Friday, November 30, 2012

Above All Else, by Clarke & Hobson

Jamie Clarke and Alan Hobson write their first Everest book, documenting their first two expeditions to the mountain in Above All Else: The Everest Dream (also know as The Power of Passion: Achieve Your Own Everests). They write about their experiences providing the satellite communications system for Peter Austen's charity Everest climb post-monsoon in 1991 (as chronicled in Everest Canada: The Climb for Hope) as well as their organizing and leading their own pre-monsoon expedition in 1994. They wrap their experiences around the message of achieving your own Everests, admitting that at times your struggles may be even harder than climbing the world's highest mountain. The summit is indeed something to strive for, but success for them comes from the satisfaction after an all-in effort. In addition to their climbs, the authors discuss their friendship and their experiences as motivational speakers.

For their 1991 climb, they participate primarily as support personnel. Hobson desperately wants to get to Everest and calls up Peter Austen, offering to provide live satellite communication from the mountain, even though he has no idea how to do that. He figures that out as he secures the equipment and has it shipped to the mountain; Clarke, meanwhile does a lot of grunt work of calling sponsors, and ties up the loose ends of the logistics, securing himself a place on the expedition through Hobson. Things go smoothly with the equipment, though the expedition faces a number of problems with the weather and an injured climber.

In 1994, they do their best to learn from the difficulties of the 1991 climb. They opt for a smaller team, opt out of climbing oxygen (saving much logistics, weight, and money), and chase after a single large sponsor rather than a range of smaller ones. Their quest to place the first Canadian climbing without supplementary oxygen on the summit is also a charity climb, seeking to raise funds and awareness for the Alberta Lung Association. Health issues cause the expedition to arrive at Base Camp without either Hobson or Clarke,and when they finally arrive, things are a bit messy. They still manage to put in a grand effort, with a number of close calls.

To read about Hobson and Clarke's personal success climbing to the summit of Everest during a subsequent expedition, try Hobson's From Everest to Enlightenment or Clarke's From Everest to Arabia. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Great True Mountain Stories, edited by Edmund V. Corbett

Edmund Corbett pulls together a collection of mountaineering stories from a range of sources in Great True Mountain Stories. The 1957 collection includes a number of classics, such as excerpts from Whymper's account of the ascent and tragedy on the Matterhorn and Albert Smith's account of the first ascent of Mont Blanc, but also has a surprising number of current excerpts, including Herzog's Annapurna, Herrligkoffer's Nanga Parbat, Hillary's High Adventure, Evan's Kanchenjunga: The Untrodden Peak, Houston and Bates' K2: The Savage Mountain, and a newspaper account of a climbing tragedy on Mont Blanc from the year of the collection's publication. Also included are a couple of rarer treasures, such as Abraham's account of the death of Owen Glynne Jones and Egeler's account of a close call with Lionel Terray on Huantsan from The Untrodden Andes. Corbett introduces each work, and does a fairly good job of picking excepts that work on their own.

The book includes three Everest excerpts. Corbett chooses Mallory's account of the third attempt on the mountain from The Assault on Mount Everest 1922, from the return of Finch and Bruce to Base Camp to the after effects of the great avalanche. Next is Noel Odell's fruitless search for Mallory and Irvine from Younghuband's The Epic of Mount Everest, from his first night at Camp V to his signaling Camp IV the tragic news. Last is Edmund Hillary's account, from High Adventure, of his summit climb with Tenzing Norgay, from stepping out of the Camp IX tent to the final "whacks" to the summit. Of related interest are two excerpts from Smythe books (about Kamet and Kanchenjunga) and Charles Evan's account of the 1955 Kanchenjunga climb.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Villain, by Jim Perrin

