The Himalayas have been on my mind over the past couple of weeks. From my bookcase I’ve pulled two autobiographies in which those mountains feature prominently, by two very different men from different eras.
Why the sudden interest? My daughter has been on holiday in Nepal, undertaking a trek to Everest Base Camp. An avid reader, before she left she asked if I had anything that might be interesting. The first that sprung to mind was by Australian journalist and editor Lincoln Hall; the second by my fellow countryman, New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary, famed for being the first man to conquer Everest, in 1953.
Hillary’s book, Nothing Venture, Nothing Win, was published in 1975 and I confess I “borrowed” it from the library of the New Zealand newspaper at which I was working at that time. It still bears their ownership stamp and the words “please return immediately”. Oops. I’m not sure why I was interested in it then, but I do recall that I read it before my only visit to Nepal, in the mid-1980s. Hillary was based there at that time, as New Zealand’s High Commissioner, and I had hoped to meet and interview him (alas, it was not to be as he was not in the country when I visited).
It’s a great read, and covers many other aspects of Hillary’s fascinating life, his work in Nepal, and his polar expedition in 1958.
Lincoln Hall’s book, Dead Lucky, is sub-titled Life after death on Mount Everest, and tells the incredible tale of how Hall was left for dead after summiting Everest in May 2006. On his descent, he was overcome by high altitude sickness and was unable to be revived. The rest of his expedition party continued down the mountain in order to save themselves, and Hall’s death was widely reported around the world. Australia’s media community, in which Hall was well-known and respected, was in mourning. A day later, an American mountaineering team on the ascent was surprised – and shocked – to find him alive and able to walk and talk.
It’s an amazing tale, and Hall – one of Australia’s most experienced and best-known mountaineers – also goes a long way to explaining the call of the mountains and what drives climbers to try for the ultimate peak. Sadly, after recovering from his experiences on Everest, Lincoln Hall died in 2012 from mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer most often caused by exposure to asbestos.
For anyone heading to Nepal, both books are excellent reads. As for my daughter, she spent a little bit more time than expected in Nepal; a plane crash that closed Tribhuvan Airport earlier this week saw her stranded in Kathmandu for several days as airlines tried to re-book the 22,000 travellers affected. Did she have plenty to read? I asked. Yes, she replied: Michael Palin’s Himalaya.
Ah yes, an excellent choice…I thought I had that in my bookcase somewhere too…but it’s disappeared! I’ll have to have another look.
The book that I remember reading while in Nepal in about 1985, is The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. Published in 1978, it is an account of Matthiessen’s two-month search in 1973 for the rare and elusive snow leopard with naturalist George Schaller in the Dolpo region on the Tibetan Plateau in the Himalayas. I bought it in a second-hand bookshop in Kathmandu and was riveted by the wonderful writing as their trip becomes a spiritual journey as well. I lent it to someone and never got it back, and I’ve never been able to find another copy. Of course, when I looked, it’s for sale on Amazon! I must order one.