Monday, October 28, 2013

The Mountain: My Time on Everest

You could say there are two books in The Mountain: My Time on Everest. There’s chapter one, and then the rest of the book.

I have to say that I really struggled with the first chapter of The Mountain for some reason. To me it seemed unfocused and lacked flow. Author and world-class climber Ed Viesturs kept interrupting the narrative of the story of his first climb on Mt. Everest with anecdotes from other climbs and climbers, and from my standpoint, completely disrupted the flow of the read. I must confess I almost threw in the towel at that point.

Once I got past that first chapter, however, there was a noticeable difference in the flow and readability of the book.

Although Viesturs never intended to split the book into the two parts described above, he did intend to split it in another way. The book’s chapters alternate between his own personal experience with the mountain, and an historical overview of climbing on Everest. Viesturs discusses some of the early British attempts on the mountain, including George Mallory’s three expeditions. Subsequent chapters provide overviews of Edmund Hillary’s first summit, Reinhold Messner’s first Everest summit without bottled oxygen, the fatal debacle of 1996, as well as the first American summit in 1963, which included the daring attempt by Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld to scale the unclimbed West Ridge. Viesturs also discusses the highly controversial Chinese expedition of 1960 when one climber purportedly took his boots and socks off in order to gain traction up the Second Step - only a couple hundred feet below the 29,035-foot summit!

Viesturs also lays out his own personal history on the mountain, having made 11 attempts, and reaching the summit on 7 of those occasions. He provides insights into his first climbs as a guide, his inclusion in the 1990 international Peace Climb, his role in a couple of film making expeditions on Everest, as well as the compelling story of how his climbing buddy almost died as a result of a mucus plug.

Although the vast majority of the book was an interesting look into the history of the world’s highest mountain, there were a couple of occasions where Viesturs left his readers hanging. For example, in one case he mentions the “mysterious” death of Chantal Mauduit while she was in her tent at 21,500 feet on Dhaulagiri in 1998, but he provides no other details on why this was a mystery.

In 1997 Ed climbed Everest as part of a research team to find out what happens to the minds and bodies of climbers at extreme altitudes. However, he didn’t mention any of the scientific findings from this project.

I was also baffled by a passage regarding the 1960 Chinese expedition. Although the evidence is pretty overwhelming that the Chinese lied about their first summit, Everest historian Walt Unsworth still concluded that the Chinese story may have been factual. Viesturs states that he’s puzzled by this conclusion, which he absolutely should be. However, in the very next paragraph, Viesturs says, “It’s within the realm of the conceivable, as Unsworth states, that they did indeed make the first ascent of Everest from the north in 1960”.

Okay, so these might be a little bit nitpicky, I’ll agree. But overall The Mountain is a really good read, especially for those looking to discover a broader perspective on the history of Mt. Everest.

Hiking in the Smokies

1 comment:

Gayle said...

I'm intrigued with the idea that it's two books in one. It sounds like an inspiring book and a real treasure.