Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mein Welt die Berge, by Leo Schlömmer

If you, like me, aren't yet satisfied with what you've read about the 1971 International Everest Expedition, you might try Leo Schlömmer's Mein Welt die Berge. His biography, which includes a number of climbs in the Alps and around the world, also has a pretty significant section on his participation in this controversial expedition. The expedition was to be Norman Dyhrenfurth's next big success on Everest. Like the 1963 American expedition that he led, the climb was to have a double objective, this time of upper West Ridge left unclimbed by the Americans and the completion of the Southwest Face climb started by the Japanese in 1969 and 1970. Schlömmer, along with Don Whillans, Dougal Haston, Naomi Uemura, Reizo Ito, Gary Colliver, and John Evans, was part of the Southwest Face attempt. The expedition was fraught with petty fighting that was exacerbated by nearly universal illness and then ignited by the death of Harsh Bahuguna into a row of nastiness that set the standard for Everest controversy until 1996. The resignation of several climbers ended the West Ridge attempt and infighting and illness put the finishing touches on the Southwest Face.

In all this mess, Schlömmer is a noted moderate. While his is certainly no fan of Don Whillans or his Scottish friend, he continues climbing after the worst of the controversy. He sympathizes with Wolfgang Axt, who was blamed by some for the death of Bahuguna, and says that Axt and Bahuguna were good friends, and while Axt stopped climbing after Bahuguna's death, he never quit the expedition, as purported. Schlömmer also seems to have an interest in the American members, Colliver and Evans, I imagine because his last great adventure before Everest was a trip to El Capitan in Yosemite. I watched out for a particular moment at the end of the expedition that I read about in Dougal Haston's In High Places, in which Schlömmer ascends to help with the route, but is told that he's only a burden if he can't carry his own personal gear to the high camp. He chooses to descend. In Schlömmer's book, the author dodges the issue a bit, saying that Dyhrenfurth purports that he needed a Sherpa to carry his gear starting at Camp II, while he insists that he carried all of his own stuff as high as Camp IV, and then only requested that some of his things be carried from there. Perhaps Schlömmer is justified in saying that the Britons were hogging the route, but then again perhaps Haston is justified in saying that no one else was fit enough to do the work. I'm not about to be the judge!

I enjoy reading about this expedition because there seem to be so many versions of the truth out there. In addition to Schlömmer, a number of climbers have written about the trip. In English, you'll find it in Peter Steele's Doctor on Everest (though he doesn't include much on what happens high on the mountain), Dougal Haston's In High Places, and Pierre Mazeaud's Naked Before the Mountain. I wish I read Japanese, because more than anything, I would love to read Naomi Uemura's perspective on the expedition, as he stayed high on the mountain, hefting supplies to the top of the route for the Britons, but only gets passing mention in anyone else's books. Because I only had very limited amount of time with this book, I unfortunately only read the Everest material. I hope to get access to another copy soon.

1 comment:

  1. Not exactly Everest books, but Carlo Mauri of the 1971 International Everest Expedition also appears in a couple Thor Heyerdahl works, in which he sails long distance with Heyerdahl on ancient boat recreations in his "The Ra Expeditions" and "The Tigris Expedition." Both are fun books, and I found Heyerdahl's historical arguments compelling.