on 31 December 2012
This book is one of coming of age: not in the strict novelistic way of course, but as a writer and climber. Mark Horrell, blogger and trekker, has written several excellent accounts of his trekking adventures in the Himalaya, all of which I have enjoyed. But this account, of his successful attempt to climb Everest from the North side, has elevated him and his writing to a whole new level.
The account is longer than his usual trekking publications and his writing style has grown with that extra space. I would even dare to suggest that this account is as good as Matt Dickinson's book, Death Zone which recounts a similar quest to reach the summit via the North Face.
Every gasp of thin air, every ankle-wrenching pain, is included in Horrell's narrative. I particularly appreciated his frank descriptions of fear when confronted with the terrifying precipices he encounters on summit day. I caught my breath, out loud, when reading of his desperate attempts to pass a slower climber on the way down. I have always suspected that many of those who aspire to climb Everest underestimate the rigours of that final day: Horrell has ensured that those who join a commercial expedition can fully appreciate the horrors which await them near the top.
His reaction to reaching the summit and returning safely is very honest and does him great favour: that his success is touched by the death of others is reported in a respectful way.
I wholly recommend Chomolungma Diaries and look forward to reading his full length book, which he is working on now.
on 4 May 2013
In April/May 2012 Mark went with a commerical outfit to the north side of Everest and the book is basically his diary entries, as-is almost. The writing is fluid and easy going and I soon disappeared into the story, which seemed to be one of the grinding tedium of base camp broken often by outrageous alcohol consumption, or so it seemed. It was a bit of a shock to find out how large these base camp areas are, while up at Advanced Base Camp (ABC) you can't even escape the noise of thumping stereos.
But this boredom and frustration is just the necessary backdrop to the eventual summit push, wonderfully written over several chapters and vividly perceptive in that the descent is always in the back of his mind rather than the summit as the end in itself. The characters aren't fleshed out in any detail as it's a fairly short book but this means the action is constant once the summit attempt is underway. Mark's character observation fills in just enough to place himself in context and as I skipped over the fast moving prose each sketch would come back to me as that particular character came and went on the climb and bits clicked into place. Very subtle writing in places that I really enjoyed.
What really astounded me was the almost total reliance on others in order to get anywhere. It seemed to be a tale of pay your money, turn up and follow the fixed ropes. The entire north side of Everest was in limbo while the Chinese/Tibet rope fixing crew worked their way up the ridge with all the teams following behind and being allocated their departure time on summit day to leave camp 3 and go for it. Having said that, following fixed ropes is no easy task for anyone and Mark puts this nicely in context at the end of the book with a fitting commentary on the process. One of personal achievement rather than the mountaineering world domination of the big hitters. It's his story, his struggle and his achievment told in his own, inimitable way.
The fast pace is no doubt down to the source material coming direct from his diaries but one thing I found a little jarring was the inclusion of photographs. The writing is wonderfully descriptive in just the right amount. None of the gushings of Mallory he quotes when on the north col, just enough for you to paint a picture of the terrain to feed your imagination. For instance, I was gripped reading of the ascent to the 'Ladder of Death', only to be jolted back to the living room by a picture of it. I quickly forgot what it looked like though and continued with my own imaginative version constructed from the vivid writing.
There is wry humour aplenty and I laughed out loud quite a few times, almost spilling my cuppa at some of the scenes and characters while the account of the ascent reminded me of the time I climbed the Matterhorn and I came very close to understanding some of the feelings he describes on that day.
The book ends with terribly poignant observations of events during summit day. Personal reaction to what occurred and what might have been, if only...
This isn't a book for the gung-ho. There are no injections direct into the ganglia on Annapurna to save frostbitten body parts. There are no dragging of severed limbs across jagged rocks or manly chested chisel chinned guides hauling wailing clients to their doom. But there are arse feathers flying, near disaster thawing a frozen pee bottle and a mad Russian trying to drag a six foot cross to the top without the Chinese finding out.
This book is an honest account of one bloke's trip to Everest, the hard way, for him and told beautifully. I'm so glad I got it!
on 12 December 2012
I have read most of Mark Horrell's "footsteps on the mountains" series and have enjoyed them all and have been looking forward to him writing and releasing this one since he stepped off that Big Himalayan giant 6 months ago. I have read many Everest books and I like them all as I am very interested in the subject matter. They are however very similar in that they usually concentrate on a tragedy that occured or are a bit over dramatic and you cannot help but feel that there is a touch of exaggeration and am left wondering if all you read is really an accurate account of what happened. This is where this book is different as, like the title suggests it is an accurate account of what many commercial trips up Everest must be like. It is a diary of events that have ups and downs with feel good moments mixed with the events of sadness that occur high up the mountain. None of these are written for dramatic effect, they simply occured. I particularly enjoyed the way that the respect towards his main Sherpa, Chongba, came across. Mark makes no hesitation in suggesting he could climb the beast without the help he gets from the team and would not class himself as a the greatest mountaineer in the world but he is highly skilled and experienced and it clearly comes across that however much assistance you get, its still you that has to put one foot in front of the other and risk your life to accomplish your dreams. I was expecting this to be my favourite book in the series and was not dissapointed. They are all good, but this was great. If you have a slight interest in climbing, trekking or Everest you have to download this. Its a great read. Can't wait for the next one.
on 29 December 2012
I downloaded this book on a whim, ever since I've come back from travelling I've had a bit of an obsession with reading travel books. To be truthful I didn't expect to enjoy it, I'm scared of heights and the thought of climbing a mountain (especially one that people die on frequently!) leaves me cold. But it was boxing day and I had nothing else to read...
