the notes, he made something up rather than go back and check his references. The result is that there are a lot of good facts in this book, and some erroneous stuff thrown in. Additionally, although he seems to get the people and the lowlands correct, nearly every photograph of a mountain is mislabeled. It's seriously starting to worry me that the quality of children's literature on Everest might reflect the whole of children's books, and 90 percent of the books my daughter will read would be better used as doorstops than educational tools!

Anyway, Gaffney gives a fairly balanced view to the life of Hillary, not dwelling on Everest, but still spending most of his time on Hillary's adventures. This is definitely the story of Hillary's life as seen in the literature he produced, and might be a semi-reliable way to get an idea of what each of the books he wrote is about. Like Hillary, Gaffney understates Hillary's altruism, giving facts and some interesting stories, but not really analyzing the overall effects Hillary had on Nepal or the Sherpas. This may be the worst Hillary biography I've read so far. Sorry, dude!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

After Everest, by Tenzing Norgay as told to Malcolm Barnes

After Everest, an autobiography of Tenzing Norgay put together by Malcolm Barnes, picks up where Ullman's Tiger of the Snows left off in 1955. Because Tenzing could neither read nor write, his autobiography necessarily has a co-author. After Everest tells the tales of the founding and running of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) in Darjeeling as well as the many travels of the author. The book also covers Tenzing's life in Darjeeling and the story of his family.

The book stars an all-star cast of Everest climbers, including Americans, Swiss, British, Indian, and others. I was impressed by how much contact he had with other Everesters, especially Lute Jerstad and many of the Swiss. I also took note how relatively little I read about the British, including Sir Edmund Hillary, in this book. While Tenzing attends a couple reunions and makes a tour of New Zealand with Hillary, it doesn't seem to me that he seeks out contact with his 1953 teammates. He does discuss near the end that the Swiss expeditions overall had a greater impact on his psyche, since they were new adventures and overall much harder work than the British venture. I also didn't previously know (or perhaps remember?) of his role of organizing gear and porters for the three Indian Everest expeditions of 1960, 1962, and 1965, or that the HMI ran shakedowns for these trips. (It's been several years since I read Douglas' Hero of Everest, my most recent Tenzing adult biography, and it's quite possible this information is in there somewhere.)

The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is something quite amazing. With the help of many Swiss mountaineers and the governments of India and West Bengal, Tenzing helps establish a top-of-the-line climbing school, with basic and advanced courses for all ages, as well as adventure programs for teens. The students trek into Sikkim for several weeks of on-site mountain training. The programs provides several scholarships for Sherpas, and the tuition overall is rather low thanks to government subsidies. I was amazed that the basic program has only a ten percent graduation rate due to the staff's high standards.

Tenzing travels worldwide, and is especially fond of Switzerland. Everywhere he travels, people want to show him their native mountains, and he gets to see many of the world's great ranges (the Andes being the big exception). I was especially happy to read about his trip up Mount Ranier with Lute Jerstad, Jim Whittaker, Tom Hornbein, and Barry Bishop. They made one of the harder routes sound like a holiday in the park!

And lastly, I learned that I actually have something in common with Tenzing Norgay: "If I can find in any country plenty of good cheese, milk, and fruit, I can be a very satisfied man."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ten Great Mountains, by R. L. G. Irving

Robert Lock Graham Irving is perhaps most well known as the man who introduced George Mallory to climbing in 1904, but he also kept pretty good track of mountaineering history, as shown in Ten Great Mountains. In the book, he tells some of the more significant tales of each of the mountains covered, including Snowdon, Ben Nevis, Mount Cook, the Matterhorn, Ushba, Mont Blanc, Mount Logan, Nanga Parbat, Kanchenjunga, and Mount Everest.

In the section on Mount Everest (pages 193-213), Irving discusses the 1921 reconnaissance, the 1924 attempt, and the 1933 attempt, as well as offers some interesting advice for future attempts. He is most interested in discussing the people who were given a sporting chance at the mountain, and besides the reconnaissance sticks to the narratives from Camp VI and up, including the climbs of Norton & Somerville, Mallory & Irvine, Wager & Wyn-Harris, and Shipton & Smythe. He gives the climbs of Norton, Somerville, Shipton, and Smythe precedence, and its clear that he considers supplemental oxygen unsporting. Additionally, I found it interesting to get a perspective on the disappearance of Mallory from his early climbing mentor.

