Thursday, 3 October 2013

More Armchair Mountaineering - A Woman's Place

I am also re-reading Arlene Blum's book about her all woman Annapurna expedition.  Many years ago I read Maurice Herzog's account of his climb.  Was that the first successful one?  I must just trek off into the net and find out - yes, it was, and he was also the first to climb a peak over 8,000 metres (or litres, or whatever it is we have to call them these days).

How tall is 8,000 metres in real money?

What a difficult mountain it is.  So prone to avalanches.  One of the heroes of the 1996 disaster on Everest, Anatoli Boukreev, was killed in an avalanche on Annapurna.

And, tragically, while Arlene's Blum first group do make it successfully to the top, it has very much the same sad ending as the Chris Bonnington book - "Everest, the Unclimbed Ridge".   The second summit team, Alison Chadwick-Onyszkiewicz and Vera Watson, died.

They are last seen climbing towards camp 5 - are within 20 minutes of it before it becomes too dark to go on filming.   Radio calls to the camp that night go unanswered.  The next day, and the next, there is silence. And nothing is moving on  the mountain (beyond the avalanches).  And  here is the problem. Clearly they are in trouble up there, but everyone else is too exhausted to mount a rescue attempt.

Finally, after 3 days, some of the Sherpa support team are recovered enough to go. And they find them. They obviously fell just before they made camp 5, so just after they were last seen. They fell a thousand feet, still roped together.  Their bodies were left on the mountain.

There is a memorial to them at the base of the mountain.  And I hope that they remain in Jehovah's memory, and will live again when the time comes.

However, all my reading, fascinating though it was, has underlined the fact that mountaineering is a gamble with a precious human life.  It doesn't matter how skillful you are, how careful you are, how experienced you are, you can be swept away in a moment.

Should I be buying books about it and reading them?   Why am I?  Partly perhaps it is the climbers themselves. They are fascinating people, and so different from me. They are so brave. Whereas I am a wimp, and would probably stay at home all the time, wrapped up in a box of cotton wool, on my sofa - if it weren't for my fear of cotton wool poisoning, and of falling off my sofa face down into my cup of tea.  I must remember never to climb on to it unroped.

Actually, my life is pretty ideal for a couch potato at the moment, in that I still can't do all that much, without getting completely exhausted.  i am hoping that, IF Captain B is free for chauffering duties I can get to the Meeting on Sunday.  I was planning to go tonight, but he has put his foot down, firmly. And he is my carer at the moment.  He has just bought me my morning coffee - purr purr - and my breakfast (oats with apple).

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