Jim Perrin cuts the legendary Don Whillans down to size in The Villain: A Portrait of Don Whillans. The mountaineering literature is full of conflated, over-the-top Whillans stories, giving his memory a bit of a mythical edge. Having come to know Whillans through the literature, I was disappointed to find out that, alas, even Whillans is human. Perrin sorts through the many Whillans stories to piece together the most likely true character behind the hard-as-nails, yet witty image. You may not have realized that Whillans was a tropical fish enthusiast, that he had a fairly comfortable upbringing (at least, compared to Joe Brown), or that he had a soft spot for kids. Perrin traces his life from childhood, through his gritstone and Rock and Ice climbs, to his Alpine career, and his climbs in the Himalaya and around the world. He shows that Whillans begrudged the shadow of Joe Brown's career, and that he never quite escaped his contempt for his more successful climbing partner. Again with Bonington, he initially accomplishes great things, only to find himself left behind during Bonington's later successes. Perrins paints a complex picture of a man both ambitious and destructive, who has a great talent for climbing, but consistently has trouble in climbing relationships and ruins his own health by the time he's forty.

Whillans is partly known for his participation in two attempts on the Southwest Face of Everest, the 1971 international expedition and the 1972 European expedition, as well as his non-participation in the two Southwest Face climbs by Bonington's crew. Much of what Perrin includes about these climbs is found in other sources. However, he explains the animosity between Mazeaud and Whillans a little more clearly and includes a story of their encounter on the flight to the approach that sharpens Mazeaud's anger a bit. (He was initially miffed that Whillans "stole" the Central Pillar of the Freney after Mazeaud's epic survival of a lengthy storm on the route.) Also, Perrin includes parts of an interview with John Cleare, who explains Whillans' pivotal role in the attempted rescue of Harsh Bahuguna. The 1972 European expedition only gets a couple pages in this book, with no new information or analysis, as although Whillans participated, the expedition for him was defined more by what he was prevented from doing than what he contributed. Though Perrin cites the usual reasons for Whillans non-inclusion in the Bonington climbs, he does include some additional back-story with Whillans' jousting with Estcourt over statistics from the Annapurna climb.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Everest: Goddess of the Wind, by Ronald Faux

Ronald Faux writes a compressed history of climbing the world's highest mountain in Everest: Goddess of the Wind. Like Ahluwalia, in Faces of Everest, Faux caps off a an era of climbing on Everest with a history published in 1978, though he gets in a mention of Messner and Habeler's historic ascent. It's hard not to compare these two books, as they largely serve the same purpose and cover the same material. Faux's book is considerably more British-centric, whereas Ahluwalia treats all expeditions roughly equally. They both include their own contribution to the history of Everest (Faux participated in the 1976 Joint Services Expedition; see his and Fleming's Soldiers on Everest.), and discuss each visit to the mountain by climbers. Faux also writes a short description of Nepal, its people, flora, and fauna, including a chapter on the yeti. The book includes photographic illustrations throughout, as well as some maps and a great page of newspaper clippings about the 1953 ascent.

Because the book is so short (roughly 100 pages), Faux had to make some difficult decisions about how to tell the story, especially regarding the early history. The 1921 reconnaissance gets only a few paragraphs, and the 1922 climbs comes off more as an encyclopedia entry than a dramatic story. Maurice Wilson, the 1935 reconnaissance, and the 1938 climb share a single paragraph. I realize he had to cut somewhere, but I think I would have ditched the 30 pages on the yeti and Nepal for a more focused narrative on the subject advertised by the cover and the introduction to the book. The Nepal section is nice, regardless, though it feels a bit like a separate book. Many of the subsequent climbs from 1950 through to the publication date have detail in proportion to the number of British climbers on the roster, with the 1953 and 1975 and 1976 climbs getting the most coverage.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Die Trying, by Bo Parfet

