Mountainous Reading

28 08 2012

I love reading Non-Fiction, because once you sink your teeth into a really interesting subject, it often leads you down the road to more books on said subject.  And even documentaries and movies….(other books do that, too.)  My reading of Revolutionary history has left me entrenched in the early days of our country, but recently escaped to the top of the world to read a few books on Everest.

It all started with Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer – a 25cent yard sale find.  I struggle a little with the idea of large scale tragedies – but the stunning reviews on this book drew me in.  It’s a 5 star read, and this is my review:

A very emotionally charged book. This is a factual account of the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster where 9 climbers – including two experienced guides – lost their lives. Krakauer had been sent by Outside Magazine as a reporter to cover one of the expeditions. This is not only a personal account, but detailed after conducting numerous interviews with survivors.

1996 Krakauer was covering the “Commercialization” of Everest – clients who may or may not be fit for an adventure of this magnitude pay $65,000 for a 2 month tour that includes a trip to the top of the world. Part of that time includes acclimating to the thin air on Everest that can cloud thinking, slow down body functions and accelerate frostbite and hypothermia. During this spring, there were quite a few climbing teams on the mountain. On assent day, a few small miscalculations combined with delays because of climber volume culminated in fatal mistakes. The loss of so many climbers and the guilt of those left behind – yet left behind fighting for their own lives – is heart wrenching.

Reading this book however, presented a peek inside the lives of those who perished, and what it takes to be a climber of this magnitude. Really the one big thing the average Joe doesn’t realize is the Oxygen deprivation will mess you up – and can cause or contribute to death on the mountain. Even as people criticized some of the choices made that day, it’s certainly impossible to completely understand what any one climber was facing physically or mentally.

Very good story – and truthfully the tragedy continues as even this climbing season (2012) there were many deaths on the mountain. Companies continue to offer commercial expeditions not just to Everest but all over the world.

Also interesting info out there about the bodies still in the summit area and the challenge of trying to remove them.

Yes, reading this book led to two full days of internet research and then stumbling upon other topics – including the fact that the folks who died in this book are still on the mountain, along with 200 or so other folks.  Fascinating and a little creepy.  One of those men is George Mallory, a 1920s explorer who could have been the first man to climb Everest with partner Sandy Irvine.  But they never came back, so now one knows.  I pulled The Ghosts of Everest by Jochen Hemmleb, Larry A. Johnson, and Eric R. Simonson from my local library.  I also gave this one 5 stars:

In 1999 the Irvine/Mallory expedition (including a camera crew from the BBC) headed to Mt. Everest to retrace the step of Andrew Irvine and George Mallory on their summit expedition from June 8, 1924. Mallory and Irvine were reportedly spotted from camp at 12:50 PM that day, not far from the summit. That was the last time anyone would see them. They disappeared into legend. But the question remains, did they make the summit?

The team takes the reader down the road from the conception of the idea to search for them. The summit attempt went from the less traversed North side of Everest (Chinese) and in the subsequent years, far fewer climbers have taken this route. Although some of the previous Chinese expeditions had mentioned seeing “English” bodies and artifacts here. Irvine’s climbing ice hammer had been discovered. Nothing conclusive have been put together and neither Irvine or Mallory’s body had been definitively identified. This team hoped to search near a location where these “English” bodies had been reportedly sighted (in the 1960s) and then summit to determine if they in fact could have made it from this side with the climbing technology at the time and what could have possibly happened from there.

In the first day Mallory’s body is discovered. The team later makes a summit successfully and then returns down. They also find an oxygen canister from the 1924 expedition. Artifacts from Mallory’s body along with information garnished from their climb – and details and notes from the expedition help the team put together their conclusions.

Fascinating read. This book had lots of pictures in it – including some of Mallory’s body. It really is a great story. I’m curious to see what the BBC did with it, and might even get a hold of the DVD.

Recommend this book for those who love stories of adventure in the great outdoors and history. This book is not overly detailed so it will appeal to anyone who loves those topics.

There are lots of different stories of Everest – conquest and death go hand in hand on the mountain.  Great reads for adventure lovers, but be prepared for the heartache. Don’t forget to check out the documentaries on the mountain.  Both Netflix and Amazon Prime have a good selection to choose from to follow up on a mini-obsession on the mountain!





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