The recklessness of George Mallory

George Mallory bookended the 20th century history of Everest with his pioneering attempts in the 1920s to climb the mountain – and with the spectacular discovery, in 1999, of his body high up on the North Face, preserved by the ice for 75 years after he had failed to do so. His flip remark to a journalist that he was climbing Everest ‘because it was there’ became mountaineering’s most celebrated quote, while masking other less noble reasons. Mick Conefrey has become one of our finest gazetteers of the Himalaya, with successive books on K2, Kangchenjunga and later exploits on Everest. Now he turns his attention to a great conundrum of

The dark side of the Himalayas

How best to write a book about the Himalayas when Mount Everest has been reduced to just another tick-off on the bucket lists of the wealthy? We all remember the pictures of adventurous parka-clad westerners queuing up to scale the summit in 2019. The world’s most inaccessible and inhospitable areas have now become the target of an extreme form of charter tourism. Not even the outbreak of Covid stopped people forking out more than $10,000 to join the queue. In High, the Norwegian writer and social anthropologist Erika Fatland traverses the mountain range, straying from the well-trodden path of privileged tourism onto the Silk Road less travelled. It is not,

Finally, the Sherpas are heroes of their own story

John Keay has for many years been a key historian and prolific contributor to the romance attaching to the highest mountains on Earth. His latest book is described as a summation of that lifetime’s contribution, offering an overview of the Himālaya – the Sanskrit version (‘Abode of Snow’) that Keay bids us use – both as a physical place and as a realm of intellectual inquiry. The book opens with a bang. Its first theme is the astonishing mountain-making forces that created the region. Specifically, Keay gives us the prolonged intellectual skirmishes among geologists as they tried to piece together the formative processes. The one who unpicked their genesis was

The best podcasts about dying, or almost dying

If there’s any form of entertainment that I will reliably find time for, no matter how big the to-read pile or how long the to-do list, it is the dying-on-an-adventure true story. I have yet to watch about half the films being called the best of the year, but I am devouring documentaries about hikers and extreme sports athletes going missing in national parks on every streaming service. I have work to do, but still I can’t put down Nastassja Martin’s In the Eye of the Wild, her memoir about barely surviving a bear attack in Siberia. Every winter, with the first snowfall, I send everyone I know the link

Meet climber, photographer and filmmaker extraordinaire Jimmy Chin

‘Why did you want to climb Everest?’ reporters quizzed mountaineer George Mallory in 1922. That the question even needed asking shows mountaineering is fundamentally different from other pursuits. No journalist would ever ask a footballer why they kick a ball around. But mountaineering is gruelling and you’re way more likely to perish from it than to make a fortune. So why would anyone climb any mountain, let alone Everest? Mallory’s rationale was short and sweet: ‘Because it’s there.’ And what about Jimmy Chin? Why does he climb? Chin, 48, is part Bear Grylls, part David Attenborough. He has not only climbed snow, ice and rock terrain on all seven continents,

The courage of a madman: Maurice Wilson’s doomed assault on Everest

Reinhold Messner, the first person to climb all 14 of the planet’s peaks higher than 8,000 metres, is probably the finest high-altitude mountaineer in history. His list of astonishing achievements on dangerous ice-clad crags includes the first solo ascent of Mount Everest without use of oxygen. Yet as he sat exhausted at 26,000 feet with two days still to go on that pioneering ascent, he thought of an eccentric Englishman ‘tougher than I am’ who had set out before him with one crippled arm and no crampons, let alone knowledge of some basic climbing techniques. ‘Do I understand this madman so well because I am mad myself?’ he wondered. Now