>> Thursday, July 1, 2010
Ghosts of Everest by Jochem Hemmleb, Larry A. Johnson, and Eric Simonson
Publication Date: 1999
Challenges: Support Your Local Library #26, What’s In a Name 3 #6 (Place Name)
The Short Version:
Fascinating parallel telling of both George Mallory’s ill-fated 1924 attempt to summit Mt. Everest and the 1999 research expedition that found his body 75 years later.
Why I Read It:
I outlined in my post a few days ago how this book ended up coming home with me from the library, but the short version of that is I’ve had a fascination for years with stories of climbing Mt. Everest and this one featured both one of the longest lasting unknown stories and a recent expedition.
In 1924 George Mallory and Andrew Irvine left their highest camp in an attempt to become the first to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. Neither was seen alive again. For seventy-five years their story remained one of the most fascinating mysteries and myths of the mountain. Did they fall, did they run out of oxygen and succumb to the awful sit down and wait to die fate that has claimed so many on Everest? Perhaps the greater question is did they reach the summit or not. If they did, then it was nearly 30 years before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did.
In 1999 an expedition was formed to try to find out what had happened by retracing the route of the 1924 climbers and search under incredible conditions for clues to what happened to Mallory and Irvine and if possible determine whether or not they’d actually reached the summit.
The three co authors told their story to William Northdurft, but the story really does come from three key people involved in the 1999 research expedition. Jochen Hemmleb was an Everest historian who has studied the mountain and the many expeditions that sought to conquer it. Eric Simonson was the expedition leader for the 1999 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition. Larrry Johnson was a climbing enthusiast who was crucial to making this expedition happen.
The book tells the story of both the 1924 and 1999 expeditions. Moving back and forth the reader follows both teams in parallel stories, from the beginnings of the idea, to the selection of the team members, the arrival at the mountain, establishing the ever higher camps and eventually the reach for the summit.
That the body of George Mallory was actually found 75 years after he disappeared came from a combination of excellent research, excellent weather conditions, and perhaps a lot of luck.
I know I was predisposed to like this book because of my fascination with Everest stories, but it was good enough that I’m renewing it from the library so that The Hubster can read it.
It occasionally gets a little lost in the inside knowledge and jargon of Everest expeditions, particularly when describing features, camp locations and some of the details of climbing, but it really doesn’t take away from the stories at all. The way it goes back and forth between 1924 and 1999 at each of the stages is really a very interesting parallel telling. The comparisons between the two in terms of resources, equipment, and technology are remarkable.
The question of whether or not Mallory and/or Irvine reached the summit is left unresolved, but several theories are discussed based on the evidence the 1999 expedition discovered. Nevertheless that they were able to reproduce the route Mallory took and to find his body after all those years is truly an achievement. I already knew that even in modern times bodies are not carried down from Everest, but the men in this group were still able to make a better final resting place for Mallory and treated him with respect throughout the archeological research portion of their expedition
There are photographs of both expeditions, many of the artifacts that were found on the mountain and yes, even a few of Mallory’s remains. These are not exploitative at all and in fact are almost hauntingly reverent as they are on the pages where the 1999 climbers are describing their own feelings at putting a legend to rest high on Mt. Everest.
I highly recommend this book and plan to read the follow up Detectives on Everest which is about a follow up expedition two years later to learn more about what may have happened to Andrew Irvine