Everest: De los Andes al Himalaya. Gastón Oyarzún. SEL Publicaciones, Santiago, 1984. 197 pages, black and white and color photographs.
Reinhold Messner once said that the age of national Himalayan expeditions had come to an end. This assertion has proven premature in the case of Third World countries. The author of this book, Gastón Oyarzún, has led two national expeditions from Chile: in 1979 to Gasherbrum II, when he became the first Latin American to reach the summit of an 8000-meter peak and in 1983 to Everest, when Oyarzún and his companions had to turn back 500 meters below the summit. This book is the story of an attempt on Everest by the standard route from the Chinese side, a story that has been told many times before. The book will appeal mainly to those who may wish to see Himalayan climbing through the eyes of Latin Americans.
During the expedition, Gino Casassa made an illegal solo ascent of Changtse, the 7500-meter peak north of Everest’s North Col. This was a noteworthy, albeit irresponsible exploit—the peak had only been ascended once previously—but the author dismisses the climb in three paragraphs. It would have been interesting to learn of the conflicts this brought on between Casassa and the other expedition members and to hear the reaction of the Chinese authorities. Casassa, who is the outstanding climber of the younger generation in Chile, was subsequently expelled from his country’s Mountaineering Federation, and will probably never again be allowed to participate in a national Himalayan expedition for the rest of his climbing career. A brief account of the climb appeared in the 1984 A. A. J.
Pinned down by bad weather at Camp VII, the Everest climbers faced an agonizing choice: a desperate summit bid, or retreat. The climbers’ thoughts and desires, recorded as they spoke to Base Camp by radio, form the most affecting part of the book. In the end, the Chileans came to the realization that, it was more important to return to their loved ones than to reach the summit and perish.
During the descent, Oyarzún nearly died of cerebral edema. A bottle of oxygen left by the Chinese in 1975 saved him. “Everest has given me immense respect for life itself,” he writes. “We gave it everything we had and failed, but we are grateful to be alive. Meanwhile, the mysterious attraction of a summit unattained remains, and with it, the yearning to reach for it.”