Sunday, March 27, 2011

To the Top of the World, by Mark Sufrin

Mark Sufrin writes a pretty good first ascent of Everest book for young readers focused on Sir Edmund Hillary in To the Top of the World: Sir Edmund Hillary and the Conquest of Everest. The book was written in the 1960s, and it has the inward-focused and naturalistic flavor of adventure books of the time period, somewhat like McCallum's Everest Diary, but more so. Sufrin tells of the expedition, from the gathering of the members right through to the lecture tours, and follows up with a brief telling of some of the adventures Hillary has afterward. There are copious photographic illustrations, including an impressive photo I've only now noticed for the first time, taken by Lowe or Gregory on the Southeast Ridge of Hillary and Tenzing struggling under the additional loads they picked up at Hunt's party's high point, with an eye-popping amount of space between them and the Western Cwm below.

Sufrin does a lot of quoting of characters and relating their thoughts that I don't remember from other sources. It all makes a good story, but it seems to me like he's adding to a non-fiction work. For example, there were quoted conversations from the divvying of loads on the Southeast Ridge that sound perfectly reasonable, but I have doubts since they are fairly interesting, yet never made in into any of the other books I've read. (Perhaps they came from Hillary's High Adventure; I still haven't gotten around to that important work.) The author, unfortunately, did not provide a bibliography.

There's an anecdote from this book about an Everest book I don't imagine I'll ever read. Noyce had brought a copy of War and Peace on the Everest expedition, and loaned it to Westmacott, who passed it along to Hunt when he was finished. Evans took it along on his trips to Baruntse and Kanchenjunga, where George Band acquired it. Band read it on a trip to Yalung and loaned it to Lowe, who read it on his way to the South Pole. Now that's a well-traveled book.

Lastly, there's a chart of a plan-of-attack for the mountain on page 54 of the book that I'm curious about. Does anyone know where this came from? It has routes drawn for Everest, Lhotse, and Nuptse, with only seven camps (rather than nine) for Everest, and an advance base camp at Camp II, rather than Camp IV. Camp IV is on the Lhotse face, where the routes for Lhotse and Nuptse split off from the Everest route.


  1. I've now read Hillary's "High Adventure," and I can confirm that the quotes in question did not come from there. I'll make one last guess before giving up: George Lowe's "From Everest to the South Pole."

  2. The map in question is from the 1963 American expedition. Dyhrenfurth's original plan was for a "grand slam" of the mountain, climbing all three peaks in one expedition. He was later redirected, principally by Tom Hornbein, to attempt the West Ridge in addition to the South Col route already planned.

  3. I get the feeling Sufrin made up the quotes based on Lowe's "From Everest to the South Pole," as Lowe admits to friendly banter before the support team's descent. Also the story of the "War and Peace" volume is featured in Lowe's book, but nowhere else that I've found from that early in Everest's literature, so it seems that Sufrin read Lowe's work.