Sunday, February 22, 2009

Doctor on Everest

Doctor on Everest: A Memoir of the Ill-Fated 1971 International Everest Expedition (published by Raincoast Books) is exactly that. It is the memoirs written down by Peter Steele, senior medical officer on the 1971 journey. The writings are imperfect but he wanted them left as-is to better describe and define this memorable experience.

The team that Steele accompanied was designed to attempt to find a new route on the southwest face of the mountain. They were unable to complete the trek to the top, however, as quoted from the introduction to the book, the team "found it preferable to fail honorably on the route we had come to climb than to succeed on a route that had already seen 23 westerners."

Although the team did not succeed in blazing a new trail, had to deal with an unfortunate death of one of their team members, and were crazy enough (in my opinion) to face challenges of decreased body function due to the extreme cold (you'll never find me there!), learning about them was fascinating. It boggles my mind to think of anyone actually WANTING to subject themselves to temperatures below freezing for months on end. But they do this for a dream. They were setting out to accomplish something that no other team of people had ever done before and there is glory in that. Frozen glory perhaps, but glory nevertheless.

Steele accepted the position of senior medical officer for the initial part of the journey. He was only supposed to stay in the lower altitudes but as the team made their way further up the mountain he found himself on friendly terms with everyone and was invited to climb higher. I think the most interesting parts of this book are the letters which Steele wrote home to this wife, which are included in this book. (Again, why anyone would want to be THAT cold . . . !!!)

It's an interesting journey of struggle and determination. And although they didn't accomplish their main goal, I think Steele learned something about himself and he has published his memoirs so that others can know of the struggles and triumphs that scaling Everest demands and hands out. It's a brutal trek and you won't find me on it anytime soon. However, I don't mind reading about it from the warmth and comfort of my own home!


Stacy said...

I am with you...I am fascinated by people who have this dream. It is so dangerous and completely goes against what the human body can handle. I have yet to read any books in this category (Into Thin Air has been on my TBR list for years) but I will add this to my list for when I finally do.

Unknown said...

Did you read Into Thin Air? That book just seeped into me. I'd probably enjoy this account too. I just DON'T get people who do that sort of thing!

Alyce said...

I enjoy memoirs like this - combining survival and medicine sounds perfect!

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