The dangerous beauties of the Himalayas are at your library
Ryan Summerlin April 19, 2013
The rare Himalayan snow leopard has a difficult time of it in her daily search for food. By going after the easy kill – tame goats and sheep raised by mountain folk – she becomes the target and thereby contributes to the animal’s rarity. Children interested in learning about this beautiful animal will enjoy “World Above the Clouds,” by Ann Nagda, and when a bit older, they can graduate to “The Snow Leopard,” by Peter Matthiessen, a classic work that expounds on the leopard’s almost mythical existence.
I became interested in the Himalayas in my teens, and as an adult, I found myself trekking there for three weeks, losing 31 pounds and “basking” in minus 20-degree temperatures at night in a flimsy pup tent. But I never saw a snow leopard.
Two of our porters spotted a dead yak lying in the snow with a half-eaten rear leg torn off. No known animal in this region could do that to a yak. Our porters believed in the existence of yeti (abominable snowmen) and claimed to have seen one before. Who knows? Our library has two books about this creature, one for juveniles titled “The Abominable Snowman,” by R. A. Montgomery, and another for adults called “My Quest for the Yeti,” by Reinhold Messner.
Everest at 29,035 feet (and growing) is the highest mountain in the world. (Mauna Kea is the tallest as measured from the ocean floor.) Sir Edmund Hillary, as everyone knows, was the first person along with the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay to summit Everest (1953). Hillary’s “View from the Summit,” Sir John Hunt’s “The Conquest of Everest” and “Touching my Father’s Soul,” by Tenzing’s son, Jamling Tenzing Norgay, cover that great adventure and more.
In May 1996, multiple tragedies on Everest killed 16 people, including two experienced guides. Three books written by survivors best cover this controversial misadventure: “Into Thin Air,” by Jon Krakauer, and “The Climb” and “Above the Clouds,” by Anatoli Boukreev. The Russian climber died the next year on Anapurna, leaving diary accounts that enabled Linda Wylie to develop his latter book. Boukreev not only addresses the 1996 expedition but also describes climbing other Himalayan peaks, plus Mount McKinley (Denali) in Alaska.
“Buried in the Sky,” by Peter Zuckerman, documents the stamina, loyalty and courage of the majority of Himalayan Sherpas, to which I, too, can attest. This book is a very well-researched account of a tragedy that could have been avoided merely by obeying the rule “do not wait beyond early afternoon to start down from any of these peaks.” Reinhold Messner grew up mountaineering in the Alps and is credited with the first solo ascent of Everest and other 8,000-plus meter peaks, some without supplemental oxygen. Two of his books are “Free Spirit: a Climber’s Life” and “Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate.”
Other books that I highly recommend are “Himalaya” (David Zurick), “Everest Grand Circle” (Ned Gillette), “Dark Summit” (Nick Heil), “Anapurna” (Maurice Herzog), “The Boldest Dream” (Rick Ridgeway), “High Crimes” (Michael Kodas) and “Murder in the High Himalaya” (Jonathan Green). All the books cited herein are available from our Summit County Public Library.