Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Book Review: The Tomb of Chewang Nima by Mark Horrell

Some decisions are easy to make, others much harder. Mark Horrell had just failed on his third attempt to climb an 8000 metre peak, Cho Oyu in Tibet, and had returned to Nepal for the consolation of climbing Baruntse, an impressive ridge of a mountain south of Everest.

Leaving Cho Oyu without trying for the summit had been easy. There had been so many avalanches and so many climbers caught up in them, that it was remarkable no one had been killed. By contrast Baruntse turned out to be one of those "shall we, shan't we" summit attempts.

One of the great things about climbing in Nepal is that it's possible to have fantastic experiences just trekking to the foot of a mountain, before even starting to climb it. Accompanied by his regular Himalayan climbing buddy Mark Dickson, he certainly had that, but he also got rather wet and miserable in weather conditions his friend described as some of the wettest he'd come across. Then they arrived on Baruntse just days after it had claimed the life of one of the greatest of all Sherpas.

It had been an unlucky year in the Himalayas both for the author and for many others, and although it hadn't been an auspicious beginning, would he be rewarded with a successful climb at last?

The Tomb of Chewang Nima is Mark Horrell's travel diary from his expedition, and will appeal to anyone with an interest in trekking and climbing in the Himalayas, or with an interest in mountain literature in general. It includes many photographs from the expedition.

My Review:
The two Marks embark on a very wet trek where trying to find a way to get their clothes dry for the next day is the biggest challenge. The trek takes them to the Makalu base camp despite issues with striking porters, ready to climb the snowy peak of Baruntse. The weather however is not helping them or their fellow teams with snow, high winds and dangerous conditions.

The story that dominates the book is the tragic death of Chewang Nima, who had climbed to the top of Everest 19 times, and was killed on Baruntse days earlier while fixing ropes near the summit for a rich client. Morals, ethics and rescue are all discussed by the team and their upset sherpas. Other disasters loom with climbers getting frostbite or getting 'lost' in bad weather as the snow continues and frustrations grow at Base Camp.

This book clearly shows the amount of waiting that a climber might have to do to get that elusive attempt at a summit. It shows that you need the weather to cooperate and that bit of luck, which poor Chewang Nima did not have in his freak accident. However good a climber you are, you are still at the mercy of the mountain and when luck is not with you, it can result in death.

Despite the gloomy climbing conditions and bad news, I still enjoy being there on an expedition with the guys. Mark's writing style is uncomplicated and raw which is perfect for the armchair fan to enjoy.
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