High Adventure

Publication Year: 1956.

High Adventure, by Edmund Hillary. 256 pages with 31 plates, 10 maps and drawings, and pen sketches by G. Djurkovic. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1955. Price, $4.50.

For decades adventure-minded readers have vicariously lived the struggles of great Himalayan climbers of the pre-war era. To the mountaineer, names such as Mallory, Shipton, Tilman, and Bauer are as familiar as that of his own climbing companion. In the post-war years a new generation of climbers has found adventure in the Himalaya no less dramatic than before. Time alone will decide which of these men has etched a permanent mark in the history of Himalayan exploration, but several names already stand out. There seems little doubt but that Sir Edmund Hillary will continue to lead the list of great climbers. His accomplishment was unique; the one act alone, in climbing to the highest point on earth, assures him of immortality.

Hillary saw considerably more of the Himalaya than the Western Cwm and summit of Everest. In "High Adventure” he has given us a highly personalized account of his adventures in the Himalaya, leading ultimately to the successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1953. His ’teen-age interest in climbing, difficult climbs in New Zealand and the Alps, and his first trip into the Himalaya are dismissed in the first 20 pages, perhaps rightly so in view of what follows. Hillary’s first exposure to the Himalaya in the spring of 1950 led quickly to a second in the fall of the same year when Eric Shipton invited him to join the reconnaissance of the southern route on Mount Everest. Here he settles down to a detailed personal account that ends two years and 10 chapters later staggering down from the South Col after the harrowing descent from Everest’s summit.

Following the reconnaissance, the Swiss attempt on Mount Everest delayed the British a year, but the time was well spent, though in some anxiety, Hillary admits, lest the Swiss succeed. Again accompanying Eric Shipton, Hillary attempted Cho Oyu, and when turned back at 21,000 feet by ice barriers, he devoted the rest of the season to exploring whole new areas of the Himalaya. In one season he made the first, and a very difficult, crossing of the Nup La, visited the sites of the early Mount Everest expeditions on the Rongbuk Glaciers, crossed from Namche Bazar to the Barun Valley, where the southern approach to Makalu was examined for the first time, and climbed, en route, a score of peaks.

More than half the book is devoted to the climb of Mount Everest. As a first-hand account by the man who did it, the book obviously is unique and essential reading for anyone even remotely interested in adventure, Himalayan or otherwise. Aided by the long and dramatic history of the mountain together with its prestige as the highest, the story of final success is compelling reading. As a man of action Hillary writes candidly and with elemental directness about the things he sees and does. There is hardly time or inclination for introspection and artful description, yet the straight- from-the-shoulder narrative convincingly carries the reader through many a storm, up many a steep ice slope, and across, sometimes into, some of the best crevasses in the Himalaya.

William Siri