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.

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