I was completely hooked from the beginning. He writes so enthusiastically, I felt I was there every step of the way (with my eyes closed and clinging on for dear life of course)and I finished it in a day. Very down to earth, likable and compulsively readable- it's definitely worth a read, even if you have no interest in mountaineering, like me. And at the price, it's well worth a try. I'll definitely be looking up his other travel diaries.
on 18 June 2013
Mark Horrell has evidently written several books relating his climbing exploits but this is the first I have read. Based on his diary entries, it is the account of his climb of the north side of Everest (Cholmolungma) with a commercial organisation in 2012.
To start with, I found the narrative a little pedestrian and even wondered whether I might bother to finish it. But as the story unfolded, its pace quickened and became quite gripping. I guess much of the content of the tale was rather old hat to those with experience of this kind of venture or who have read much on the subject, but to me, as a complete novice, it was a revelation.
I had not realised before reading this, how many were each day attempting the climb, how commercial was the overall enterprise, how much the terrain had been despoiled by the paraphernalia and detritus which countless expeditions had left behind, how much of a 'highway' routes up the mountain had become, with ropeways and ladders semi-permanently in place, but most of all, how many each year, despite safety arrangements, lose their lives on the mountain and whose bodies are frequently left. It made me realise how truly magnificent was the 1953 conquest of Everest by Hillary and Tenzing.
I felt that Horrell could have done a little more to explain to newcomers to the subject, some of the technical aspects of climbing at high altitudes. For instance, I took some while to get to grips with the concept of 'rotations' which I came to understand are repeated limited ascents, followed by descents in order to acclimatise to the reduction in the availability of oxygen as altitude increases. But these were minor matters. Despite the commercial nature of much of the climbing, the book succeeded in convincing me of two things - that the Sherpas who provide the support network for the climbers are truly magnificent beings, and the climbers themselves are brave souls with real expertise and undoubted courage.
In addition, as the book progressed, I increasingly came to appreciate the quality of the writing - so much so - that despite only limited interest in the subject, I am tempted to read more of Mark Horrell's offerings.
on 10 May 2013
Everest has been in the news a lot recently, and for all the wrong reasons. The press often seems to take a perverse delight in preying on the negative aspects on climbing the highest mountain in the world. Many of the complaints about Everest have become tired cliches, often repeated by armchair mountaineers who have never been anywhere near the mountain: "It's just a walk" ... "Everest is a complete circus" ... "No real mountaineer worth his salt would go near it" ... "It's overrun by rich idiots with no climbing experience." I'm sure you've heard them all, but are they true?
Mark Horrell's brilliant little book has a simple but noble aim: to tell the truth about Everest, from the perspective of a mountaineer who has actually been a member of a commercial expedition.
It's written in the manner of a travel diary. I was struck by the immediacy and honesty of the writing. There is no flowery prose or philosophising here; the author simply describes his Everest adventure in a straightforward but engaging way, taking us through the ups and downs of the expedition. He paints a vivid picture of Base Camp life (which largely consists of drinking!) and proves that Everest certainly is not a straightforward walk, even in the 21st century: it's a brutal struggle and a real challenge still.
He also proves that most people who tackle Everest are *not* rich idiots without an iota of climbing experience, but are experienced, dedicated mountaineers who have planned and saved for many years in order to realise their dream. The author's respect and admiration for the Sherpas is also tangible.
All in all this is a great travel book that (in my opinion) should be required reading for everyone with an interest in Everest. For a mountain surrounded with a great deal of hyperbole, legend, and half-truth, it provides a refreshing dose of honesty and perspective.
on 28 October 2015
I've read a lot of books by pioneering superstar mountaineers suffering their way through first ascents and dealing with the consequences of the whole gamut of calamities in the high mountains. This book is different, being a short account of how to get to attempt Everest the "easy" way - as a paying client on a commercial expedition. Mark's diary is written in straightforward style, providing a stripped back but engaging narrative of his climb. His modest account belies the courage, effort and will to succeed that any climber, regardless of experience/ability needs to tackle the high mountains. Whilst his account is honest and spare, it certainly left me feeling that not just any reasonably fit hillwalker can clip onto a fixed rope and walk (with oxygen) all the way to the top of the world.
Recommended, but it isn't "Touching the Void".
on 6 February 2013
The latest of Mark's 15 (?) personal diaries following his years of trekking, gradually getting higher and higher until this ultimate Everest Challenge. The diaries are a 'must read' for anyone even thinking of some of the more adventurous treks in the world. The diaries are all fairly short, gritty, often very funny, and brutally honest about the trials and tribulations of climbing mountains. The diary gives a day by day account of the journey in to base camp and the build up to the summit day. It is no secret that Mark summited in his first attempt, a remarkable achievement. The physical and mental exhaustion is palpable and the diary is surprisingly dark in the final chapters, lacking the normal jubilation of a successful climb. A good read, nonetheless, and devoid of the normal "get to the top or die trying" machismo of some Everest books.
on 2 February 2013
This is a great read with such an insite into how commercial expedition's are so much more involved than an expedition with just experienced alpine clmbers climbing for their own achievments, It was very well researched and the work that goes into protecting a clients life, from both professional team leaders, and the highly skilled Sherpas, is quite extraodinary, As usual Mark Horrel's book is full of excitment and interest, and just to read about the spellbinding beauty of the magnificent Everest, is a always a joy, " a must for all armchair Mountaineer's, " Shelagh,
on 3 December 2015
I read this diary over the course of a month or so on & off on my kindle & have to say I really enjoyed it. I'm interested in mountaineering, hiking & all things Everest & if like me you're keen to learn what it's like to be on a commercial expedition to the summit of Mt Everest then look no further. The diary is written in short chapters with pictures inserted in the text to illustrate what the author is describing & I found this to be a great way of reading the record of one man's trip to the roof of the world. I'll definitely be reading the author's new book soon.