Oh, wow. Well I won't be climbing Mount Everest any time soon. Not ever, and especially not since reading this book. When my travels take me to Nepal...moreOh, wow. Well I won't be climbing Mount Everest any time soon. Not ever, and especially not since reading this book. When my travels take me to Nepal I might take a trek to Base Camp, and that'll be enough to wipe me out.
In the early morning of 11 May 1996 a storm ravaged the peak of Mount Everest, claiming the lives of 9 climbers and resulting in the greatest loss of life in a single climbing season in Everest history. Jon Krakauer was in one of the teams on the mountain that night and in this book he describes not only what happened on the night of 10/11 May, but gives a detailed description of the ascent leading up to it and the aftermath. I know little about mountaineering so it was really fascinating to read about what it's like to climb the highest mountain in the world. Did you know, Everest isn't even the most technically difficult mountain to climb? I mean it's no walk in the park, but the real danger seems to come from the altitude. Oh, and the cold. Wind chill of -100 degrees? No thanks! I'm actually amazed that some people manage to climb it without supplemental oxygen, but there's a reason they call that part of the mountain above 8,000 metres the Death Zone. There isn't enough oxygen to sustain human life for very long at all. If you're there, you're dying. So it's best to get up to the top and down again as quick as you can.
I could barely put this book down. Krakauer writes clearly from the centre of the action, and it's easy to follow even if you're never climbed anything higher than a flight of stairs. When you get to Everest, you don't just get up one morning and climb to the top. You climb up a little ways, then return to Base Camp. Then you climb some more, then back down. You are so high in the air, your body needs time to adjust, so that by the time you're ready to push for the summit you've already spent several weeks on the side of the mountain. Sounds tedious, but it was fascinating to read about. You've also probably spent tens of thousands of dollars to be there, at least if you want professional guides to lead you up and Sherpas to carry all your stuff. The Sherpas are the real heroes, if you ask me.
As Krakauer points out, there's no single reason why people climb mountains. Considering the risks it seems pretty crazy, though I can only imagine how cool it must be to tell your friends you've climbed Mount Everest. But ultimately it's all very commercialized. You're there for bragging rights, your guides are there to make as much money as they can and they want to get as many of their clients to the summit as they can. If they think you can't do it, they will tell you to turn back. But the more people they can get to the top the better it reflects on them. Perhaps some deaths in 1996 could have been averted if the guides had been more strict with their clients. So says I. I sure as hell can't imagine telling someone who has paid me $65,000 and pushed themselves to the absolute physical and mental limit that they need to turn around 500 feet from the summit!
Ultimately, a disaster like this is par for the course on a place like Mount Everest. The storm itself was pretty average for Everest standards but humans are just not meant to exist at 8,000 metres above sea level. When you make the choice to go there, you know that dying is a very real possibility. You have to contend with treacherous precipices, sub-zero temperatures, and oxygen levels only a third of that at sea-level. Spend any time at such an elevation, even with supplemental oxygen, and your mental faculties rapidly decline and altitude sickness sets in. That can be deadly. There is evidence that at least one of the guides had become seriously ill by summit day. Everyone was exhausted. Barely anyone had reached the summit by the pre-arranged 2pm cut-off time - Krakauer was one of the few who had - yet instead of turning back the decision was made to keep climbing. Many of the climbers lacked experience in climbing at such high altitudes. It's all very well to sit at home and play the blame game. We always like to have someone to blame, don't we? No one saw the storm coming or knew that so many people would die. The fact is, the guides were some of the best around but when you're at the top of the highest mountain on Earth your life is in the hands of Mother Nature. If you can't accept the risks, you don't climb the mountain.
This book was written a matter of months after the disaster and I can't help but wonder what sort of book Krakauer might have written had he approached the subject after more time. He makes clear that his decision to write a book based on his original 17,000 word article for Outside magazine was a result not only of a desire to expand upon that original article without the constraints of a tight deadline and limited word space, but to correct factual errors he had made in his original article. Notably, he needed to include new information on the disappearance of Andy Harris. It is clear that at the time of writing he was suffering tremendous guilt and felt personal responsibility for many of the lives lost. He'd received some scathing criticism over the magazine article which clearly affected him, and he wanted to get his full story out there as quick as he could. I felt really bad for him while reading this book. Guilt of any kind is one of the most awful and draining of emotions to live with, especially when you feel there's nothing you can do to alleviate that guilt. I can't even imagine how it must be to feel responsible for the deaths of others. Although I understand where his guilt comes from, I had no sense from the text that Krakauer was truly responsible of any of his teammates' deaths. However, it's not my place to tell him how to react to what happened up there. I only hope that in the intervening 18 years since the disaster that he has managed to make peace with what happened.(less)
Outline: Stephen Fry decides to travel through each state in America in a black London cab. Mainly for the purposes of creating a TV show, which I hav...moreOutline: Stephen Fry decides to travel through each state in America in a black London cab. Mainly for the purposes of creating a TV show, which I haven't seen much of so far. Maybe I'll buy the DVD.
This was an enjoyable read, which only fueled my desire to see more of the US. As usual with books like this, I didn't want it to end as it felt like I was along for the journey too. If only there were more states!
I have to say, though, that this wasn't really what you'd call a 'real' journey, as in most of the things he does are very much pre-arranged and only accessible to those making a TV show, or those with massive amounts of money. Also I was hoping for a little more general information on each state - we get a very small glimpse of the lives of certain people in that state, and less of the bigger picture. I suppose that's how it's got to be though. There's only so much you can fit into a few pages.
Read this if you want a light and humorous trip through the US - and lots of nice pictures too!(less)
It was half n' half for me... To begin with I loved the restless wanderings and the idea of always being on the road, always feeling the need to get o...moreIt was half n' half for me... To begin with I loved the restless wanderings and the idea of always being on the road, always feeling the need to get out there and see the world. Plus there were some nice lines in the book, ones that made me think 'ah yeah!'. Some passages just leap off the page, you can feel the author's excitement, getting caught up in the moment, you almost feel as though you were there...
But then Dean comes along and ruins everything. I really didn't need to spend pages reading the flume of verbal diarrhea he seemed to be constantly emitting. Seems like I spent too long reading about this crazy selfish jerk. (less)
I enjoyed this book for the same reason I enjoyed Long Way Round - it gives you a good insight to some of the more obscure corners of the earth withou...moreI enjoyed this book for the same reason I enjoyed Long Way Round - it gives you a good insight to some of the more obscure corners of the earth without reading like a textbook. Also, I like motorbikes.
I found this book fascinating and it has given me a huge desire to visit Africa. Ewan and Charley are fortunate to be able to take a trip like this, and they clearly know it, and this isn't just an account of a few nice landmarks. They really got in touch with the people, being invited into people's homes and hearing their stories. The stories of the former child soldiers in Uganda particularly moved me.
On the downside, a lot of the journey seemed rather rushed. We don't get much detail on the European part of the trip at all, and the rush to get to Aswan was a little frustrating as we don't get a whole lot of information on the northern African countries. I would especially have liked to learn more about Libya, as it's a country you rarely hear much of. On a trip like this, I'd certainly be more like Ewan: wanting to take my time and take in all the sights.
Some of the silly squabbles near the beginning also did become a bit frustrating. However, it only goes to show that this is an accurate account of the journey and is far better than having everything all sugarcoated.
On an aside, sentence structure and grammar is a little dodgy at some points.
By the way...did you know Charley did the Dakar?(less)