This is the original hardback edition and it tells the story of Cathy O'Dowd's first three Everest expeditions: her successful ascent of the south col route in 1996 (becoming the 1st South African to climb Everest), her unsuccessful attempt on the north ridge route in 1998 and her successful return in 1999 (1st woman in the world to climb Everest from both sides).
Cathy does not waste time talking endlessly about her childhood and youth, which I was pleased about. She starts with brief mentions of a few early climbs that she did before reading about a South African contest to recruit women for an attempt on Everest. She is brutal about her opinion of the other women she was competing with and describes how those on the shortlist went on a final selection hike on Kilimanjaro, during which she and Deshun are chosen for Base Camp.
It is probably a good time to point out that the South African expedition to Everest in 1996 are blamed in other books for failing to assist in the disaster rescue and that leader Ian Woodall was not liked by any other expedition leader. I'm not going to go into any of that in this review. I am talking in this review about what is happening within this team at war, the quality of the writing and storytelling, not going moral or deciding if people are lying. I'm mentioning it in case others who have read Into Thin Air etc comment on me not talking about the allegations here.
The first obvious thing about the Everest team is that they were not a team from the start. The men, with the exception of Bruce, did not like the way that Ian was running the team and were in rebellion. This seems to be accepted by all sides though opinions differ as to who was right. Based on Cathy's opinion, the others were said to complain about sponsorship duties, the equipment, how Ian was handling things and about the expedition in general. The journalists who were with the team to send reports did not get on with Ian either. Cathy indicates that Ken was unfit, rude, racist, bigoted and complained about everything as he didn't want that assignment. I need to point out that the jounalist in question wrote his own book with his side of the story which I haven't read so I can't comment on who is right. Either way, morale was low before they started.
One thing in the book which is verified by another book is the ongoing saga of the team doctor Charlotte. Cathy claims that she was always going off without telling people where she was going, so that when she was needed to treat someone, she could never be found. It is also claimed that she neglected her patients, was always late, upset the Sherpas by dressing in skimpy clothing and never did what she was told, leading to her being fired several times before reaching Base Camp. At Base Camp, Charlotte was looking to climb with a different team and asked Goran Kropp, a solo climber, to be put on his expedition which he agreed to on the condition that she had a permit before climbing. On finding out that she went into the Icefall with no permit, he kicked her out and a liason officer ejected her from Base Camp. This was in his book and it backs up what the South African leadership said about Charlotte, so it looks clear that she was indeed a problem.
Charlotte's alleged affair with a married climber is said to have got the other climbers on her side, leading to the other men quitting the expedition. It did not provide a good start for the remaining team members. I will be talking about the Everest expedition itself in my review of 'Free to Decide' the book about the 1996 Everest trip written by Cathy and Ian.
After the 1996 expedition Ian and Cathy set up their own climbing company and decide to do another climbing competition to select new team members for an attempt on the north face of Everest. Selection takes place on Aconcagua but at Everest Base Camp, Cathy and Ian are not impressed that the chosen climbers and Base Camp manager quit because of the cold weather, altitude and conditions! It kind of makes you wonder what they thought they were signing up to...5 star hotels and a beach holiday? For Cathy, all of this pales in comparison to being confronted by a dying climber high on Everest.
I found this book to have lots of interesting detail and Cathy tells the story clearly in a way that non climbers like myself can understand . With her description of the landscape and conditions, it is easy to imagine yourself there and what it must really be like. I enjoyed the book and I liked getting some background to the in fighting in the South African team.
Read June 2016.