Amazing tales of unfulfilled ambitions
Reviewed by 
Harbans Singh

The  Incredible Ascent to Everest
by Sumati Nagrath and Foreword by Tom Whittaker;
Roli Books. Pages 223
Mount Everest challenges manís spirit of endurance and the ability to prevail over extreme circumstances and emerge triumphant
Mount Everest challenges manís spirit of endurance and the ability to prevail over extreme circumstances and emerge triumphant 

Whether the British would have pursued the tallest mountain of the world with the same doggedness with which they did if they had not lost their imperial grandeur post-World War I is hard to speculate. But the fact is that their collective ego needed some spectacular achievement to hold the centre stage. In this pursuit, they were beaten to the North and the South poles by the Americans and the Norwegians and this had made the conquest of Mount Everest all the more an obsession with them. Sumati Nagrath brings out not only the minor nuggets during mankind's relentless assault on a peak that tests and stretches the limits of human endurance but also the statement of the human spirit and the mysteries that abound about the story of its conquest.

Thus we have in all 223 pages stories where the next is better than the earlier one and the earlier never seizes to amaze and inspire the reader. The tales of unfulfilled ambitions and disastrous failures are as fascinating as the successes and nearly 90 years after the event the reader is as intrigued by the mystery of disappearance of Mallory and Irvine as he must have been then. Among the knowledgeable the debate continues if they were the first to set their foot on the Mount Everest or not. There are other stories, each as fascinating as the other, of all kinds of mountaineers making it to the top. Indomitable will has been displayed by some who have conquered it without any external support, with physical disability of the limb and the eyesight and the oldest and the most frequent to reach the top etc. And, what does one say of a person who satisfies his longing to ski all the way down from the peak of Everest?

After reading the various stories about the conquests, the reader cannot help but agree with Tom Whittaker, the first disabled person to climb the Everest, that even though the summit is the objective of any mountaineering expedition but it is not complete till the mountaineer has returned to the safety of the base camp. The challenging peaks the world over abound with stories that are tragic and poignant but in equal measure there are stories that are inspiring and a testimony the ability of mankind to prevail over extreme and adverse conditions.

The author has done well to devote a separate chapter to the Sherpas. Without them no man could have boasted to have climbed the highest dream. In contrast to the western world, the Sherpas continue to hold the mountains in general and Everest in particular as an object of veneration. Nature for them is not just another force to be conquered by mankind for they respect it too much not to appreciate the capricious force that it wields. The photographs chosen tell a story of their own and looking at some of them, especially of Mallory, one might be tempted to think mountaineering is fun and frolic. But we all know only too well that it is not. It is a book for those enamoured of nature and snow-peaked mountains.