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On top of the world

Another look at High Adventure, Edmund Hillary's first hand account of his and his companions's remarkable journey to Mount Everest.

india Updated: May 30, 2003 09:17 IST

High Adventure
Our Ascent of the Everest
Edmund Hillary

Roli Books
2003 (First published 1955)
Pages: 246
Price: Rs 395
ISBN: 81-7436-266-5

Right through the tumultuous first half of the twentieth century, there was one goal that captured the imagination of people cutting across boundaries - climbing Mount Everest, the highest point on the planet. So even after 50 years of its achievement, it comes as no surprise that the world is marking the event with such widespread celebrations.

High Adventure, in which Hillary recounted the remarkable climb soon after the event, has remained a favourite book, not just with mountaineers, but also for just about anyone interested to read about the triumph of human will and courage over seemingly insurmountable odds. The hardy New Zealander went on to become the most famous person from his country, a status he still retains after half a century.

Hillary did not limit his book to the successful climb he and Tenzing Norgay had in 1953 but also went into the various other aspects of the Everest - its mystique, the challenge, the climbers who had attempted the climb before them, many of died, others who were forced to turn back.

He also provides vivid detail on the harsh, unforgiving nature of the icy slopes of high Himalayas - and the extremely high toll the climb takes on the body. The narrative style - lucid, straightforward keeps the drama alive for the reader despite the end being well known.

Hillary starts with how his fascination with mountains started, his enthusiastic adoption of his new hobby that was soon to take over his life and eagerness to learn more of the craft. He details the initial training, the long years of learning the ropes, the lessons in teamwork, and the dreams that started taking shape.

He gives a lot of credit to other mountaineers, especially those who attempted to climb Everest before him. Saying Camp Six by Frank Smythe was one of his inspirations, he writes "I don't think I have ever lived a book more vividly, I suffered with Smythe the driving wind and the bitter cold… And when he finally turned back at 28,000 feet, I didn't regard it as a defeat but as a triumph."

His contemporaries are also written about in glowing terms and he credits them for their pursuit of a dream not marked with any material gain but a spirit of adventure, a desire to excel without any material gain at the end of the quest.

The book traces his arrival in Nepal, the first attempt in 1951, the preparations in '52, the challenges posed by other climbing teams, the decision to attempt the climb through the untried Southern Route, and of course the unforgettable moments from the final climb.

What emerges is a remarkable saga of agony and ecstasy, of the punishing climb and the indescribable feeling of being, literally, on top of the world at the end of it.

First Published: May 29, 2003 17:21 IST