He states that either a small party should climb it for the love of climbing and spurn the media, or that every possible resource should be used to get men to the top. His first idea regarding an all-out attempt, which he also believes to be the most thrifty method, would be to hire an airship to fly over the summit, and to lower some men in a basket to the summit. After setting foot on Mount Everest, these pioneers should have no trouble recouping their costs through the media. His other suggestion is to fly a plane over the Northeast Ridge and to drop an anchor with a rope attached above the Second Step, so that all the difficulties of the mountain will be removed. At times, it was difficult to tell if he was being serious or trying to pull one over on his reader, and I seriously hope he was joking about these two ideas!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Travels Along the Edge, by David Noland

David Noland writes a guidebook to some of the world's most exciting adventures for the hard-core traveler in Travels Along the Edge. He gives the readers 40 possibilities to push themselves to their personal limit while seeing some of the most beautiful places in the world, such as canoeing the Zambezi River, mountain biking the Dominican rain forest, skiing to the North Pole, or, of course, climbing Mount Everest. Each of the sections contains a short narrative from someone who has actually accomplished the task, followed by a list of outfitters who specialize in that particular trip, and then a section on what to expect on your journey.

The section on Everest begins with the tale of Bob Hempstead, another character who earned a place, along with Tom Whittaker of my last post (Higher Purpose), in Greg Child's Everest story in his Postcards from the Ledge. Hempstead became the highest rope-slinger in North America after doing a rope trick on Mount McKinley, and then the Western Hemisphere after another stunt on Aconcagua. He then sets his sights on being the highest rope-slinger in the world atop Everest. He signs up with an Everest outfitter, and then heads off to the north side of Everest in 1995. After a month of drudge work carrying supplies up the mountain, he sets out for the summit with an impromptu team he met at the high camp. Just shy of the summit, he slips to his almost certain death, but snags on the edge of a cliff. Greg Child and a Sherpa, Babu, happen to be at the scene, and drop him some rope to help him back up to the ridge crest. He hobbles to the summit, does a little trick, and escapes with his life.

After the story, Noland goes on to explain the ins and outs of choosing a side to climb and an outfitter to use. The South Col is a technically easier, but perhaps more dangerous route. The North Col is relatively cheaper, but saves most of the difficult climbing for the end. He lists a number of outfitters, including Adventure Consultants and Himalayan Experience, and lists their current pricing as well as their histories.

Noland puts no icing on the cake with what the climber should expect. Death is the first item on the list, and he tells of the 1996 disaster as an example and gives the statistic that for every four people who have made it to the summit, one person has died trying. Misery makes a close second, with physical strain, bitter cold, fear, wind, and pain. He says that high-altitude climbing experience is highly recommended but is not required, citing Peggy Gudgell's success in 1988 after only climbing in the continental US before making it. I found the advice given by Bob Hempstead, the man who was rescued by two others after his fall near the summit, quite ironic: "The secret to success on Everest is that, in the end, you've got to look out for yourself." Good thing the guys who saved him didn't listen to the same advice!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Higher Purpose, by Tom Whittaker

Tom Whittaker becomes the first disabled person to climb Everest in his Higher Purpose. Ever since he lost his foot in a car wreck, Whittaker has spent his life forcing people (especially the disabled!) to reconsider their perception of the disabled. Both before and after his accident, Whittaker followed his passion of outdoor adventure. After he lost his foot, he came to realize that sharing this drive with other disabled people and getting them to do things they never imagined possible was both an inspiration to them and the key to his own fulfillment.

I found it very interesting to watch Whittaker morph from a climbing nomad with high ambitions to a empathetic and inspirational individual who finds a positive outlet for his drive. After several years of helping other disabled people see through their adventurous dreams, he is invited on a South Col Everest climb in 1989. He makes the stipulation that he be invited as a climber, and not a marketing device on this trip. He, Andy Lapkiss, and some Sherpas make a harrowing escape from the mountain on this trip, and ultimately, he does not make it to the top this time.

Whittaker returns to Everest in 1995 with Greg Child after they catch up at an outdoor convention and hatch a scheme to market their climb. Once again, no dice for Whittaker, but Child does provide him the inspiration he needs to return. Whittaker makes another effort in 1998 from the South Col, but this time, he is supported by his friends from his early days of helping the disabled believe in themselves. Six of his friends, with 3 legs between them, make the trek to Base Camp to send him off on his trip up the mountain. You'll have to read the rest.

I had to read this book after I found out from Douglas and Rose's Regions of the Heart that this was the guy that Greg Child accompanied to Everest in 1995. I'm a big fan of Greg Child, and I thought it would be fun to get a feel for him from another perspective. I also thought it would be fun to read a much longer version of the story Child writes in Postcards from the Ledge about their trip to Everest. Child also appears in this book during Whittaker's 1978 ascent of El Capitan's "The Nose." I was surprised not to read anything about Alison Hargreaves, since she, too, was climbing under the supervision of Russel Brice on the north side of Everest that same season.

