Mount Everest took a break from human footprints and media attention last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, but another climbing season is in full swing this month. While the summit has now been climbed more than 10,000 times, most of us will most likely touch the slopes with words on one side. If you’re one of that crowd of chair climbers, get ready to devour these new books on Everest’s most iconic historical moments, from George Mallory’s unfortunate ascent in 1924 to the jam at the summit in 2019.
“The Third Pole” by Mark Synnott
(Photo: Courtesy Dutton)
The Third Pole is the latest in a canon of books examining whether George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine were the first men to stand on Everest. The duo disappeared on June 8, 1924 during their summit meeting over the north-eastern ridge of the mountain. Mallory’s body was discovered in 1999, but the search for Irvine continues, fueled by speculation that he was carrying a camera that might contain a photo proving they were on the summit before they died. The climber and writer Mark Synnott was a member of one such search in 2019. In this book, he cleverly interweaves the story of his own Everest expedition to the northeast ridge with a convincing account of the Mallory and Irvine expeditions of 1924. In between he wraps as much Everest history as possible.
Everest fans will recognize most of the historical information in the book as Synnott relies heavily on existing sources (such as Wade Davis ‘Into the Silence and Julie Summers’ Fearless on Everest) for this part of his narrative. If all you want to do is read one Everest book this decade, make it the third pole anyway. Synnott’s prose is crisp and its story encompasses everything Everest has meant to climbers over the years. He reminds us that “the idea of climbing the world’s highest peak was once no less daring than modern space travel to Mars,” while acknowledging how many people today dismiss Everest as less of a serious challenge. Synnott refused, too, until his friend Thom Pollard gave him the idea to look for Irvine’s body. “Technically, I don’t actually climb the mountain. I do altitude archeology, ”he once told his wife while he was thinking about the idea of taking part in the 2019 expedition. Synnott soon finds himself under what he calls the “Everest Magic”.
In the end, Synnott both climbs to the top and does archeology at great heights – although forensic photography might be a more accurate description of the investigative technique that dominated his expedition, including the piloted drones by climber and filmmaker Renan Ozturk. The 2019 season on Everest turned out to be eventful, from political intrigue on the Chinese side of the mountain to “The Day Everest Broke” when eleven people died and a viral photo of Nirmal Purja drew attention to the overcrowding of the summit. Although he can’t find Irvine’s body, Synnott’s Everest experience is an exciting adventure in itself.
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“See you tomorrow” by Jeremy Evans
(Photo: Courtesy Falcon Guides)
If you’ve never heard of Marco Siffredi, the first to climb Mount Everest on a snowboard, you are not alone. Before Siffredi disappeared on his second attempt to snowboard Everest in 2002, his fame was mostly confined to his hometown of Chamonix, France. He didn’t like interviews with the media and wasn’t sponsored by any brand. “He just wanted to climb and snowboard and didn’t understand how the sponsorship worked,” says a source Writer Jeremy Evans in Until tomorrow.
Siffredi achieved his most daring feats in the late 1990s and early 2000s, before freeride snowboarding became very popular. When he disappeared, he was only 23 years old. “He was a young punk rock kid who marked the most serious lines in the Chamonix Valley and did it in real freeride style … full of bombshell lines that people traditionally rejected,” said snowboarder Jeremy Jones, telling Evans in the book. “Nobody has done that before. If he were still alive today, he would be that big name in snowboarding. “
Until tomorrow a profile of Chamonix is the same as that of Siffredi. Evans, who is himself a climber and snowboarder, writes of a city that is not only considered the birthplace of mountaineering, but also a massive cemetery for the most adventurous spirits of mankind. A chapter of the book “Death Valley” actually begins in the Chamonix cemetery. Evans writes that “the corpses are piling up so quickly” and the gravestones “are adorned with ice axes, skis and climbing ropes”. Evans argues that city dwellers are collectively traumatized by the constant fact of death in the Alps. Unfortunately, Siffredi’s older brother Pierre died years earlier in the mountains.
The best part of Evans’ book is getting to know Siffredi, whose single-minded focus might remind readers of Alex Honnold. While Evans’ prose is not always the smoothest, he writes with obvious affection and awe for his subject, and one cannot blame him considering what his sources say about Siffredi: the young man was extremely brave, but made his way no enemies. Evans claims that Siffredi’s disappearance on September 8, 2002 somewhere between the summit of Everest and Hornbein Couloir on the north face of the mountain is Everest’s biggest secret since the Mallory and Irvine expeditions. He’s doing a good case: very few bodies literally disappear there as most people die on the well-frequented summit routes. This book makes it clear that the search for Siffredi’s body was as thorough as the search for Irvine’s, for free.
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“The Next Everest” by Jim Davidson
(Photo: Courtesy St. Martin’s Press)
Jim Davidson was at Camp I on the south side of Everest in April 2015 when a severe earthquake struck Nepal and ended the Everest climbing season. His description of the chaos experienced by the Everest climbing community during this time, including the severe carnage at Everest Base Camp, is the main selling point of his new book, The Next Everest. (Disclosure: I was at Everest Base Camp during the earthquake and also wrote about witnessing the carnage firsthand.)
But there is more to this book than a disaster story. Davidson made the same choice as many others whose Everest expeditions were canceled in 2015: to return to Nepal and try again to climb the mountain. He wrestles with this decision in an authentic, insightful way and writes: “The biggest question for me was: Would returning to the mountain mess up my life or add meaning to it?” He worries about how intense the memories of his are Experience from 2015 are will affect his return and wonder whether re-exposure to the site of the disaster is “curative or harmful”. And this isn’t the first time Davidson has had to face a painful past by returning to a deadly mountain location.
The Next Everest alternates between Davidson’s time on Everest and his previous expeditions in North America. He’s not a mountain guide – he’s spent most of his career as an environmental geologist – but he’s helped on several high-altitude rescue operations and has spent an impressive amount of time in the mountains. Davidson writes about a failed summit attempt on Denali in 2002 when he was assisting a solo climber in need of rescue. to find out that his father had died while on Denali; and the death of his friend Mike Price, which happened in 1992 during a climbing incident with Davidson on Mount Rainier. Price’s death is the subject of an earlier book by Davidson, The Ledge, but the remaining trauma from that event is all over the pages of The Next Everest. His description of the return to the glacier where Price was killed is terrifying and dramatic. it also suggests the mental challenges he will face on his return to Everest.
Trauma is the real theme of The Next Everest, although Davidson would probably rather say it is about resilience: he writes in the optimistic that we can learn from this tone that permeates inspirational speeches by Everest climbers at business conferences (It is it’s no coincidence that Davidson is also a professional motivational speaker, but readers won’t mind that tone throughout the book – they’ll be too busy to root out Davidson, who appears humble and deserves his second chance at the top of the world.
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Main photo: Alejandro Moreno De Carlos / Stocksy