Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Irvine Diaries, by Herbert Carr

Herbert Carr brings together a mix of biography, travel diary, family history, and adventure mystery in his The Irvine Diaries. Carr feels there has been an overemphasis on George Leigh Mallory in the retelling of Mallory and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine's climb into the clouds on June 7, 1924, and he seeks to remedy the error with an in-depth look at the young adventurer Irvine and the publication of his two travel diaries.

Because Irvine's life was relatively short, his biography is a quite thin as well. Irvine's brother relates some family history before talking about their childhood. Carr then talks about Irvine's school years and his association with his schools' rowing clubs. Even on his trek to Everest, he was keen to know how the races turned out. Irvine did fairly in school, but was notable for his physical strength and stamina. Before leaving for Everest, he also competed quite well in ski racing. He was know throughout his life for his scientific tinkering, and he even managed to send off some fairly complicated invention ideas to the War Office.

The diaries include Irvine's trips to Spitsbergen and Everest. His college's trip to Sptisbergen was supervised by both Noel Odell and Tom Longstaff, both of whom noticed his strength, drive, and mechanical aptitude. On the trip, expedition members manage a sledging traverse of the island in less-than-ideal conditions, carrying out survey work and climbing a couple peaks. On the Everest trip, Irvine becomes the go-to man for anything that breaks, and from Darjeeling all the way to Camp VI he works to repair and recreate the oxygen equipment, coming with a number of improved designs. I was amazed what a losing battle he was fighting with leaking, unreliable canisters, and the generally awful delivery system. That he got several systems working and saved enough gas to make an oxygen-supplemented assault speaks to his determination. I also learned from this book that "Sandy" refers to his fair complexion, and that he was affected horribly by the ultraviolet radiation on the upper reaches of the mountain.

Though I appreciated reading Irvine's diaries, this book didn't contain quite as much information on the young climber as I had hoped. It didn't really discuss how he came about to be chosen for the expedition or talk about his preparations for the expedition. I was curious about how much, if any, climbing he did before leaving on the expedition and also wanted to know a bit more about his boat journey along with other expedition members to India. Though Irvine overall writes a bare-bones diary, I was fascinated by his gradual transition from calling George Leigh Mallory "Mallory" to by the time they reach the mountain, calling him "George." Additionally, he eventually switches to calling Geoffrey Bruce "Geoff," and has clearly made a couple good friends before his trip into eternity. At the end of the book, Carr discusses the several memorials to the two climbers, including a stone monument at Irvine's alma mater, a stained-glass window, and a memorial travel grant to young adventurers.

1 comment:

  1. For a modern, comprehensive biography of Irvine, read Julie Summer's "Fearless on Everest."