Overall, I found this both an exciting and a thought-provoking read. Whittaker does a great job of presenting his life philosophy both in print and as a living example, and his gallows humor makes this book fun. Hope you enjoy!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Mammoth Book of Mountain Disasters, edited by Hamish MacInnes

Hamish MacInnes exhibits his storytelling skill in The Mammoth Book of Mountain Disasters. He pulls together magazine articles, book excerpts, and a couple unpublished works to create an exciting collection of mountain rescue stories. The Mount Everest portion (pages 317 - 324) tells of the loss and search for Tony Tighe at the end of the 1973 British Southwest Face expedition from the perspective of MacInnes, himself.

I was excited to find out that MacInnes talks first about his participation, along with Doug Scott and Don Whillans, in the 1972 European Southwest Face Expedition and his general distaste for Karl Herrligkoffer, its leader. A while back, I was disappointed when Doug Scott spoke only briefly about both this expedition and his harrowing escape from the Ogre in his autobiography, Himalayan Climber. Perhaps he does not like to dwell on unpleasant moments! MacInnes only provides a few extra, but entertaining, details on the 1972 expedition, but later in the book, he also gives good space to Scott's Ogre epic.

The Tony Tighe incident is well-known to Chris Bonington fans as his second end-of-expedition disasters. Both on Bonington's 1971 Annapurna South Face Expedition with Ian Clough and his 1973 Everest Southwest Face Expedition with Tony Tighe, the mountain exacts a price seemingly after the game's over. Though Tony's responsibilities are in base camp, at the end of the expedition Bonington allows him to climb the Khumbu Icefall to get a look at the Western Cwm while the high-altitude Sherpas make a final carry to clear Advanced Base Camp. The Sherpas pass Tony on the way up and do not see him on the way down, but a large section of overhanging ice has collapsed in the meantime. MacInnes gives details of the search for Tony from his own perspective as well as a couple statements from Doug Scott. Though a short account, his perspective differs slightly from Bonington's, such as more detailed descriptions of the condition of the icefall the day after the incident. Also, he tells a fun bartering story about Doug Scott and a hard-dealing Sherpa.

A lengthier account of both the incident and the entire expedition are found in Bonington's Everest: Southwest Face; also, an entertaining read about the life and climbs of Bonington and his friends, including the 1973 Southwest Face Expedition is Clint Willis's The Boys of Everest.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Regions of the Heart, by Rose & Douglas

David Rose and Ed Douglas write a biography of Alison Hargreaves, the first British woman to climb Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen, in their Regions of the Heart. Their account, largely based on her daily diaries, tells of her passion for climbing, her rocky relationship with Jim Ballard, and her many climbs, including her ascent of Everest and her disappearance on K2.

Rose and Douglas tell us that Hargreaves was a high-performing rock climber who only too late got the recognition she deserved for her talent and drive. They paint a complex picture of her motivations, contrasting her desire for independence with her dependence on her husband and how this balancing act allowed her the freedom to climb but also hindered her climbing career. It seems as if her entire personal and professional life was a harder climb for her than any rock face the world over!

After a bust in the rock climbing media for six difficult Alpine classic routes she climbs solo at breakneck speed, Hargreaves turns to the Himalayas to get some attention with her power and stamina. She vies to be the first British woman to ascend Everest, but is trumped by Rebecca Stephens. (You can read about Stephens ascent in her On Top of the World.) Hargreaves heads to Everest anyway in 1994 to climb the Southeast Ridge without supplemental oxygen, but comes up shy. In 1995, she ups the ante, and climbs to the top, both without bottled oxygen and unsupported, via the North Col. She comes home to a three-week media circus before heading out to K2. She climbs to the top, and never returns.

After reading this book, I'm still not sure what to think of Alison Hargreaves. She's a controversial figure in the climbing community, and I've only read a single perspective on her so far. There are a couple other books about her, including James Ballard's One and Two Halves to K2, and Jennifer Jordan's Savage Summit, and I know she'll make some cameos in the 1994 and 1995 Everest season books, such as Tom Whittaker's Higher Purpose and Greg Child's Postcards from the Ledge. Her Everest climb is a phenomenal achievement, and according to this book, she did it in style. Currently, I'm going to remember her for that!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sir Edmund Hillary: Mount Everest and Beyond, by Sue Muller Hacking

Mount Everest and Beyond is a young readers' biography of Sir Edmund Hillary by Sue Muller Hacking. The book covers Hillary's life from his birth up to the book's publication in 1997, and spends a large part of the book focusing on the work Hillary did to benefit the Sherpa people after his successful ascent of Mount Everest. The language is appropriate for grade-school kids, and the author mixes photographs into the prose from her own collection as well as those of the Royal Geographical Society.

