The world’s most widely known high-altitude mountaineer reflects on his Everest career.
If you had to pick only one advantage for this fourth memoir from Viesturs (The Will to Climb: Obsession and Commitment and the Quest to Climb Annapurna—the World's Deadliest Peak, 2011, etc.), it’s that the man knows the territory intimately. These in-depth stories about and reflections on Everest by the author—who was first to climb all 14 of the world’s 8,000-plus–meter peaks (by happy accident, by his own admission)—are bolstered by world-class assists from acclaimed adventure writer Roberts (Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration, 2013, etc.). Viesturs wisely shies away from Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air territory (“Is there anything new to say about the disaster on Mount Everest in the spring of 1996? I doubt it”). Instead, the author intertwines the still-gripping stories of his summits between 1987 and 2009 with a critical eye on other legendary exploits, from the great mystery of the 1924 expedition to unique challenges presented by certain routes to unexplained hoaxes through the years. In the process, Viesturs unearths some interesting tidbits that may be well-known to his community but new to laymen. The author, who has been lauded for his compassion and assistance to other climbers, also brings an unexpected attribute: attitude. One question that continually surfaces is whether he believes George Mallory and Andrew Irvine made it to the summit before their deaths in 1924, and Viesturs is brutally candid. “My answer is this: It doesn’t matter whether Mallory and Irvine got to the summit. It’s irrelevant. They didn’t make it back down.” This is followed by the even terser admonishment: “Reaching the summit is optional. Getting back down is mandatory.”
The depth of feeling here and the writers’ hard-earned experience elevate this volume above many other books in the popular “snow and ice” genre.