Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Lost Explorer: Finding Mallory on Mount Everest by Conrad Anker and David Roberts

George Mallory, one of the first explorers to try to climb Mount Everest, made three attempts in the early 1920s. On his third attempt, in 1924, he and his climbing partner, Sandy Irvine, never came down. This book is about the 1999 Everest expedition that found Mallory’s body. It’s pretty interesting. How could it not be?

This book reminded me of the weird things about Everest that were hard for me to believe at first. I think I had to be exposed several times to the fact that people who climb Everest actually go up and down it several times before trying for the summit—from base camp, they climb up several thousand feet, set up a second camp, then climb back down, spend the night. Next day climb up past the second camp, set up another camp, go back down to the second camp, spend the night. They’re carrying supplies and getting used to the altitude. Well, after all, they are trying to get to the summit of Mount Everest, which is 29,028 feet above sea level. Next time you fly, and the pilot says you’ll be cruising at an altitude of 30,000 feet, just think of those people standing on Everest, waving at you.

There are other weird things, too, things that don’t fit easily into my sheltered and comfortable world. Some people just leave their empty oxygen tanks up there? They litter on the world’s tallest mountain? How could they? And guess what? When someone dies up there, they just leave ‘em, even if they know right where they are. That sounds crazy, until I think about the risk everyone up there is taking, every single minute. (In recent years, there have been expeditions to clean up the oxygen tanks and other equipment and trash left up there.) Bottom line is, though, that Everest is a whole different world, and people just aren’t supposed to be that high up. But they go. It’s fascinating and amazing—you have to be a special kind of crazy to try to climb Everest. And if you are, chances are I want to read about it.

Anyway, The Lost Explorer is perhaps a tiny bit longer than it should be, and it’s a short book, so maybe it would have been a better magazine article. Or somewhere between a magazine article and a book. But I appreciated the historical stuff about Mallory and Irvine and what’s known about the 1924 expedition. The speculation about what might have happened to them and whether or not they reached the top was also interesting. (The first known ascent of Mount Everest was in 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, but the possibility that Mallory and Irvine might have summited before they died is intriguing.) Mostly this book satisfied my morbid curiosity about the discovery of Mallory’s body after 73 years. Definitely worth reading.

Other books about Everest: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer and Touching My Father’s Soul by Jamling Tenzing Norgay. Other books about Himalayan mountaineering and adventure: Below Another Sky by Rick Ridgeway; Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer; The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz.

No comments:

Post a Comment