Hacking gives a short introduction to Hillary's early life, and then dives into her passion, the Himalayas. She presents the book as a intertwined story of Hillary and the Sherpa people, and talks about their pre-Everest introductions, their climb together on Everest, and then their working together to improve the Sherpas' quality of life. As a result, she does not spend much time on some of Hillary's other adventures or his early life; it is likely that Hillary's work with the Sherpa people will be his lasting contribution to humanity and therefore deserves such attention.

I think Hacking occasionally writes underage for her audience, but I think for the most part she does a great job with this book. Mount Everest and Beyond focuses on the work Hillary spent most of his life doing, and shows that his life is so much greater than climbing a single mountain. I enjoyed this book.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Everest Grand Cirlce, by Gillette and Reynolds

Everest Grand Circle: A Climbing and Skiing Adventure through Nepal and Tibet recounts Ned Gillette's and Jan Reynold's efforts to circumambulate Mount Everest. They are joined off and on by Jim Bridwell, Steve McKinney, Craig Calonica, and Rick Barker. The circle begins with a winter climb of Pumori followed by a winter trek over high passes to the Barun Glacier. Gillette and Reynolds then head to Tibet, and travel from the Lho La to Kharta over the Lhakpa La and through the Kangshung Valley.

The adventure begins after Gillette's and Reynold's successful 1980 climb and ski descent of China's Mount Muztagata, when Gillete makes the comment in passing to the President of the C.M.A. (Chinese Mountaineering Association) that he would like to ski in Tibet sometime. The President later replies that he looks forward to seeing Gillette next year for his ski trek. Gillette then rushes to plan a ski trip, makes Everest the highlight, and throws in Pumori for extra challenge.

Their ascent of Pumori was only the second winter ascent of a Himalayan mountain, and the first by a new route. Gillette and Reynolds are joined on their climb by Jim Bridwell and Steve McKinney. The reading for the ascent is entertaining and sometimes harrowing. The climbers manage to keep a sense of humor and work together well. The trek that follows, over three passes to the Barun Glacier, makes for exciting reading.

On their next leg, they head to Everest Base Camp on the north side by way of Beijing and Lhasa. They meet up with Bonington's Northeast Ridge Expedition and make instant friends. They also run into the American Great Couloir crew near the top of the main Rongbuk Glacier. I was very happy to read the sections on Boardman and Tasker. The last book I read about both of them was Chris Bonington's Everest, which contains an excerpt of Bonington's and Clarke's The Unclimbed Ridge, where they meet their demise, and I have since read three books by Maria Coffey in which they are always referred to in the past tense. It was good to bring them back to life in my imagination for a picnic with friends at the historic British base camp.

Everest Grand Circle's two authors trade off narration in this book. Reynolds' writing is more of the emotional and psychological pulse of the expedition. Gillette's contains more of the hard facts of the trip, but he also goes into detail about the history of the ground they are traveling, including references to the early British expeditions, Maurice Wilson, Woodrow Wilson Sayre, and others. The detailed history mostly involves the mountains; I was hoping to get more historical information about the rarely-visited passes and valleys that they travel through. He mentions which passes were used by whom, but he leaves out a lot of details in favor of a faster and more exciting storyline. 

Not only is this a tale of the first circumambulation of Everest, but it was also the starting point for several other Everest adventures. Bridwell would later head up a West Ridge Direct attempt in 1985 (depicted in Ed Webster's Snow in the Kingdom). Calonica would later make several attempts to ski from the summit of Everest in the 1990s. McKinney would later fly a hang glider from part way up the West Ridge of Everest in 1986, and Ned Gillette would reach the summit of Everest via the South Col in 1992. An inspiring adventure for both the reader and the participants!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Disappearing Destinations, by Lisagor & Hansen

Disappearing Destinations: 37 Places in Peril and What Can Be Done To Help Save Them, by Kimberly Lisagor and Heather Hansen describes locations that are being destroyed by overpopulation, climate change, and / or development, and the authors believe they have the perfect solution to the problem: visit them and advocate for them. Disappearing Destinations is a series of individual adverts for travel to culturally or naturally sensitive locations around the world; Mount Everest and Sagarmatha National Park are found on pages 323 through 331. This chapter is not explicitly about climbing Mount Everest, but I think it has some interesting information for both the climber and the enthusiast.

