Books About Everest: In the Footsteps of Modern Day Explorers
I enjoy reading any book that I get my hands on on Everest, the highest mountain in the world that can be climbed from Nepal and Tibet. Something has always kept me extremely interested in the highest place on Earth. It started long before my visit to Nepal nearly a decade ago.
Why Do People Attempt to Climb Mount Everest?
I was always amazed with the personal stories of sherpas and the non-professional climbers whose desire to conquer the highest place in the World seems to lie somewhere between dangerous obsession and reasonable ambition. What drove them to engage in this statistically very deadly endeavour – was it ego or something greater than that? Maybe to develop a whole new perspective on life that one may expect to achieve once they get a chance to look down at it from its highest peak – in a way similar to the accounts of the very few people who landed on the Moon (12 people have landed on the Moon as of the date whereas 4000 who have successfully summited Mt. Everest)?
My trip to Nepal sure sparked further interest in this glorious mountain seeing how Nepalese approach their mountains as sacred grounds but struggle to maintain balance between the financial opportunity brought on by climbing tourism and the particular place the holy Himalayas hold in their culture and religion. I always think of Nepal and the Nepalese as an amazing nation guarding one of the most precious natural assets in the World. Then came my visit to beautiful New Zealand – the home of the first person who successfully summited Mt. Everest, Edmund Hillary along with Tenzing Norgay. I got to hike in Mt. Cook National Park – the first climbing victory of Edmund Hillary with an altitude of 3756m – less than half the height of Mt. Everest – 8849m.
Over the years, Mt. Everest almost became the poster boy for any discussion surrounding the hard to achieve balance between tourism, safety and environmental conservation. The rise of the commercial expeditions to the peak not only gave rise to nearly insurmountable environmental issues but also to a steadily increasing number of death toll. We may all remember the infamous photo from the 2019 climbing season that showed a traffic jam at Hillary Step – the final challenge before the summit of Mt. Everest. There are today many good magazine articles discussing the stories surrounding Mt. Everest in a very satisfactory detail but the length of the magazine articles always leave something to be desired. So here is a list of some of the books that I read on Mt. Everest including three introducing three different perspectives on the reasons leading to the 1996 Everest tragedy. P.S: Since I have obviously not climbed Mt. Everest or took the more accessible trek to Base Camp, photos accompanying this post are from other places such as Kathmandu and Bakthapur that I visited in Nepal.
Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest`s Most Controversial Season
Thanks to to 2015 feature movie – “Everest”, we are probably all more familiar with the 1996 tragedy on the mountain that took place in the more popular South Col Route leading to Mt. Everest. This book however focuses on the North Col Route reached from Tibet and another tragically deadly season that occurred in 2006. Dark Summit by Nick Heil is one of the most well written books that I read about Everest and raises many questions about the decisions made by humans in the face of another climbers tragedy when they are fighting for their own lives and/or desire to reach the highest place in the World. At the time, I also knew very little about the North Col Route to Everest and it was interesting to read about the comparisons and why some still prefer this otherwise less popular route.
Ascent into Hell: One of the Most Relatable Books About Everest
Ascent into Hell by Fergus White is very successful in making reader understand the physical toll that climbing Mt. Everest takes on human body. I thoroughly enjoyed White`s account of his attempt to climb Mt. Everest where he patiently takes us up to the mountain starting with the trek to the Base Camp and continuing with series of acclimatization climbs. His humbly written account is probably one of the most honest memoirs on Mt. Everest and probably my favorite book about Mt. Everest.
Into the Thin Air: A Personal Account of Everest Disaster of 1996
Into the Thin Air by the famous writer Jon Krauker may be one of the best known books about Mt. Everest and the 1996 tragedy. Krauker himself took place in a commercial expedition (to write for the amazing Outside magazine) in 1996, which turned out to be one of the most tragic summit attempts for Mt. Everest. Jon Krauker survived to tell the tale but even today, he is not free of controversy and still faces the question of whether he had done enough to help his teammates in trouble. His portrayal in the movie Everest has not helped much either. In his book, he also criticizes the commercialization of one of the most dangerous human endavours but heavily criticizes some other expedition groups and members for the series of bad decisions that resulted in the death of 15 climbers.
Left for Dead: My Journey Home From Everest – Unbeleivable Story of Survival
This is the story of Beck Weathers – the American doctor/climber who joined the infamous 1996 commercial expedition to Mt. Everest (led by late Rob Hall and as a teammate of Jon Krauker) who was left in the mountain assuming that he was already dead. It is a good account of an amazing survival story which is not shy of heavily criticizing the commercialization of the expeditions and raising the question of whether money was the main reason behind the 1996 tragedy. Weathers also discusses his depression episodes and how these dangerous expeditions help to cope with the black cloud never leaving him alone when he is at home.
After the Wind by Lou Kasischke
Another book about Everest Disaster of 1996 by a survivor from the expedition led by Rob Hall on 10 May 1996. Lou Kasischke goes into the details of the events that led to a late summit event by many climbers of his team and like Beck Weathers questions whether less commercially oriented decisions on that day could save lives. He particularly focuses on his own expedition team and the leaders.
The Lost Explorer: Finding Mallory on Mt. Everest
Another story – well actually two stories – on the North Face of Mount Everest. It is dual author book going back and forth between George Mallory`s story (the Englishman who attempted to Mt. Everest many times and vanished during his last expedition to the mountain in 1924 with his climbing companion Andrew Irvine) and the story of Conrad Anker who discovered the body of George Mallory 75 years after his death. I enjoyed the book as it was interesting to find out about one of the most famous early day explorers. There is a still debate on whether Mallory and Irvine made it to the summit of Mt. Everest (and preceded Edmund Hillary) or if they vanished during the ascent attempt. The book also briefly touches upon the theories of various experts on this great mystery.
The Third Pole: Mystery, Obsession and Death on Mount Everest
This is a fairly recent book (published in 2021) by Mark Synnott. It is about their journey to Everest to locate the body of Sandy Irvine and the camera that was speculated to be in his pocket (which would ultimately prove who climbed Mount Everest first). It started as a good read but by the time I finished – I felt like no other book about Everest made me feel as angry as this one. The entire tone of the book was about how anti-Everest all the team members of the expedition were (including Mark Synnott and Renan Ozturk) and how everyone else trying to climb Mt. Everest was there to almost damage the mountain, the environment and the Sherpa culture but they were somehow special and were there for some divine reason. But I think with all their decisions and disregard of the Sherpa culture made them the real abusers of Mount Everest. And symbolic gestures such as not stepping on top of Everest due to their respect for Sherpa`s god was just too much to take after the extremely self centered decisions they made all through the book. According to the author, everyone was guilty Chinese, other climbers on the mountain, even the Sherpas but not them.
I will update this post as I keep reading more books about Mt. Everest. Another post unrelated to Mt. Everest but heavily related to books is my post on Books About Japan.