Bo Parfet comes of age in Die Trying: One Man's Quest to Conquer the Seven Summits. He overcomes dyslexia to graduate from both high school and college and becomes an investment banker at JP Morgan.  He remembers how he felt climbing Longs Peak in college and books a trip to Kilimanjaro to get away from his 100-hour workweeks. After making the top, he heads to Aconcagua and McKinley on subsequent vacations before devoting himself to climbing the Seven Summits. He decides to climb both lists, in addition to Mount Cook, Mont Blanc (perhaps to cover his bases?), the Matterhorn, Cho Oyu, and an attempt on Ama Dablam. Also included in the narrative is his participation in the Gumball 3000 road race and the La Ruta Maya boat race, as well as his journey to membership in the Explorers Club. His climbs exhibit the gamut of commercial climbing, from full-on guided climbs on Kilimanjaro and McKinley to a logistics-only (including payments for fixed ropes and summit support) ascent of Everest. He uses a range of outfitters, including Mountain Trip, Mountain Madness, International Mountain Guides, and Himalayan Guides, and even (with some difficulty) tries his own logistics for Elbrus. Die Trying, therefore makes a decent preview for the Seven Summits shopper.

He books both of his Everest climbs with Henry Todd's Himalayan Guides, both for some autonomy in his climbing and for a relatively low price. His first attempt, in the pre-monsoon season of 2005, goes poorly for several reasons, including friction between Parfet and Todd, impatient climbing, and deceptive weather. Tragedy strikes on the teams' summit attempt, and an incoming storm adds the coup de grace. His second expedition, in the spring of 2007, goes somewhat smoother. There's less information in the narrative on it, but he returns a more experienced climber (having ascended Cho Oyu the previous fall) and as a sponsored mountaineer. He brings much of his family along for the trek to Base Camp, with his parents making it as far as Lobuche. His team includes Pat Hickey, author of 7 Summits: A Nurse's Quest to Conquer Mountaineering and Life. The weather is much more agreeable for this climb, even providing a sunny and (relatively) warm summit day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Camp Six, by Frank Smythe

Frank Smythe writes about his experiences during the 1933 Everest expedition in Camp Six. 1933 was Smythe's first trip to Everest (of three) and also the expedition in which he climbed the highest. The book is a well-deserved classic of climbing literature, with Smythe describing for a broad audience the business of climbing Everest. He even (horror upon horrors!) describes the joys of late night sub-zero bathroom calls and hints at the foul language climbers used towards the frustrating cookers. Though the official account, Everest 1933, is already an entertaining and rigorous narrative, Smythe's book adds some flavor to the journey and gets away with some commentary that would be inappropriate in an official release. Also, Smythe's use of pet names (Billy, Waggers, etc.) humanize the protagonists a bit more, and his praising of their accomplishments is more forthright here. He explains why he likes to climb with Shipton and also expresses a friendly affection for George Wood-Johnson (who accompanied him to Kanchenjunga).

Smythe is the only Everest climber from the 1930s to give a book-length account of his climb (apart from the "official" books). Greene (Moments of Being) and Boustead (Winds of Morning) would later include details of the 1933 account in their memoirs. Shipton would later write a history of climbing Everest, Men Against Everest, thank includes his personal experiences. I think that Smythe's writing, both before and after his Everest experience, established his reputation as a great man in the history of Everest. His accomplishment in 1933 is staggering (spending three nights at Camp VI and above without oxygen, three forays on the North Ridge, and a difficult solo climb very high on the mountain, all while returning the healthiest man of the assault party), but I think we know of Smythe rather than Wager and Wyn-Harris, who also climbed as high as he did, because of his literary effort. Camp Six is an enjoyable book; I think you'll like it!