The Everest chapter is about the problems facing Everest and how these problems are likely to impact much of the continent, and then gives information on a trek to see Everest for yourself. The authors talk about Sir Edmund Hillary's efforts to save the high-altitude ecosystem and the Sherpa culture. They also discuss the receding of the glaciers around Mount Everest, and the formation of meltwater lakes at the glaciers tongues. They discuss how when these lakes breach the moraine, it can wreak havoc upon the peoples living below, including an incident in 1985 that included a 40-foot surge of water that destroyed parts of the Everest trail.

In the middle of the chapter, Lisagor and Hansen cover a documentary expedition to Island Peak. The peak was climbed by Hillary in 1953 for both acclimatization and reconnaissance, and received its name because it was surrounded by a sea of ice from the Khumbu glacier. Because of the change in climate, it is surrounded by the rubble of the moraine. The tongue of the Khumbu glacier is now a three-mile hike from where it was in 1953, and well beyond the sides of this peak. 

The trek they cover is put on by KarmaQuest. It begins at the Lukla airstrip and follows to normal route up to Kala Pataar, with an optional side-trip to Everest Base Camp. It covers a good deal of Sherpa country, and provides the enthusiast with the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his / her favorite Everest book. It's billed as environmentally responsible, so part of the trip is a stop at the Ranger Station at Namche Bazaar for responsible camping training. It sounds like a great time to me!

I believe this is a book of mixed motives, especially when it comes to Everest. Lisagor and Hansen state that the Everest region is being effected by climate change and by tourism. It seems strange to me, then, that they give explicit instructions on how to visit the area to see the destruction for yourself. (They tell you in the introduction to the book that one of the best ways to help is to visit!) Since this is a book for western audiences, any trip to Everest will mean long-distance travel. Therefore, to see the havoc climate change has played on the area, unless you're Goran Kropp (check out his Ultimate High, about his bike-trek to Everest and ascent of the mountain), you'll be adding to the climate problem with a plane flight or a very long drive. I think, additionally, that those who are truly concerned about the fragility of an ecosystem would do best to keep away from it, and those concerned about the glaciers would do better improving their own carbon footprint rather than going to see what's left of the glacier. I'm no eco-saint, but I don't understand the logic of helping out by seeing it for yourself. BUT, if you want to see the Everest you've been reading about, go now before the Khumbu Icefall becomes the Khumbu Waterfall!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Men Against Everest, by Eric Shipton

Eric Shipton writes a short history for young readers of climbing attempts on Mount Everest in his Men Against Everest. He includes each of the official attempts from 1921 to 1953 (including the Swiss), as well as the story of Maurice Wilson. He includes personal details from the expeditions he participated in as well as a general history of the others, with a brief analysis of their successes and failures.

Shipton speaks of these expeditions as a fellow explorer as well as a great storyteller. Writing about Mallory and Bullock's reconnaissance in 1921, he insists that their missing the significance of the small inlet next to Changtse is a common occurrence on such expeditions, and the traveler can be expected to miss many things when he is in uncharted territory. Correspondingly, his description of the view once he reached the North Col in 1933 could only come from a true lover of faraway places. Included in this work is a great quote I've happened upon a couple of times before about his and Smythe's dressing before leaving Camp VI for higher ground: "I felt about as suitably equipped for delicate rock climbing as a fully-rigged deep-sea diver for dancing a tango."

Earlier, when speaking of the Sherpas, Shipton tells us that Tenzing Norgay was a Tibetan from a village near Kharta, something that was not included in his biographies until Ed Douglas' 2003 Tenzing: Hero of Everest. Even Norbu Tenzing Norgay, his eldest son, did not fully believe his father was from Tibet until Norbu traveled there with Ed Webster's and Stephen Venables' Kangshung Face expedition, and met many of his relatives en route to base camp. Shipton, who traveled extensively with Tenzing when Tenzing was a young man, could certainly be one to know, and I was excited to find this information in a 1955 work!

Shipton also gets an early introduction to Edmund Hillary. He gives earlier details to the story of Hillary and Riddiford joining up with the 1951 reconnaissance expedition to the Khumbu region than I've read in Hillary's biographies. Shipton received a letter from the President of the New Zealand Alpine Club requesting that two of their members already in the region might join his expedition. Shipton was impressed by the New Zealand member of his 1935 expedition and welcomed the suggestion. In the Hillary biographies I've already read, the story begins when Shipton sends Hillary's climbing party a letter requesting two of their members to join his reconnaissance. I found reading the rest of the story quite interesting.

