Everest Grand Circle: A Climbing and Skiing Adventure through Nepal and Tibet. Ned Gillette and Jan Reynolds. The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1985. 264 pages, 40 pages of color photographs, maps. $22.50.
Some time ago, while changing channels, I caught a fragment of a network TV talk show and heard the word “Everest.” It turned out to be Ned Gillette and Jan Reynolds, talking about their ski trip around the mountain. Given the combined popularity in this country of skiing and the magic of that mountain’s name, they would seem to have a hot formula.
The book that came out of the trip is big, but not too big. Competently written, it has some good color photographs; and, it tells its story in a clear, well-paced fashion. I suppose that if it disappoints in the end, it is because the story itself is not quite what it was cracked up to be. What the two authors really did was two treks and a climb, all in the vicinity of Everest—and they brought skis along. The amount of skiing actually done seems to have been quite small. Not without reason: the amount of negotiable snow in these regions is not great. And the tour could not actually be a continuous circle, because the Nepal-Tibet border could not then be crossed legally.
So the itinerary actually was as follows: fly in to Lukla, go up the Khumbu Glacier to Pumori, climb Pumori, back down the Khumbu, and then trek east (on a path two ridgelines south of Everest) before returning to Kathmandu. Then, some two and a half months later, they flew to Peking, on to Lhasa, and drove to the Base Camp for Everest north face expeditions on the Rongbuk Glacier. From there they walked—and skied—to the crest of the Lho La: here they could look down again into Nepal, before going back down to the Base Camp in Tibet. Finally they trekked out, again to the east, to be picked up by their Chinese liaison. The two authors had a number of companions for different parts of their journey, notably Jim Bridwell, who led their successful winter ascent of Pumori and joined them again in Tibet (but did not trek with them in Nepal after the climb). In the end, because of the rather contrived route, the changes in personnel, and the two disconnected segments of the trip, what we read about does not actually amount to a “circumnavigation of Everest on skis,” even though it has been sold that way.
Ned Gillette is obviously a good organizer and he has put together a good book here. Some of the segments—parts of the Pumori climb, getting lost on the Barun Glacier, swimming through rhododendron jungle in Tibet—have all the elements of really good adventure writing. The book consists of short passages written alternately by Gillette and Jan Reynolds, a device that maintains the narrative flow. It is probably carping to wish that there were more difference in the voices—perhaps the two have such similar personalities that their writing styles and thoughts sound the same.