Thursday, June 7, 2012

South Col, by Wilfrid Noyce

Wilfrid Noyce recounts his involvement in the 1953 British expedition in his South Col. It's a much more personal account than the official Ascent of Everest, by expedition leader John Hunt. It's nice to hear some of the finer details of the expedition that would make official accounts less tidy, such as George Lowe joking around by removing his dentures, or George Band telling a newspaper man who was haggling him that their summit assault would commence with Spitfires circling the South Col. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin famously complained that NASA never sent a poet to the moon, but the British were intelligent enough to send one to Everest. Not only does Noyce include poetry at the end of the book, he writes in a contemplative style that adds some wonder and beauty to the process of climbing the world's highest mountain. It takes him a while to get to Everest, but his writing makes it well worth the wait.

The number of camps in the 1953 British ascent really hit me in this one. Noyce spends considerable time on the mountain, and unlike Tenzing and Hillary, he spends many days in each of the camps up to the South Col. Noyce is famous for pushing up to the Col along with Annalu Sherpa after repeated setbacks by other climbers. Though the Swiss had been there before him, he makes is sound like a glorious discovery. This work provides a sense of place to the Southeast side of the mountain more than anything else I’ve read, and while others have worked, eaten, and slept from the Khumbu Icefall to the South Col, Noyce gives the impression of his taking up residence amongst the ice and rock below the summit. Particularly interesting to me is his account of working up and down the Lhotse face, both in making tracks to the South Col and his return at the end of the expedition to supply the camp and back up George Lowe. Both Lowe and Noyce would later climb in the Pamirs with expedition leader Hunt (see Hunt's Life is Meeting), though Noyce would fall to his death, making his contemplation of the death and grave of Mingma Dorje in the Western Cwm poignant. 

This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier entry, which starts here.

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