I was relieved to read Shipton giving nothing but praise to Col. John Hunt in his leadership of the 1953 expedition. I've always wondered how he really felt about being replaced by the military man, but I was glad to read nothing of the sort here, especially since Men Against Everest is a book meant for young readers. At least in print, Shipton is a true gentleman.

A bit that dates the book is Shipton's analysis based on his 1935 monsoon reconnaissance of the north side of the mountain, that the Yellow Band and the whole of the upper North Face is "absolutely unclimbable" during this season. It is actually this very route that Reinhold Messner determines as the line of least resistance and uses in his 1980 monsoon solo ascent of Everest. (You can read about Messner's adventure in his book, The Crystal Horizon.)

Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book. Shipton knows how to write a story and to keep a history going for young audiences. This is also an easy, but enjoyable read for adults looking for a quick introduction to the early history of Mount Everest. Hope you like it!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Young Adventurer's Gudie to Everest, by Jonathan Chester

I've taken a look back over my blog, and I believe I need to come a compromise on the overall length on my posts. I liked the detail of my first posts, but I found it impossible to get much reading done when I was writing so much. Additionally, I found it hard to get enough detail in and remember all the details when I was covering three to seven books in a single post. So, I'm going to try one book to a post for a while, and see if that fits me better.

Jonathan Chester's The Young Adventurer's Guide to Everest: From Avalanche to Zopkio is an alphabet book for older children based on the modern guided expedition up the Western Cwm and the Southeast Ridge. Chester took plenty of photographs during the National Federation of the Blind 2001 Everest Expedition in which Erik Weihenmayer reached the top. He shares these along with a wealth of advice for getting to the top of the world's highest mountain.

The book is arranged alphabetically, with a topic for each letter of the alphabet. Chester includes topics anywhere from underwear and down suits to frostbite and Sherpas, and he gives a detailed description of each. Each of the entries has one or more photographs accompanying it that are generally interesting and well-taken. At the end, he also includes a glossary and a range of sources for young climbers.

The Young Adventurer's Guide to Everest is an overall great book. The quality of the information is first-rate and it is written in such a way that should give the average reader some new words to learn beyond the glossary terms. Chester does a good job of explaining the ups and downs of climbing a mountain, both from an adventurer's point of view and from an ecological and cultural perspective. He understands his audience, and explains that there is a lot of training and a lot of mountains to climb before approaching a mountain such as Everest. He also says that Everest is within reach, and encourages kids to dream big.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Hundreth Everest Book: An Everest Conspiracy!

I've now read 100 books on Mount Everest, and I have to admit I've learned a lot about climbing Mount Everest. I've also learned a lot on other subjects, such as late 19th Century popular philosophy (Roper's Fatal Mountaineer), Soviet sports culture (Boukreev's Above the Clouds), the problems and delights of filming in Antarctica (Stobart's Adventurer's Eye), and the Sherpa brand of Tibetan Buddhism (Norgay's Touching My Father's Soul), to name a few. I have mixed feeling about including about 30 children's books in my count, but I feel that as long as I temporarily have a public library at my disposal with a mountain of them, I should go ahead and use that resource. I've almost run them dry, so I imagine there will be fewer covered in the future. I still can't believe what people get away with in children's literature! A mountaineer can be excused for getting a few details wrong here or there in a 300-page book, but for a professional author to have a mistake on every page in a 30-page book? Eek! Anyway, I wanted to share something special for my number 100, so I found a copy of S. M. Goswami's Everest: Is It Conquered?, a rare self-published response to the news of the 1953 ascent of the mountain. It's pretty wacky!

Goswami tells us that the 1953 ascent of Mount Everest was actually a hoax pre-planned and carried out by the imperialist Tories as a way of reasserting the British Empire and to bring about a new Elizabethan age. He takes a number of clues to prove his point, and fights the "sham" event with acrimony and bravado. A quick quote from the introduction will illustrate:

There has been no conquest of Mt. Everest in 1953. The whole story of "conquest" is nothing but a confabulation. "Conquest" means subjugation and rule. Mt. Everest yet challenges man. "Reaching the Summit" is out of the question and an abracadabra.

Another bit of acrimony that I felt compelled to share:

A fraud is a fraud and is to be taken as a crime. Nay indeed the establishment of the fact of ravishment of the virgin-peak of Mt. Everest,---falsely and designedly circulated, has gone to injure the feelings of millions of Hindus and Buddhists all over the world who look upon the sky-piercing peak of Mt. Everest as sacred: and it is a sin and sacrilegious to trample down the BELIEF with the false story of conquest of Mt. Everest. All religions have some norms spiritual. The most hardened criminal also turns saintly influenced with contrition . . . Indeed such is misty mysticism and who can clear up whether Tensing and Hillary have not come to be victims of the unknown Power, Who sees to every good or bad in the world ! !

