Friday, 17 June 2016

Book Review: Ultimate High by Goran Kropp

Goran Kropp's account of his 7,000 cycling trek to the summit of Mount Everest. Kropp set out from Stockholm, Sweden on bicycle and traveled 5 months carrying 240 lbs. of gear with him. He ascended Mt. Everest in May 1996, unassisted and without the use of supplemental oxygen, days after the tragedy that claimed 8 climbers. He then returned to Stockholm on his bicycle. The entire trip took one year. This is his account of his training, preparation, and accomplishment of the most self-sufficient combined approach and climb of Mt. Everest ever. The hardcover edition for "Ultimate High" has already received a great deal of praise.

My Review: 
On the surface of it, a guy who wants to cycle from Sweden to Nepal, climb Mount Everest unaided and without oxygen, then cycle back to Sweden, sounds like a self obsessed nutter! Perhaps some people who read this book will agree that he was that, and more. For most people, the travel or the climb are outwith their capabilities, never mind combining both along with strict rules about only using food he has bought or brought himself, carrying all his own gear and finding a solo route through the Icefall.

I found Goran to be interesting on so many levels. He wants to go to Everest unaided partly for publicity to fund his future climbing, partly to see if it can be done and partly in disgust at the piles of rubbish from the fancy expeditions on the mountain which are an environmental outrage. I've seen the photos and TV programmes that show the discarded rubbish, tents, oxygen bottles all lying there in huge rubbish dumps and I think it is pretty shocking. Expeditions should be forced to remove their crap from the mountains. Bodies are a different matter and I understand why they are left where they die. Goran was determined not to add to the rubbish already there which I admire.

His 'unaided' mission leads to a few conflicts with himself. Trying to get up the mountain alone meant living on freeze dried food that didn't give him the energy required to do the climb. At one point he was refusing to take a tiny bit of cheese from a friend because he hadn't brought it to the mountain personally. When he dropped something during the bike ride he screamed at his support team not to pick it up for him as that was giving aid. He insisted on nearly killing himself in the Icefall after a sneering journalist said he shouldn't be using the 'safe' route through that the Sherpas set out for everyone. These were somewhat extreme rules that he enforced on himself to stay unaided. For me climbing the mountain alone was unaided enough without these extreme rules! Still, for the most part he was able to stick to it until his second attempt on the climb, where he had to eat a proper diet or fail.

Goran was attempting this feat during the infamous 1996 season when the storm killed climbers from several teams. I've read a lot of books about other climbers on the teams but it was really fascinating to be with Goran at Base Camp as the disaster unfolded and him feeling helpless about being unable to do more to help. He delves into the anger of the Sherpas over loose morals on the mountain angering Her and causing her to seek revenge on all the climbers. He talks about the South African team tearing itself apart because of it's alleged racist and sexist leader, the rude and glamorous socialite who was getting everyone's back up with her attitude, the sexual affairs going on, the people who were climbing without the necessary training or pedigree and the rulebreakers. I found the behind the scenes drama as interesting as the actual climbing.

We also get a bit of the cycling journey to and from Nepal which is written with a bit of humour and it sounds like a journey never to be attempted! Men and boys in Pakistan throwing stones and trying to knock his head off with an iron pole, Iranians wanting to take him home to quiz him on western life, Turkish men shooting at him...sounds like a lot of fun!

I also liked that the author did not go into mass detail about the monastries, culture and religion which bogs me down in a lot of expedition books. He touches on certain aspects very lightly, focusing instead on the actual journey and the people from the expeditions that he meets. He also talks candidly about Sherpa complaints of being overworked and underpaid and not always treated well by clients and their own government, which many books gloss over. He talks about his opinion of the people he met, including his obvious dislike of contraversial socialite Sandy Pittman, who he claims never thanked the men who dragged her off the mountain to safety and saved her life, and who was dragged up and down sections of the mountain by disgruntled Sherpas. He also looks at the decisions of various climbers and offers reasons for what they did.

Overall I liked this book as it covers the 1996 disaster from new angles as well as the journey and ambitions of the author. It was with a degree of sadness that I discovered that Goran was killed in an accident while climbing in Washington in the US in 2002.
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