Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Death On High

Well-written climbing books tend to have interesting protagonists with challenging goals and simple and fascinating narratives. Among the best are Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void and Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.

The latter tells the story of events on Everest in May 1996. A storm hit the mountain when there were too many people near the top. Eight lost their lives. I remember hearing, via Radio 702, Rob Hall talking to his wife in New Zealand. Hall was on a cell phone, straddling Nepal and Tibet, just below the Hillary Step. It was night, and very cold, and I think they both knew he was going to die.

A number of climbers froze to death on the South Col, only meters from the safety of the tents. Blizzard and darkness turned an area as big as couple of rugby fields into a deadly wilderness.

So I was fascinated to read Lene Gammelgaard’s Climbing High. Lene sumitted Everest that day. And she was in the group that got lost on the col. She and another climber took advantage of a brief lull in the storm, identified the peaks of Lhoste and Everest, oriented themselves, and made it to the tents. The others were too weak to follow…

Amoung the interesting survivors were:

Sandy Pitman.

Beck Weathers.

Anatoli Boukreev

And among the dead:

Scot Fischer

Rob Hall

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