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Posted January 4, 2007
The south side of Everest gets most of the press, it would seem. Yet it's the north side that pioneers Mallory and Irvine nearly succeeded in scaling, in 1924 and the North Face had its full share of climbers during the now infamous spring 1996 season. Among those climbers was British film director Matt Dickinson. From the expedition's start, this is a different adventure than the one so famously recounted by Jon Krakauer in Into Thin Air. Dickinson, pursuing an adventure filming project that has his wife delivering him to the airport in tears, takes his readers along through the lengthy trip that brings Western climbers to Base Camp on Everest's Tibet side. For this 30-something father of three young children, who has never before climbed above 20,000 feet, summiting Everest personally seems like a fool's project. He's there to make a film. Not to come down with a life-threatening case of 'Summit Fever' - but that happens to him just the same, in the wake of the May 10 blizzard that catches so many expeditions unaware on both sides of the mountain. What makes this tale different from other author/climbers' accounts of May 1996 on Everest isn't just the fact that it offers a first-hand narrative of what happened before, during and after the storm on the North Face, where lives were also lost. It becomes truly intriguing as Dickinson's expedition, and others on the North Face that spring, pick up the pieces of their storm-savaged tents and equipment after the disaster. As climbers' bodies fail them, when the weather finally allows the expedition to proceed, and one by one they fall back, Dickinson finds himself joining forces with the only other expedition member able to continue. This is a grittier work in many ways than those written by more seasoned mountaineers, because so much of what those other authors find familiar - and only to be expected - is new to Dickinson. It's therefore a great read for those of us who love climbing books, but wouldn't dream of ascending a snow-clad peak ourselves. The one thing that annoyed me was the editors' insistence on converting metric measurements for American readers, every single time a measurement was mentioned. We Yanks aren't quite that dumb, I think, and it quickly became so irritating that it kept jolting me out of the story. That's my only real criticism of an otherwise first-class book.
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Posted December 13, 2012
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