Where else in the civilized world would forty people walk past a dying man and not make every effort to try to save him? Or any effort?
Nick Heil in this gripping story attempts to explain how something like this could happen. You might even be convinced that it is the only thing that could have happened. Or you may decide to condemn those who passed David Sharp and left him for dead without trying to help. Or, in some cases, without even checking to see if he was still alive.
Jon Krakauer wrote a terrific book, Into Thin Air, which gave a great insight into the politics of high altitude mountain climbing – most specifically, Mt. Everest. Heil’s book provides a closer look at the individuals and their personal experience on the mountain. While providing a broad picture of death on Everest, the concentration is on the deadly 2006 climbing season.
Even if you’re not a climber you’ll find the narrative riveting. Why would anyone knowingly offer up their fingers and toes to the very likely probability of losing one or more of them to frostbite for the chance of standing on a mountaintop for a few brief moments. As you read Dark Summit you’ll quickly come to realize that frostbite is a mild consequence of an encounter with Everest. Death is a strong possibility and not to be taken lightly.
For many, standing on the summit of Everest is seen as the ultimate triumph. How many people do you know who can make this claim? Certainly it is a superlative feat. But one of the questions is this: What is the cost?
In dollars it runs into the thousands. Many thousands. But what about the human costs? Not just lives, but the loss of humanity on the way up (or down) this great monument.
Dark Summit offers a fascinating look into the athletics, strengths, weaknesses, politics and heroics of climbing the world’s highest mountain. If offers insights that bring you inside the trek and allows you to see how some intrepid, skilled and experienced climbers can die on the mountain while first time wealthy dilettantes can successfully make it to the top, perpetuating the idea that “anyone can do it.”
I’m more of a trekker than a climber, but have been in “roped up” situations. I have done a small bit of ice climbing and enjoy high altitudes, having been to the top of a number of “fourteeners” in Colorado. I have hiked the 140 km Annapurna circuit in Nepal,summited the 19,000'+ Volcan Pichincha in Ecuador and am considering trips to Kilimanjaro in Africa, Kinabalu in Borneo and a few other places that garner my interest. But, even though I try to walk at least 4 miles a day at altitudes of 3,000 - 5,000 feet, I would not consider myself in condition to attempt a climb of Mt. Everest. And, I wouldn’t be willing to risk even a pinky finger for the privilege of making the attempt. The point is, as I think both Heil and Krakauer show, that many of the climbers with far less conditioning think they can do it.
Heil tells you about the extraordinary feats of many of the sherpas, but there is also a hint of some rebellion and a darker side to some of them as well.
And what of the outfitters who arrange these monumental assaults on the mountain? Are some of them to blame for the rash of deaths and dismemberments?
Dark Summit will have some of the answers. Dark Summit may create more questions than answers. But, Dark Summit is a fascinating story that will keep you involved from beginning to end. It is intense, but at about 250 pages you can complete it in one or two sittings. Climber or not, it will involve you.
Enjoy the book and . . .
Keep on Traveling.