I was saddened when I heard that the Chinese had closed the north side of Mount Everest in the run-up to the Olympics in Beijing. And for selfish reasons. I’d become a big fan of Discovery Channel’s “Everest: Beyond the Limit” series, which is filmed in April and May and later broadcast in the fall and winter months. Unfortunately, with only the Chinese Olympic torch team allowed to climb the north face of the mountain, the usual stars of the show were shut out.
Gratefully, I’ve found plenty of books to stoke my imagination of one of the more epic places to climb. And like most readers of these books, it allows me to vicariously live out an adventure that I have little to no chance of experiencing first-hand. If you’re into adventure/survival stories, check out these titles:
– “No Shortcuts to the Top,” Ed Viesturs. An autobiography of the climbing career of America’s finest high-altitude mountaineer, Ed Viesturs. He describes how he first came into climbing, his initial adventures in the Pacific Northwest and his eventual forays in the Himalayas. Viesturs is one of a handful of people who have climbed all 14 8,000-meter peaks. His descriptions of those climbs – and his great care to make sure people know how cautious he is — makes for an interesting account of how one leads this sort of life and lives to tell about it.
– “High Crimes: Mount Everest in an Age of Greed,” Michael Kodas. Written by a Hartford Courant journalist and mountaineer whose two summit bids on Everest ended short of his goal. The real story, however, is in the dark underbelly of the Everest scene which can be at times plagued by theivery, deceit, violence and a careless disregard for the lives of others. He goes into great detail about some of the major players on Everest’s north side climbing scene, and the picture isn’t always pretty. Kodas is quite the photographer, too, and some of his pictures are tremendous.
– “Dark Summit,” Nick Heil. A well-researched account of the 2006 climbing season. An unusually high number of people died on Everest that year, many needlessly so by some accounts. There were also great survival stories, like that of Lincoln Hall, who was left for dead more than 28,000 feet up the world’s highest mountain. It’s also a great backstory of season one of “Everest: Beyond the Limit.” I’m still reading this one, and I’m enjoying every page.
– “Into Thin Air,” John Krakauer. This is the granddaddy of modern Everest books. Krakauer, a fine narrative writer and himself an accomplished climber, originally went to Everest in 1996 to climb and write about how commercialized the scene had become. What he got instead was a first-hand look at the mountain’s deadliest season. Unlike the first three books mentioned here, this one is set on Everest’s south face in Nepal, and it traces the same route taken by Sir Edmund Hillary. Bad weather, poor decision-making, woeful inexperience and tragic coincidences made those days in May 1996 some of the worst in mountaineering memory and for very compelling reading.
Pick any one of these up and enjoy.
– Bob Doucette