Everest ’96 Produces an Avalanche of Books

A satirical view of the Everest Cult           by Peter Marsh

So you think Everest is getting crowded? You should have seen the book-signing line when David Breashears came to Portland! The man who shot the IMAX Everest film was on tour for his new book High Exposure, another entry in what I call the Everest Publishers Sweepstakes.” Ever since the deadly events of May 1996, the Information Age has seen Everest as a big mountain that means big business.

Breashears was the sixth climber hoping to cash in with a book on the Great Everest Storm. He was a late-starter, but High Exposure is off to a good start and looks like a safe bet for second place. In his talk, Breashears was modest to a fault, but he knows the course, since he’s already contributed the fabulous, wide-angle photos for Everest-Mountain Without Mercy, the coffee-table book that ought to be sub-titled Everything you Wanted To Know But Were Afraid To Ask.

His new book does cover his entire climbing career, but he wisely stuck to the Everest ’96 chapter. He knew that’s what we came for! Why not learn from Jon Krakauer, who won the race, by a vertical mile. How popular has his bestseller Into Thin Air become? If all the copies sold were piled into a single stack it would stand taller than Everest itself. I found that impressive piece of trivia in Matt Dickinson’s book The Other Side of
Everest, a promising newcomer that started in at number six and is now
working its way up through the field.

There’s only one reason publishers are still happy to keep putting their money down on the deadly season of May 1996–it sells! So you’ll find all your favorite themes making return appearances in High Exposure: the ominous clouds racing up the Khumbu Icefall, the amateurs with more money than sense, the gritty pros flunking life-and-death decision making.

Keep a handkerchief ready when the dying Rob Hall makes a poignant, private phone
call to his wife–and the whole world can’t resist listening in. Then cheer up when Beck “The Iceman” Wethers staggers into the South Col camp, back from the dead. How long before he gets lured into print? (”Left for dead: My journey home from Everest” was published afgter this was written.)

And who could forget Anatoly “Who needs a pack” Boukreev, our token
ex-Communist, and the debate over his speedy descent for a quick lunch at the South Col. If he’d listened to his agent he’d be in second place now, training for a re-match on the Jerry Springer Show with Jon “It wasn’t my fault” Krakauer. (Boukreev died a few years later in the Himalyas.)

As for the South African team, they made such a mess of the whole trip, the unofficial account is called “Ascent and Dissent.” And just when I thought the presses had ground to a halt, along came Lene “THE FIRST SCANDINAVIAN WOMAN” Gammelgaard with the seventh entry, Climbing High, to reveal to an astonished world what it
was like to be “a woman on Everest during the storm.”

With this avalanche of books and a made-for-TV movie about the South Side tragedy, you must know the ending of this soap opera by now, and you might be ready for a
change of scene. So why not try Dickinson’s book, about events on the Tibetan side? This time, the controversy centers on two Asian teams, who prove that hypoxia is as tough on them as it is on us.

The dead are three Indian climbers who started their summit day at the comfortable but suicidal hour of 8 AM. The villains are the ruthless Japanese, who ignored the dying
Indians as they made their own bid the next day. At first we were told it was human error and lack of experience, but that’s a bit harsh, so why not blame Mother Nature?

The buck was soon passed to “The Storm,” which soon was upgraded by the media
to “The Great Storm,” and finally passed into climbing legend as The Great Killer Storm.” Thus Matt “Come on, I feel great” Dickinson’s book is sub-titled “Climbing the North Face Through the Killer Storm,” although he actually climbed the North Ridge. But hey, it was dangerous enough and that North Face moniker sure did wonders for the Eiger!

Actually, Matt is a really great guy and has written a first-class book. I read it in one sitting the night before our interview. He was also making a film, called Summit Fever, which was intended to show a 60-year old, heavyweight, English actor and TV personality going for the summit (I’m not making this up).

It didn’t work out that way, and Dickinson found, to his amazement, that he was one of the two who summited. National Geographic was backing him, and continues to pour money into risky ventures–they put up the money for this year’s debacle–Everest and K2 Back to Back.

So when you’ve memorized the route on the South Side ’til you could follow it blindfold, you can add a little danger to your reading by checking out the Tibetan side of Everest. You’ll find it’s a pleasant change from Nepal. There are none of those annoying trekkers at Base Camp, just the ever-helpful Chinese Communist officials and unobstructed views the whole way.

Best of all, you’ll be following in the footsteps of the immortal English pair Mallory and Irvine, just in time for the start of the “Great George Mallory Handicap.” Yes, you read it here first! He’s been dead for 75 years but George Mallory is about to hit the big time. I’ve been assured there are at least three new books on the way, a TV special on PBS in January, and appearances on Larry King and Opra.

The old guy may be turning in his icy grave, but hey, the world needs that great quote of his : “Because It’s’ There,” made in 1924 to a pesky reporter in New York. It’s the perfect cop out and that’s what we remember most. Six years before, he had been fighting in the trenches in World War I, and must have been familiar with the hollow phrases the politicians tossed out to justify the horrendous loss of life.

It had been a very nasty business, but here he was again putting his life on the line. On his last last on the mountain, crouched in a cotton tent that was flapping like a machine gun, donning his multiple layers of tweed suit and nailed boots. he must have drawn strength from those memories of the trenches.

Like his fallen comrades, he was going “over the top” again for King and Country.
This was already his third expedition to Tibet, and he knew it would be his
last. The spirit of the Empire drove him on, when self-preservation demanded
that he turn back. We British like the right stuff in our heroes, the Charge
of the Light Brigade and all that. You Americans have a guy with the same
never-say-die spirit–General Custer.

Unfortunately, it’s his sad example that has left the upper slopes of
the great peak  strewn with corpses, a condition that Mallory would probably
find highly distasteful and very un-British. But hey, he started it all!

English Language Books on Everest 1996
Into Thin Air by John Krakauer
The Climb by Anatoly Booukreev and Weston DeWalt
Everest-Mountain Without Mercy by Broughton Coburn
Everest Free to Decide by Cathy O’Dowd and Ian Woodall/(the South African
farce)
Ascent and Dissent by Ken Vernon/(alt.South Africa)
The Other Side of Everest by Matt Dickinson
High Exposure by David Breashears
Climbing High by Lene Gammelgaard ”Left for dead: My journey home from Everest” by Beck Wethers
………………………………………………………
You might also like to try “ The Mystery of Mallory and Irvine” by
Audrey Salkeld.

PS In 2006, there was another disaster! They were Dying to Climb Mount Everest

Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season by Nick Heil

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