Showing posts with label Sir Edmund Hillary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sir Edmund Hillary. Show all posts

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Outdoor literature: Mountaineering books

Some books on mountaineering I found interesting

An important note: I am not a mountaineer, I have no pretensions to be one, I occasionally walk up mountains but I have no aspirations to climb Everest or any other really big mountain.
Any comments I make are therefore as a layman.
I have been slowly reading my way through some of the "classic" books about mountaineering and Mt Everest. There seems to be a veritable mountain of books on the subject: some of them are very informative, some mediocre others appear as apologia for one point of view or another. 

 I became interested in the subject after reading an anthology of articles on Mt Everest. It was excellent as a first introduction to the subject and lead to further reading. I intend to review a few of these books and may make comment on points raised within them.

View from the Summit: Sir Edmund Hillary

This is a book written by Ed Hillary in 1999, towards the end of his life. It is an autobiography of his climbing career and subsequent adventures in Antarctica and around the world. Sir Edmund Hillary is a kiwi icon, but I knew very little about his climbing apart from the famous Everest ascent. He had quite a respectable climbing career both in New Zealand and the Himalaya.

 He also covers his expeditions to Antarctica and the Ganges river as well as dealing with his charitable work in Nepal.
His writing style is spare: he was no journalist or professional writer, yet engaging none the less.

You do strike the odd cringe worthy passage, he writes several times about booting/kicking Sherpas/porters and refers to a intellectually handicapped person as a "cretin". I found this jarring but it is probably indicative of Hillary being a man of the 40-50's rather than anything else.
I enjoyed this book and would recommend it as a good introduction to his history and writing style.

High Adventure: Sir Edmund Hillary

Another book by Ed Hillary this is his story of the lead up and climbing of Mt Everest in 1953. He covers aspects of his early years, the 1951 New Zealand expedition to the Himalaya, and the 1952 & 1953 British expeditions. The book is full of anecdotes about his time in the mountains, people he worked with, met and mountains climbed.

I was struck by how primitive and at the same time how advanced they were. Their organisation and siege style were the same as the 1930's British expeditions, yet their basic climbing techniques and gear are still in use today.

As Ive said earlier, Hillary's writing style is straightforward, but for all of that I really enjoyed this book, more so than his later writing efforts. I love the small details such as what he and Tensing ate the night before their summit of Everest (sardines/biscuits/dates/lemon drink and a frozen can of apricots in juice). It is the kind of climbing book I enjoy, what they did rather than how they felt.

This is an excellent volume about post war climbing in the Himalaya, go find a copy.

Annapurna: The First Conquest of an 8,000-Meter Peak, Maurice Herzog

Annapurna was the first 8'000 metre mountain to be climbed, it was conquered by a French team in 1950 lead by Maurice Herzog. It included a stellar list of the best French climbers and success was seen at the time as a matter of national pride.

The expedition to Annapurna was quite controversial, although they managed to reach the summit, several of the climbers ended up with frostbite injuries. There was a certain degree of disorganisation to the climbing plans, and several of the other climbers later spoke disparagingly of Herzog's leadership.

This book is considered by many people as the first (and possibly best) book ever written about climbing.  Although I enjoyed this book, the style did not really suit my taste. There is no doubt that it is very well written but because it was made in the 1950's it has a particular "boys own adventure" feel to it. It is full of lofty prose but light on actual detail of what they did on the mountain.

A must read if you are interested in the history of post war climbing

Lost on Everest : the search for Mallory & Irvine, P. L. Firstbrook

Who were the first two men to summit Mt Everest?

On June 8, 1924, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine left their tent high up on the NE slopes of Mount Everest and climbed into history. They were seen at 12:50 pm just 800 feet from the summit and “going strong for the top”. Within minutes, Mallory and Irvine had disappeared in a snowstorm and were never seen alive again.

What happened to these two pioneering climbers is perhaps the most famous mystery in the history of mountaineering. For over 75 years there has been fierce debate over whether they were the first to reach the summit, doing so 29 years before Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. In March 1999 an expedition primarily sponsored by the BBC climbed to the North Face of Everest. The discoveries of this expedition became front page news around the world.

This is a gripping book, it fully explores the events leading up to Mallory and Irvine’s historic attempt to reach the summit, and gives a dramatic first-hand account of the search expedition. I could not put it down.