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The Shishapangma Expedition

The Shishapangma Expedition. Doug Scott and Alex MacIntyre. The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1984. 332 pages, black and white photographs, maps, appendices, bibliography. $18.95.

The late Alex MacIntyre and Doug Scott’s account of their expedition to climb the 8012-meter Shishapangma by its unexplored southwest face is both fascinating and unusual—in large part because all six of the team members contribute to the narrative. As a result, the strengths, the weaknesses, the humor, the bickering and backbiting are all there.

The team is often at odds with one another. At one extreme is MacIntyre, quick to challenge anyone or anything that comes in the way of his overriding goal—an alpine ascent of the face. As MacIntyre writes, “The wall was the ambition, the style became the obsession.” At the opposite pole is Elaine Brook, not experienced in Himalayan climbing, but passionately interested in the country and its people. Then there’s Nick Prescott, the main organizer for the expedition, who also lacks experience. He and Elaine find themselves excluded as MacIntyre, Roger Baxter-Jones, and Scott prepare for their southwest face effort. An inevitable schism breaks out. MacIntyre is brutally honest—Elaine and Nick should take a walk. Scott tries, with only limited success, to act as a go-between. Baxter-Jones prefers to leave the controversy to others. Once on the climb, however, there is only minor friction over such things as route finding and Baxter-Jones’ placement of Scott’s prized titanium piton.

The book includes one hundred pages of appendices. Much of this material might have been incorporated in the text or, in some cases, omitted altogether. Appendix V, which reveals Scott’s holistic views on medicine, is interesting, but Appendix I, “Early Buddhism in Tibet and Milarepa” is, at best, sketchy.

The Shishapangma story is more than a conventional account of an expedition. The interweaving of several voices throughout the text gives it the ring of truthfulness rare in this genre.

Andy Tuthill