White Limbo: The First Australian Climb of Mt. Everest. Lincoln Hall. Kevin Weldon, McMahons Point, 1985. 262 pages, color photographs, route diagrams, map, glossary. $40.00 (US).
The rich and varied lore of mountaineering literature devoted to Mount Everest ranges from the classic official accounts of the British expeditions to the mountain in the 1920s and 1930s to Walt Unsworth’s definitive history, Everest: A Mountaineering History. One of the most recent entries in an already crowded field is White Limbo, the provocatively named account of the successful 1984 Australian ascent of the North Face by mostly a new line.
What is most appealing about this book is the unusually productive combination of superb mountain color photography and Lincoln Hall’s excellent, tightly written account. In most books of this kind, either the writing or the photographs predominate. Here, there is a remarkable balancing of the two with—of all things—a nearly flawless tracking of photos and text event-by- event.
Hall writes from the compelling perspective of one who had strong ambitions for the summit, but was sensitive enough to his personal limits, due to old frostbite injuries, to turn back just below the Yellow Band. He could only watch three of his companions go on toward the summit. It must have been disappointing to Hall, but when the exhausted summiters returned to high camp, he provided the essential support that saw Greg Mortimer, the most seriously affected from the altitude, successfully down the mountain. Andy Henderson was not so fortunate. With severely frostbitten fingers, he turned back a mere fifty meters below the summit. Once back home, Henderson underwent extensive surgery on his damaged hands.
That the Australians ever got themselves in a position to make a summit push is remarkable. Early in the expedition, avalanches nearly wiped out their Camp II on the face and buried a cache of gear at its base. Tim McCartney-Snape had to resort to cross-country ski boots, establishing a unique altitude record for such footgear.
The Australian climb was carried out in the finest style above the highest fixed ropes at nearly 24,000 feet. No oxygen was used by any of the climbers, making it, after Messner’s solo ascent, the only time a new route has been completed on Everest without the benefit of supplementary oxygen. Hall’s book is more satisfying than simply another recounting of a successful climb, mainly because of the strong message one draws from the pages of White Limbo: It is possible to climb an Everest with a small group of friends who have an experience imbued with happiness and mutual respect.