Friday, 21 June 2013

Book Review - Last Climb by David Breashears and Audrey Salkeld

Last climb : the legendary Everest expeditions of George Mallory by David Breashears and Audrey Salkeld

Washington D.C. : National Geographic, 1999              ISBN  07922753814

What can be said about George Mallory that hasn't already been said? Bar Hillary and Tenzing, he is surely the most famous person in the history of Mt. Everest, even though it seems unlikely he never actually summited the mountain. Scholar, soldier and one of the best mountaineers of his generation, his name will always be connected with Everest, where his remains were discovered in 1999.

This book is one of the "official" publications from that 1999 expedition, written with the full support of National Geographic, and the British Alpine Club, who provided full access to their archives. While the presentation of this book initially hits the reader as more of the coffee table variety, it is a well-written account of the first three Everest expeditions. The photographs in particular are a highlight, with some gatefolds and many full page prints.

David Breashears is an accomplished climber, and brings his climber's knowledge to the descriptions of the first reconnaissance mission, and the next two missions where the goal was to climb the Mountain. It seems fantastic now, but no westerner had ever seen Mt. Everest in any detail before the first of Mallory's three trips. Mallory's first description on viewing Everest - a mixture of awe, wonder and even fear - sets the scene for his future activities.

This book covers each expedition in good detail, covering both the climbing and organisational aspects, as well as covering the "firsts" - these expeditions taught us a lot about altitude and human physiology, and introduced the mountaineering community to the Sherpas, who have gone on to prove their absolute value to all who come to Everest.

The last section of the book discusses the fate of Mallory and Irvine, based partly on evidence from the time, and what was discovered by the 1999 expedition. Breashears, mountaineer that he is, cannot bring himself to think that the pair managed to summit, as nearly all the evidence points to their failure at the final hurdle. Even so, their effort was not surpassed for 30 years, and when Irvine's lack of high altitude experience is taken into account, it's truly remarkable they got as far as they did.

There are a few inset stories in this book, about finding Mallory, the filming of the 1924 expedition and how they used oxygen at that time - all interesting additions to the whole. My wife got this book in a bargain bin, and I'm glad she did - it's a great introduction to the earliest moves on the highest peak on Earth.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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