To learn more about Smythe's life, read Calvert's biography, Smythe's Mountains.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Live the Dream, by Art Valdez

Art Valdez tells of the first Filipino ascent of Mount Everest in Live the Dream: The Saga of the Philippine Mount Everest Expedition Team. He tried in vain to organize a team in 1985, but had better luck starting in 2003. As the Philippines had few experienced mountaineers, a group of thirty chosen climbers set out to train and aim for inclusion in a small final team. Their trips include alpine climbing courses in India and New Zealand, and climbs on McKinley, Muztagh Ata, and Cho Oyu before the trip to Everest. (Due to their Muztagh Ata climb, the first operation in the Philippines for frostbite was performed.) Fundraising is continually a problem, even up to the approach march to Everest (one climber even harvests potatoes in exchange for better meals), but they manage somehow. Though the team was originally supposed to be both men and women, the women opt for a climb a year later (in which three ladies traverse the mountain North-South).

Their team helps the first three (undisputed) Filipino climbers reach the summit, from the south in May of 2006. The details of their climb, indeed all their climbs, are sparse, as the book is primarily a photo exhibition. Their base camp doctor is popular with other teams, and the summit climbers reach the top on three successive days. The McKinley and Cho Oyu climbs have photos, but are not a part of the narrative. The Muztagh Ata climb is a part of the narrative, but has no photos. The photographs are high quality and journalistic in style, with a bit of salesmanship thrown in. The book overall feels like a modern Another Ascent of the World's Highest Peak - Qomolangma, the official photobook release after the 1975 Chinese ascent, but without the Chairman Mao theme.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Voices from the Summit, edited by McDonald & Amatt

Bernadette McDonald and John Amatt pull together a collection of original essays from some of the greatest living climbers (as of 2000) in celebration of 25 years of the Banff Mountain Film Festival in Voices from the Summit: The World's Great Mountaineers on the Future of Climbing. The contributors (32 in all) have each participated in the Banff Mountain Film Festival, and range from Anderl Heckmair (who in 1938 climbed the North Face of the Eiger) to a teenage Leo Houlding, from world icons like Sir Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner to specialist masters, such as Will Gadd and Lynn Hill. Though Hillary and Messner get the freedom to write about climbing as a whole, the rest focus on a single aspect or specialization of climbing, such as Himalayan climbing, climbing ethics, rock climbing, exploration, or ice climbing. Additionally, there is an extensive history of the Banff Mountain Film Festival, including some bylines on famous participants and films. Though the essays are ostensibly billed as divinations of the future, many of the contributors seem to agree with Royal Robbins, when he paraphrases Shakespeare by writing, "I would rather talk about the past, for what's past is prologue." Some, such as Hillary and Wielicki, summarize their own careers, others (Diemberger, Bonington) relate a recent adventure related to their topic, but there are a few (Messner, Croft) who focus on the task at hand and write mostly about the future of climbing. Most of the writing is well-executed, entertaining, and thoughtful, however, even if the writers could be accused of wandering off topic. I was particularly impressed by Hornbein's essay on heroes (I had similar difficulties with the definition of the word "hero" in my review of Bonington and Salkeld's Heroic Climbs.), Royal Robbins' look at his role models, Fowler's defense of minimal equipment, and Heckmair's grumpy, but nostalgic essay on climbing in the Alps.

Everest is all over this book, especially as the 1996 debacle is fairly fresh in the memory of many of the writers and seems to be a grave testament to one possible future of climbing. Messner says that commercial climbing on Everest is not a problem, but calls it stupid and then complains about it for quite a while. Greg Child compares the popularity of Into Thin Air with the fascination of Formula One racing. Hillary is not a fan of how things are going on Everest. Junko Tabei bemoans the mountains of trash on the world's highest mountain. (She even calculates the amount of urine left on Everest each year!) Breashears drew inspiration from the image of Tenzing standing on the summit and frames his narrative around his IMAX experience. Audrey Salkeld writes about the troubles of being a researcher rather than a dreamer, showing the complexities of the possibilities of the Mallory & Irvine story, and the future of the history of Everest. Viesturs, Wielicki, and remind us of their climbs of Everest, and there are several short references in other works.

In case you're paying attention, the 37th annual Banff Mountain Film Festival (now the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival) is currently happening. Wish I was there!