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The Everest Years: A Climber's Life

The Everest Years: A Climber’s Life. Chris Bonington. Viking, New York, 1987. 256 pages, 160 photographs in color and black-and-white, maps. $24.95.

Chris Bonington has done it again. The Everest years: A Climber’s Life is his tenth book and his third autobiographical story. And as always, Chris has written a book that the reader cannot set down. The reviewer picked the volume up and did not stop reading until he had gone through the whole in one sitting.

The Everest Years covers a fifteen-year period, from 1972 on when Chris’ party first attempted the southwest face of Everest. It covers the successful but tragic climb three years later when Mick Burke kept on alone toward the summit, never to be seen again, and the 1982 expedition to the incredibly difficult northeast ridge when Joe Tasker and Peter Boardman were lost. His final Everest expedition was a Norwegian one, which he joined, not in his usual role as leader. At the age of fifty, he finally reached the summit of Everest and held the record for the oldest man to get to the top until Dick Bass broke it a week later.

As for me, I was easily as interested in his other climbs. There was the breathtaking drama of the Ogre, where Doug Scott broke both his legs descending the first pitch below the summit and had to crawl off the peak, heroically assisted by his companions. Bonington had a nearly fatal fall, broke a number of ribs and suffered pneumonia during the harrowing six-day descent in a raging blizzard. The tragedy of the west-face K2 expedition, the Kongur success and the ascent of the highest point of Antarctica, the Vinson Massif, all come vividly to life in these pages. The reviewer was naturally interested to read about the first ascent of the southwest summit of formidable Shivling since he was of the party that accompanied Chris and Jim Fotheringham to Base Camp. His personal and family life and climbs on British crags are not slighted.

The book is amply illustrated by some 160 photographs in color and black-and-white. The color pictures and most of the others are beautifully reproduced, but for some reason, the photos showing routes are invariably washed out. The fault obviously did not lie with the originals (one of the reviewer’s photos is shown and the original is clear-cut), but this is a small quibble in this magnificent and fascinating book.

Adams Carter