Mt Everest never gets old. This is one of my favourite ways of procrastinating — reading books and websites about Mt Everest, the climbers, the weather, the gear they take and all the preparation they do. I am fascinated by the risks they take. I see the appeal, absolutely. I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than standing on the south col or the peak of Everest, looking across the clouds to Nepal, India and Tibet, and feeling as if I could put a hand up and touch the roof of the world, or poke through it into space. To experience the fear and adrenalin of the ultimate deadline, the need to get down the mountain before I run out of oxygen and the weather closes in and my fingers freeze and I go blind. To pitch a tent on the near-vertical Lhotse face and to hear the rumbling of avalanches during the night. To have just snow and cloud and clean sky in front of me, the beauty of that. John Hunt’s The Ascent of Everest is still one of my go-to books, especially the appendices about the tins of apricots they took, the testing of gloves and socks and oxygen masks, the sheer logistics of organising a trip to the roof of the world. Chris Bonington’s Everest the hard way is also very good. Dinner on Everest: Irish stew with mashed potatoes, peas, a cup of tea, Christmas pudding and cream, coffee, whisky and chocolate. What’s not to like?
George Leigh Mallory, when asked why someone should bother climbing Mt Everest, replied: ‘It is no use. There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever…If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy.’
This is like writing, surely.