Saturday, June 13, 2009

On Great Everest Reads

Alright, so lately, I have been devouring Himalayan expedition literature. Years ago my initial interest in Himalayan expeditions was specifically on the 1960-1980s pushes on the taller 8000 meter peaks - K2 and Everest specifically - with a side of Nanga Parbat. These expeditions are fascinating as they pushed the human psychological and physiological limits. By the 1960s all of the tallest 8000 meter peaks had been climbed by "siege" style expeditions. The goal was simple, get to the top at any cost. This meant expeditions of 50 plus climbers and 100s of support members, extensive death tolls, prodigious amounts of supplies and consequently waste, and, on occasion, local porter teams numbering 1000 or more. Nuts. After the peaks had been climbed the philosophy of the mountain reverted to that of the pervasive minimalist, alpine approach being used in the Alps. Small teams, little support, no fixed ropes, quick ascents, and no supplemental oxygen were the staples of the small alpine expedition. The question was, could such a small, unsupported team conquer a Himalayan giant. The pervasive thought in the older military siege-style rings was of course "no". But small groups of motivated, counter-cultural climbers set out to prove otherwise. Thus began the scramble in the 1960s-1980s to hit hard routes on massive Himalayan peaks with small, unsupported teams. Everest wasn't climbed without supplementary oxygen until 1978, and was not soloed until 1980 - both accomplishments attributed to Reinhold Messner. The Germans continued their assault on Nanga Parbat through the 60s, the Italians played around on their Abruzzi ridge from 1954 (after the first successful siege) through the 60s and the Americans and British pioneered routes on Everest through the 70s. Horbein and Unsoeld completed the first traverse of Everest in 1963. Venables and Buhl made names for themselves on the formidable East face of Everest in the 1980s. 

Back to the point; great Everest reads. Lately, I have been reading early expedition literature (1920s-1950s) and gaining a better understanding of the logistical challenges of the early expeditions and why it took so darn toot'n long - with so many deaths - to initially reach the summits of the Himalayan giants. A great succinct, yet thorough recap of Himalayan expeditions, Fallen Giants. A great introduction to the wonderful world of Himalayan adventures - reconnoiters, mapping, trekking and mountaineering. Also, anything Shipton or Hunt will do a student of early Himalayan expeditions good. Two Britons who had more of a knack for writing than climbing write thorough accounts of the early days of the British on Everest (Hunt was the expedition leader for the 1953 Norgay/Hillary ascent). A much more contemporary expedition account that is worth looking into is The Other Side of Everest by Matt Dickinson. Matt was on the north side of Everest during the killer storm of 1996 that took 10 lives. Matt provides an easy to understand account, jargon-free, of the immense undertaking of a Himalayan expedition. Perhaps more interesting, for those who are familiar with the laundry-list of literature available from 1996 expeditions on the south side of Everest (Into Thin Air, Boukreev's account, Viestur's writings, etc.), is the other side of the story provided by Dickinson. 

Great Reads. Check them out.

1 comment:

Justin Mock said...

Yeah I love that stuff too and have read about all of the 96 books, but not The Other Side. Will have to add it to the list.

Have you thought about doing any climbing up there while not running? Maybe get up into Banff/Jasper even?