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Forever on the Mountain: The Truth Behind One of Mountaineering's Most Controversial and Mysterious Disasters Kindle Edition
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In 1967 seven enthusiastic and experienced climbers, from a team of twelve, lost their lives in a storm at 20,000 feet. Such a tragic event was, and remains, the worst disaster in North American mountaineering, and yet after it occurred the expedition leader, Joe Wilcox, received rough justice due to the dearth of information available, the scant scrutiny afforded, the blatant errors of analysis, and the clash of personalities. What passed for a formal inquiry lasted only a day and a half. The investigation appeared to reach foregone conclusions as it failed to include testimony from the five survivors, but it relied heavily on National Park officials, government agencies and rescue groups.
`Forever on the Mountain' is a disturbing dissection. It is merely surprising to learn of the level of discord before the expedition took place, but then frightening to discover how lack of comprehension on the part of those standing-by as tragedy unfolded led later to desires for self-justification. Evidence was presented with dependence on partisans introduced to excuse rather than explain, requirements for supply drops appear to have been ignored, and there were deliberate inaccuracies over weather forecasts. Readers may reach their own conclusions as Tabor takes care to balance his presentation of findings, and he stresses how different things were in 1967. Even so, his book casts a shadow on Alaskan icons Bradford Washburn and Don Sheldon, and it leaves uneasy feelings for the then National Park Service.
Accounts of the disaster were published in magazines and journals, but without recovery of bodies, and without cameras or diaries, any conclusions were left open to question. Two survivors wrote books, and there were written contributions from other commentators, but these only added to controversy with accusations and refutations. Armed with new information, including sensitive details obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, and following in-depth communications with survivors and relatives, other mountaineers and critics, and various experts and specialists Tabor skilfully traces the ill-fated expedition; probing and challenging all previous attestations and unearthing fresh evidence. He achieves results dispassionately, but manages with understanding compassion to clarify what really happened. Importantly he delivers a convincing verdict on how McKinley's 1967 worst ever summer storm played a significant part in the sad story.
On occasions Tabor slips into subjective mode, particularly with attempts at reconstruction of what may have occurred when no witnesses or records remain. However this is generally to assist readers in making deductions, and it is the rigour of his outstanding research and analysis that makes `Forever on the Mountain' a valuable book. With insights to alpha behaviour, decision making and psychology of communications Tabor recognises egotism of individuals and fragility between groups, and he accounts for organisational complications. He does this equally and equitably for those both off and on the mountain at the time; and for those who came off the mountain and those who after the disaster remain forever on the mountain.
With its no-nonsense language and hard-hitting style `Forever on the Mountain' may lack the aesthetic prose of other entries, but it meets fully the objectives of the Boardman-Tasker Award scheme. If I was judge it would have received my vote for the 2007 top place.
The line "But even experts err and appearances are most famous for their deceit" was a particular source of annoyance....
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