From my Bookshelf: Everest History - fact, fiction and future . . .
The highest point on the planet captures the imagination of many. Some readers might have had the privilege of an ascent, while others may aspire to stepping onto the lofty vantage point, while others prefer to simply observe from the comforts of an armchair. Yet others might disparage the need to climb Everest in today's era of excess and complacency. But like a soap opera, episodes of fortitude and resilience abound around Everest. Aside from the weighty biography around the 1996 season there are other important books that cover Chomolungma - as Everest is called in the local language (which also interestingly has no word for summit: the Tibetan culture held no aspiration to step where the Gods slumber)
"To embark on something which has no material value was a vindication of the essential idealism of the human spirit"
One of the best starting points to reliving Everest history is Into the Silence. This meaty tome is a well crafted historical expose that makes enthralling reading, unveiling the realities of World War that drove the mindset, regional politics and masculine whining doubling as bravery! While the outcome is long-known this lengthy read provides an informative, riveting and interesting foundation to the history of attempting Everest, when the explorers of the day had already reached the poles.
Two further interesting pieces are best covered next: first, a movie: Wheeler's Everest details the life of Oliver Wheeler a Canadian cartography, by his great grandson. It was Wheeler who identified that all important glacial access via the Rongbuk glacier to reach the North Col. By all accounts while he covered significant ground and worked hard, yet he didn't engineer himself to Mallory. This movie doesn't dwell on this but provides a further interesting insight. The second is The Brilliant Outsider the story of another sidelined contributor to the initial expeditions. George Finch originally from Australia, and then the Alps provided significant ingenuity to clothing and the oxygen systems, whose contribution was also understated by the seemingly pompous British. His impact on modern mountaineering is definitely understated.
The question of oxygen use for a successful ascent has been long debated, with
George Finch stating: "By the inhalation of a little life giving gas, the climber does not smooth away the rough rocks of the mountain or still the storm; oxygen does not, alas, fit the wings of Mercury on his feet"
My copy of The Ascent of Rum Doodle had sadly remained unread on my shelf, complete with the treasured inscription of team-mates from my first Himalayan trip in 2011. Covid lock-down provided the perfect backdrop for this fanciful and sarcastic romp that is the story of a team's attempt of the worlds highest mountain: Rum Doodle at 40,000 1/2 feet high. The satire is clever. A 21st century rewrite would be even more ludicrous but the book does make one good point: "a contented climber is a good climber". A phrase that underpins how I support the clients in my mountain mentoring practice.
The Boys of Everest brings the Everest story into the dawn of the pre-commercialism era. Detailing the backstories, intriguing escapades and serious mountaineering achievements of the next phase of British mountaineers with Chris Bonnington often as a central figure. The focus became Everest via the direct faces once the obvious ridges had been used. Besides an informative historical narrative, this book is a fair summary before tackling some the specific reads authored by the climbers themselves eg: Joe Tasker, Peter Boardman etc.
The popularity of Everest has not waned over the decades. Hardly anyone seems to repeat the challenging faces, it is the normal SE Ridge route that bears most of the foot traffic and altitude drama. The modern day is captured and summarised in Penguins on Everest presenting a modern view of today's instagram-climbers and also providing corrective strategies after the 2014 serac fall. And if this read was not sobering enough, then High Crimes is. This book provides an inside view into the challenges of climbing Everest including congestion and resourcing, that in all honesty do need to be thought through for any modern day 8000m expedition.
Everest remain alluring: via books, media or glimpsed from Kala Pattar on the world famous Everest Basecamp Trek. This blog post provides a good starting foundation to the interest and activity that surrounds Chomolungma and the mountaineers pursuit. Feel free to comment any others that you recommend?