Sunday, August 24, 2008

Summer of Survival

I made a vow to read more books about mountain climbing this summer. I planned my literary equivalent of the "Seven Summits" to take place over the months of July and August. Unfortunately, I couldn't find one of my selections (I know it's somewhere in this damn apartment!), and the reading list theme became survival. Here they are...

Forever on the Mountain by James M. Tabor (2007)
This one's an account of the 1967 expedition on Mount McKinley (Denali) that killed seven American climbers. Not particularly well-written, and devastatingly depressing. Twelve guys went out on a somewhat foolish mission, and found that they didn't get along at all. Reminds me a bit of a European tour I did about 12 years ago.
I didn't realize Denali was considered such a difficult climb. Its location makes it much colder and stormier than most of the other major mountains.

K2 - The Savage Mountain by Charles S. Houston and Robert H. Bates (1954)
I really liked this one, perhaps because everybody seemed to get along so well. This expedition had the usual troubles people have when they try to climb a 28,000 foot mountain: lousy weather, sicknesses and death. Wonderfully dry and descriptive-- totally fifties.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (1997)
I've probably read this book a dozen times, but I read it again anyway! Krakauer really knows how to keep a reader's attention. He also specializes in hilarious, almost Penthouse Forum-esque descriptions ("As the glacier inched over humps and dips in the Cwm's underlying strata, it fractured into countless vertical fissures-- crevasses."). A fantastic book about an insane couple of weeks.
Related reading: Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer

Touching the Void by Joe Simpson (1988)
This could very well be the ultimate story of survival. I wasn't crazy about the film version, but the book is excellent. Simpson's italicized inner voice gets a little annoying, but I'm willing to give the guy a little rope here (oof!). Made me never want to try anything like this stuff.

No Shortcuts to the Top by Ed Viesturs (2006)
Refreshingly different in style from the other books, this is basically an autobiography by an average writer. Ed just tells it like it is (by page 23 he's already recounted his base camp shag of the late alpine siren Chantal Mauduit), with no frills. This book's print is impossibly tiny, almost like an enormous footnote. I thought I was suffering from hypoxia in my own bed.
Ed Viesturs climbed each of the world's fourteen peaks of 8000M or higher without supplementary oxygen. Ed's a bad mutha.

Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales (2003)
I was hoping for a treasure trove assortment of survival tales, a literary version of the TV show "I Survived". There's plenty of good stuff here, but Gonzales is more concerned with the theory of survival. Occasionally interesting, but not what I was looking for.
Related reading: Normal Accidents by Charles Perrow, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
This wasn't supposed to be part of my series (it has nothing to do with mountain climbing), but it has everything to do with survival. Easily the best book I've read in years. Devastating.

1 comment:

monster paperbag said...

Into Thin Air is such a riveting read. Haunting, too.