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5.0 out of 5 stars A timeless account of having a go, acting on one's dream and achieving it ..., 28 Sept. 2013
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This review is from: Letters from Everest: A First-Hand Account from the Epic First Ascent (Hardcover)
The significant word in the title is `from'. George Lowe's letters - to his sister Betty in New Zealand - have all the immediacy and vivacity of first-hand experience. Imagine this as an excuse for a blot on the page: `This isn't a line. I've just had to have the ink bottle thawed over the primus to fill my pen'. George was 20,500 feet up. Or imagine spreading honey on `vita-wheat `biscuits'. George was breakfasting at 25, 800 feet on the South Col of Everest. Ironically, George being on the South Col was unplanned. In mid-May, he reckoned `his' Everest was over. He was `an expendable quantity', exhausted after he'd cut a route up the Lhotse Face without oxygen to prepare the way for the assault parties. Then circumstances changed. George was at the South Col to greet Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on their return from the summit. It was George who first heard of the expedition's success. As Hillary put it, `Well, George, we knocked the bastard off!'

To read these letters is to be reminded of the importance of team work, meticulous planning and flexibility to meet an evolving situation. George Lowe tells it all `verbatim', as he explains to his mother on one occasion, writing in the most wonderfully paired down prose. This doesn't preclude the figurative which, when it comes, so dramatically arrests the reader. Here , for example, is George illustrating the instability of the Khumbu Glacier (the reference is to a previously unsuccessful Swiss expedition): `The continuity of their route is quite gone - here and there on an inaccessible block with 40 foot walls all around is a Swiss flag like a surrealist's dream of a golf course'. Or here is what it is like to spend the first of four nights more than 25,000 feet up on the side of the highest mountain in the world: `That night for everyone was pure misery. The wind slammed over the Col and worried the tents, whining, roaring and snapping incessantly. It became the curse of the Col, sapping our tempers and eating indelibly into our memories. We will never forget the South Col. We spent there the most miserable days and nights of our lives.'

There is so much that is `right' about this collection of George Lowe's letters. The Foreword, Introduction and Afterward are inspiring. The photographs, showing men and the mightily majestic Everest, are in evocatively grainy black and white. The maps, to which the captivated reader will continually refer, are as clear as the ones in my primary school atlas. Not that this `Letters from Everest' is a collection nostalgic of the beginning of the `new' Elizabethan age. One of its two epigrams is from TE Lawrence: `All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible'. `Letters from Everest' transcends the 1950s and Everest. It's a timeless account of having a go, acting on one's dream and achieving it.

Stewart Robertson
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