5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Justifiably a classic,
This review is from: The White Spider (Paperback)
Harrer has researched the history of the seminal attempts on this vertical mile of rock in meticulous detail and as a result this book gives a rich picture of the physical and spiritual strength required to achieve this most famous of summits. His account of their own first ascent is gripping yet prosaic; I found this style perfectly conveyed the necessary drama without tipping into self-indulgence, which is also mostly absent from his descriptions of later attempts. What struck me very much was the capriciousness of fate when attempting the North Face; the difference between the heroic first successful summit and the many failed attempts surrounding it is a stone falling here, or a snow slide there. Perhaps to say luck plays a part is not correct, but the catalogue of experienced, respected names to have perished there, often without making any obvious errors, highlights the fine line between getting up and down alive or not.
On the negative side, and the reason for four stars instead of five, is Harrer's over-egging the difference between climbers and non-climbers; something I find Joe Simpson guilty of too. It becomes grating to read every few pages that all climbers are salt-of-the-earth good eggs, uninterested in fame, and how every non-climber cannot possibly understand what drives climbers to do what they do. I don't believe that humility and kindness are the preserve of climbers alone and I do believe that non-climbers are perfectly capable of appreciating outstanding feats of human endeavour. (Luckily I was forewarned about the condescension with which Harrer describes the first women climbers attempting the North Face.) The brotherhood in climbing circles was self-evident in the number of guides and volunteers ready to respond to a cry for help immediately and from long distances. The oft-repeated image of colleagues waiting on the summit, having climbed one of the less demanding routes to the top, to welcome the successful party off the North Face, spoke more about camaraderie than relentlessly hitting readers over the head with descriptions of the unique spirit of fellowship enjoyed by climbers.
In spite of this Harrer is to be commended on describing every climb in detail without becoming too technical or melodramatic. His undisguised admiration for those he describes is authentic and touching, and in spite of having much to blow his own trumpet about, he modestly relegates himself to merely another actor in the ongoing drama of the North Face. This is not a book for those looking for a story of great adventure, it is a thorough monument to all those brave spirits, who made it back or not, who could not resist the call of the mountains.