The bulk of Goswami's argument revolves around the message and the timing of the coded telegram brought by James (now Jan) Morris down from Camp IV to Base Camp, and sent by runner to Namche Bazaar. Apparently the transcript of the message was leaked somewhere on its way to the British Embassy, and the Indian media printed the contents: "Bad weather conditions, expedition abandoned base camp twenty-ninth awaiting fair weather stop all well." Goswami states that none of their previous correspondence was written in code, so why should this telegram be any different. Additionally, even the supposed translation of the code says nowhere that Tenzing and Hillary actually got to the top of the mountain. He goes on to make the point that descending a mountain is much harder than ascending one, and that it is impossible that the news could have gotten from 27,000 feet to Namche Bazaar in a day. Goswami includes Col. Hunt's own disbelief, written in The Ascent of Everest as evidence.

Goswami continues with finding anything he can to call into question the claim, and anything he can complain about regarding the British and Mt. Everest. He, perhaps rightly so, disparages the fact that we hold the name Everest on a pedestal, but we have forgotten Radhanath Sikdar, the man who actually did the initial calculating of Everest's height. (His calling Radhanath the "actual discoverer" of the great peak is a bit questionable, though.) He believes Tenzing wanted to reveal the truth, but:

The British from time immemorial have been adepts in the use of hush-money and bribing. He [Hunt] had to silence and buy over Tensing. Tensing was virtually kidnapped by a band of designing and conspirating [sic] British journalists . . . and Tensing was indoctrinated or tempted with money or prospects. 

Additionally, Goswami includes a reproduction of an aerial photograph of Mount Everest found in the newspaper, in which the mountain is approximately two inches high, and has this to say: 

The last few hundred feet of Mt. Everest is so steep and smooth that even flakes of snow can hardly gather upon. The previous air-photographs and the air-photographs taken by the Indian Air Force . . . all go to the unmaking of the description scantily drawn by Sir Hillary. No chance exists there in having "a few whacks of the ice-axe in the firm snow."

Goswami then brings up that no man can survive at 29,000 without supplementary oxygen, and yet Edmund Hillary purports to have removed his mask for 10 minutes!

Supermen are Tensing and Hillary; everything that happened with them on the slopes of the Everest was miraculous. In fact, not only with them, but to the whole party. 

The author then goes on to state that no camera (especially color) could function at the temperature and the altitude of the top of Everest:

Even Mr. Wind was so obliging and friendly to the British colours, that he fluttered the Union Jack into prominence and Hillary imprisoned the scene for ever with his midget-camera clicking the shutter off with clumsy shaking hands ! ! 

I think Mr. Goswami errs primarily in his trusting newspapers above all other sources, and he states that they are trustworthy enough to use as evidence in a court of law. Most of his premonitions seem to be based on the local papers not matching the British papers, that many of the papers seem to contradict each other, and that the news released at the first hearing of the event does not always match the official account in details. To make each of the Indian papers infallible, he constructs a very interesting story to explain what he believes happened. He does admit:

Details of the Expedition have been given to the world in so garbled yet contradictory words, that one is left astounded to realise [sic] why so much inconsistencies had to come in if at all there was a 'victory.'

Goswami includes several appendices with his hard evidence as to the failure of the expedition, including several newspaper clippings and some letters written to news agencies with their replies. If you have a sense of humor about it, Everest: Is It Conquered? makes for an entertaining read. I would recommend finding means other than purchasing a copy to read it, however. As a postscript: It seriously worries me that Mr. Goswami's former day job was as an anti-corruption officer. With the level of anger and absurdity he is able to summon, I would NOT want to get on his bad side!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Psycho-Spiritual Extreme, the World as Everest, and Tigers!

I bring three books to you today: Maria Coffey's Explorers of the Infinite, and two for the kids: Rebecca Stephens' Everest and Aileen Weintraub's Mount Everest. 

