Sunday, 8 November 2015

"Everest, the First Ascent "(not boring)

Everest bores me. But more emphatically, current references fill me with dismay and a mental picture of Base Camp looking more like a refugee disaster than anything to do with my personal reasons for attraction to mountains. And then I see frozen dead bodies and people who have paid huge sums with dubious motives passing by, and then queuing to climb the elaborate fixed ropes on the Hillary  Step.

So, when Gimmer, who comments here, and who is a lifelong friend from school and scouting days pressed an Everest book upon me I was not immediately enthused, but Gimmer's almost hyperbolic recommendation, and insistence that this was something so different and staggeringly revealing had me swayed.

EVEREST, The First Ascent by Harriet Tuckey is the complex biography of Griffith Pugh, a member of the successful 1953 expedition written by his daughter. To say much more would be a spoiler, but I wholeheartedly support Gimmer's approbation.

Many mountaineering books are badly written by climbers whose talents were more suited to the mountains than the written page. Harriet Tuckey is not a climber. She has a first class honours degree in English Literature and a postgraduate diploma in the History of Art from the Courtauld Institute, not that such qualifications guarantee good writing, but I was hooked all the way through -  the book is fearlessly well written and was meticulously researched over an eight year period.


Roderick Robinson said...

WARNING: If you're tempted to comment on this comment please, I beg of you, read mine all the way through first.

To some extent you were foreshadowed with this post - and by Father of all people. He had read Hunt's account of the Everest and found it one of the most boring books of all time. Pugh wrote his own account some years later (I think) and in a letter Father drew my attention to it, saying how superior it was. All the better for the fact that Pugh went on the expedition without any expectation of being in the final assault. I can't remember whether I read this book by Pugh (I also became grossed out with books about Everest), although I have read others and I'd be inclined to agree with F's opinion.

The strapline ("untold story") to Tuckey's book baffles me since it would seem to suggest that Pugh never wrote about Everest and that the above is a veritable figment.

And so it is!

It's all coming back to me. One of the comparatively unheralded climbers on 1953 Everest was Wilfrid Noyce and for some reason I've always confused Noyce's and Pugh's surnames. It was Noyce's account (South Col: One Man's Adventure on The Ascent of Everest) that so pleased Father. I seem also to remember (although by now I'm getting horribly distrustful of that function) that Hunt said to Noyce - both of them more elderly than the rest of the team - that if Tenzing/Hillary failed, the two of them would have a go. Noyce who seems to have been an all-round good egg died climbing in 1962; the phrase I always associate with his death being "in the Pamirs".

I was of course inclined to rewrite the whole of this comment hiding my appalling failure of memory. But then I thought this example of memory failure is perhaps more important than the subject of the comment; a salutary reminder to all those of us who have passed three score years and ten. Delete it as you see fit.

Sir Hugh said...

RR - I have replied to this comment by email because I did not want to summarise the book here, thereby perhaps spoiling it for potential readers. Pugh did not write a book, but without his input it is unlikely that the 1953 expedition would have been successful, but he did not receive any acknowledgement - that is the nub of the book, but it also describes the complex nature of Pugh's character, who, apart from being a brilliant scientist was an appalling father and husband. His daughter tells it all along with the pompous attitudes of the Alpine Club and the Establishment.

You have been blessed with a remarkable memory. If it is now occasionally letting you down join the club, but I reckon it is still much more competent than most.