Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Everest season

This year's Everest season is producing yet more mountaineering firsts. Jordan Romero, at the age of 13, has become the youngest person to scale the summit, while last week Bonita Norris claimed the title of youngest British woman to get there. However, lest anyone think climbing Everest it is a pushover, the Observer printed an account of just how dangerous the mountain can be.

Another climber going for a record is Duncan Chessell who is aiming to become the first Australian to climb Everest three times. On the descent he plans to look for the body of Andrew 'Sandy' Irvine, which, if found, will prove an Englishman got to the summit 30 years before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Irvine and George Mallory were last seen on the ascent, a few hundred metres from top, in June 1924. Mallory's body was found in 1999 but certain pieces of equipment, including cameras, and personal effects were not located. The body of Irvine has never been found.

Reading about this reminded me Mother Goddess of the World, a 1980s account of young Americans looking for Mallory and Irvine. Don't worry if you haven't heard of this infamous expedition as it's one of four stories that make up Kim Stanley Robinson's Escape from Kathmandu. This Nepal-based fiction revolves around the misadventures of George and Freds, part of the US expatriate mountaineer/traveller community.

Mother Goddess sees George unwillingly roped into climbing Everest with Freds and an oft-reincarnated Tibetan Guru, while on a mission to hide the bodies of the 1920s climbers from an expedition - not unlike Chessell's. Other characters include some naive English climbers and a documentary filmmaker who specialises in voyeurism. It's a hilarious tale that should be read alongside all the po-faced news reports about Mallory's tweed jacket, lost film etc, etc.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Solo voyage round the world

After seven months and 23,000 nautical miles in her boat Ella's Pink Lady, Jessica Watson,16, has become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. While there is a dispute over whether or not she has sailed quite far enough to enter the record books, this is still a formidable achievement. Watson has hit back at her critics but whatever happens she's set to become a celebrity with a planned whirlwind "Meet Jessica" tour and soon to be published book.

This may seem a world away from Joshua Slocum, the first person to sail single-handedly around the world (1895-1898), but he also used the media by financing the three year voyage by a lecture tour en route.

No mention of Slocum is complete though without including the following stories. Firstly, the line that he sailed with only a compass, sextant and an old tin alarm clock which had lost its minute hand but which kept the hours after 'I boiled her.' Plus, the tale of how he once sprinkled carpet tacks on his ship's deck to deter barefoot pirates in Tierra del Fuego who boarded his boat as he slept.

On completing the Boston to Sydney section, the Guardian published the following on November 11 1896:

More detail followed on December 8 1896:

Monday, 10 May 2010

Wilfred Thesiger: A centenary exhibition

Next month sees the centenary of the birth of explorer, Wilfred Thesiger. On June 3 1910, he was born in a mud hut in Addis Ababa, part of the "barbaric splendour" of the Abyssinian Empire.

To celebrate the centenary, Wilfred Thesiger in Africa, a major new exhibition at the Pitts Rivers Museum, Oxford, will show a wide selection of the great man's photographs - many for the first time. These relate to his life and travels in the continent and will also include objects he donated to the museum. There is an accompanying book, comprising of his photographs and a collection of essays. Alexander Maitland, Thesiger's authorised biographer, is one of the editors. Read an article about the exhibition here.

The above photograph is by Jane Bown, the Observer's legendary photographer. For more information see a previous Thesiger posting.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Antarctic Research Bases

The May edition of Wired features some fantastic pictures or Antarctic research bases. As the article points out, these used to be "blubber-heated shacks", but now they come in all shapes and sizes. Would they look so good though if it wasn't for the dramatic scenery surrounding them?