Maria Coffey is certainly the most prolific of the Everest widows (Joe Tasker's lover), and compared with her first two books about Everest and mountaineering, Explorers of the Infinite left me wanting. The book covers the taboo subject of paranormal experiences associated with extreme sports. She covers anything from spouses presupposing their partner's death to strange manifestations following a climber down a mountain. In both her Fragile Edge and Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow, Coffey provides a thorough analysis of climbers and their actions; Explorers, however, gives us numerous examples of her subject, but leaves much of the analysis to the reader. Understandably, she has picked a difficult subject and a difficult topic for a professional to take a public stance on. In the other two books mentioned, though, she takes the difficult stance and does a great job of supporting her conclusions. She makes sure to provide a range of explanations for these fantastic occurrences, both scientific and spiritual, and she gives each fair space. I decided to include this book in my reading because she interviews or references an All-Star Everest cast, including Doug Scott, Lou Whittaker, the Burgess twins, Eric Shipton, and many others, and discusses several incidents that occurred on Everest, including Smythe's companion at 28,000 feet, Somervelle's dream about his physical limits, and Nick Estcourt's fellow climber on the Southwest Face. Even if I found it a bit frustrating, I recommend this book! 

Rebecca Stephens' Everest would lead you to believe that it's a book about Everest, but perhaps the concept of Everest could be extended worldwide to mean high places, in general. There are four pages specifically about the mountain that cover the 1924 and the 1953 expeditions, a double-page spread on the Seven Summits, and a couple other mentions of Everest here and there, but this book seems to be more of a gazette on anything that sticks up out of the ground and has people or animals crawling on it, including sections on the Incas, the Winter Olympics, mountain religions, and houses built on rocks. The information presented is all pretty good and there are a range of illustrations, but both the material and the presentation lack focus.

Aileen Weintraub's Mount Everest: The Highest Mountain is yet another hastily assembled and half-true children's book on the the world's highest mountain. It contains a mix of good and bad information on Everest, and is perhaps notable for several squirrel-y explanations of facts, such as "Mount Everest is so big that half of it is in Nepal and half of it is in Tibet." Additionally, Tigers roam Everest's slopes. This book is so close to being a good book, but on nearly every page there is some fact that starts off well but then gets twisted in such a way as to be technically wrong. Weintraub speaks briefly on Mallory and Irvine and mentions the 1999 Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition and also acknowledges the efforts of Hillary and Tenzing. The rest of the information is general information about the mountain and its environs, including pages on the Sherpas, nature, and weather, among other topics.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ghosts, detectives, and the meaning of life!

After learning about Jochen Hemmleb's research on the Mallory and Irvine mystery, I really looked forward to reading Ghosts of Everest. I was a bit taken aback, though, when I turned to the title page, and found that the book has a different author. I thought I would be reading something thoroughly academic, but it turned out to be a basic, but entertaining, account of the 1999 Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition with some facts of the 1924 expedition thrown in. The appendix on the 1960 Chinese expedition gave me something to think about, and it shows (along with his identification of other cadavers by the color of their socks) just how thorough Hemmleb is. I also found his analysis of Odell's statements compelling. I felt somewhat voyeuristic seeing the pictures of Mallory's body clinging to the slope, and I find it poetic that history has shown us Mallory's bare buttocks instead of his summit photos!

I thought I might as well see the saga of Jochen Hemmleb through, so I also read his Detectives on Everest, the story of the 2001 Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition. This one states that it is actually by Hemmleb, but the overall character of the book is quite close to the first one. The team returns to the mountain, minus Conrad Anker but with a couple new climbers, to search for clues of Irvine and figure out where the 1933 and early Chinese camps are located to direct their searching. They come across a range of items from a number of expeditions, and a mitten likely from Mallory or Irvine below the First Step. Additionally, the team is robbed of the summit by the antics of the under-prepared and the obstinate, and their climbers end up rescuing a number of other parties' climbers incapacitated on the Northeast Ridge. Hemmleb's greatest discoveries come after the expedition, in Beijing, as he interviews several of the key climbers on the 1960 and 1975 expeditions. Based on the interviews, it is reasonable to assume that the Chinese climbers came across two separate European bodies on their expeditions, and it appears quite possible that Irvine is waiting for discovery on the Yellow Band.

I originally thought I would be reading Roger Hart's philosophical opus this week, but I instead opted for another musing of the meaning of life (for the mountaineer, at least), Pat Ament's Climbing Everest. I believe the book is supposed to be a mix of a slice of life, a philosophical treatise, and a humorist's take on the act of climbing Mount Everest. Ament occasionally makes interesting points in the work, but they are certainly fleeting. This book wanders from topic to topic without ever really getting into detail on anything, and he seems to leave much of his analysis incomplete. The accompanying cartoons, to me, detracted from the overall feel of the book. I would tell you more of what this book is about, but I'm not sure I really know after reading it! Climbing Everest could perhaps be considered a bit of poetry, and when taken as such, feels a bit like warm tea: easy to swallow, but lacking heat.

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!