Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Turquoise Mountain, by Brian Blessed

Brian Blessed restores a sense of awe and inspiration in traveling to Everest in The Turquoise Mountain: Brian Blessed on Everest. His Everest fan-dom begins early, with a childhood encounter with the story of Mallory and Irvine, and his love of the story grows into a need to see and experience their travel. He uses his contacts in the acting world to try to get a documentary and recreation of their experience off the ground, almost to no avail. I felt like Blessed balanced his story well, showing the drama of the early organizing, planning, and begging in about equal proportion to the actual eventual expedition. He and a film team travel to Bhutan, Darjeeling (even riding the old toy train), and Kathmandu before heading to the north side of Everest during the pre-monsoon season in 1990. I was a bit sad that he was unable to follow their travels exactly, but I appreciated that they tried to recreate the experience closely. Blessed even has a period costume made for his journey. In addition to his journey, Blessed is able to meet a number of Everest personalities through the film project, including Capt. John Noel, Chris Bonington, John Hunt, and Reinhold Messner.

Blessed gets a surprisingly friendly welcome by the mountain. Though the International Peace Climb, led by Jim Whittaker, had faced some storms before Blessed's arrival, the film crew gets almost universally good weather (by Everest standards). Their goal is to get Blessed onto the North Col for the culmination of their filming, which will ultimately depend on Blessed's fitness at altitude and the health of the film crew. Blessed is guided and filmed on Everest by a well-established Everest personality, David Breashears, (see his High Exposure), and his sound-recordist, Graham Hoyland, would later make a name for himself in later Mallory explorations and recreations, including his participation in the 1999 expedition that found Mallory (see Hemmleb's Ghosts of Everest). (Hoyland's The Last Hours on Everest is due out some time next year.) The team's climb is officially a part of the International Peace Climb, and they intermingle with the climbers, though they have separate base camps. He also meets Peter Habeler, Mischa Saleki, and Todd Burleson while at the mountain.

Blessed's exuberance spills over in the book. He's the first author I've read who admits to having tickled the sirdar. His excitement for Everest is a force to be reckoned with. He admits that at times it gets in the way, but at others, his enthusiasm helps. It took nearly 70 years to get an artist on Everest; it's about time!

Blessed would later make two additional climbs on Everest, in 1991 and 1993, this time with the object of climbing to the summit, if possible.

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