Friday, 10 July 2015

Book Review: Thieves, Liars & Mountaineers by Mark Horrell

This is the tale of Mark Horrell's not-so-nearly ascent of Gasherbrum in Pakistan; of how one man's boredom and frustration is conquered by a gutsy combination of exhaustion, cowardice, and sheer mountaineering incompetence.

Not one, not two, but three intrepid assaults were made on the summits, some of which got quite a distance beyond base camp, and many perilous circumstances were overcome along the way. Joe Simpson may have crawled for five days with a broken leg, but did he ever have to read Angels and Demons by Dan Brown while waiting for a weather window?

But that's enough about the author's attempt; there were some talented climbers on the mountain as well, and this story is also about them. How did they get on? Heroes, villains, oddballs and nutters - 8000 metre peaks attract them all, and drama, intrigue and cock-ups aplenty were inevitable.

Thieves, Liars and Mountaineers is Mark Horrell's travel journal from his experience of joining the 8000 metre peak circus on Gasherbrum in Pakistan, and contains many photographs from his expedition.

My Review:
Mark has plenty to get annoyed about on this long and frustrating trek and climb in Pakistan. First he is annoyed at the behaviour of the porters, refusing to walk in a little bit of snowfall and forcing him off the trail every time they want to pass instead of just overtaking. Then there are a series of thefts from the high camps, liars claiming to have made the summit when everyone knows they didn't and a lot of climbers littering through sheer lazyness.

There is an interesting debate over who is to blame for the death of a female Korean climber on Nanga Parbat. A Korean team who refused to contribute to the rope fixing of the Austrian team were warned by the Austrians that if they did not pay as you are expected to do, they would take the ropes away on their way down and let the Koreans fend for themselves. With the ropes gone the Korean had to climb down under her own skills and fell to her death. I agree with Mark's expedition leader Phil that the Austrians should not be blamed. A lot of teams spend plenty money to get excellent Sherpa guides and the best equipment and outside help, then these small teams who are doing it on the cheap come along and expect to just use your ropes etc without cost to themselves. It is selfish and lazy.

A similar incident begins to unfold on Mark's expedition. A Spaniard tags along with an Iranian team but with bad weather coming, The Iranians admit defeat on the way to the summit and try to convince the Spaniard not to go on. He ignores them and is trapped near the summit in terrible weather, and Phil is asked by the man's friends to help. His friends blame the Iranians for not stopping the man which is totally unfair in my book-you can't reason with a man hell bent on reaching the summit at any cost. Then the couple get angry because Phil won't risk his Sherpas on a suicide rescue mission. Some of these idiots should never be let loose on a mountain. And the man's own team seemed to care little about mounting a rescue of any kind, wanting Phil to do it all. It's another example of a cheap team expecting others to get them out of trouble due to their own bad management and preparation.

This was a really good trek diary, seeing the unfolding disasters as they happened. It also shows how frustrating it can be to wait for that weather window that never comes, and what you do to pass the time at base camp. 
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