Friday, September 4, 2009

'Paths to Glory "-Jeffrey Archer;An Everest Saga !

"This is the story of a man who loved two women and one of them killed him . Some people have dreams so outrageous that if they were to achieve them their place in history would be guaranteed . 'Paths of Glory' is the story of such a man. But not until the last page of this extraordinary book you will be able to decide if this man's name shall be added to the great legends ."- a short review on the paper-back

.Jeffrey Archer has written a very gripping story of an extraordinary man whose name in the history of mountaineering will be forever shrouded in mystery . George Leigh Mallory, an English man, was the first man in the world to lead an expedition to climb the Everest in 1924, but never returned to narrate his feat atop the world . The bodies of two men- Mallory and his young parner Ernest Irvine- were found 700 feet below the summit by a Chinese mountaineering team in 1977,finally confirmed by a British expediton in 1999 to be of the two . There is an unending speculation whether the two men died in descent on conquering the summit .If this is proved the two would be the first to conquer the Everest , but this secret has forever been interned in their bones . Sir Edmond Hillary the Newzealander who, along with Sherpa Tenzing Norkay officially was the first to have conquered the Everest in 1953, has stated -'a mountain is never accepted as conquered till themountaineer climbs atop and yet returns to tell the tale.'

The life story of George and his passion to climb the 'Chomolungma' {Everest}, is so beautifully narrated in the book by the author as he keeps up the momentum for the readers even of a slow moving adventure. His masterly portrayl of George as a man and his love for his wife and the mountains is masterly , as he writes-" This is the story of a man who loved two women and one of them killed him". The author has expressed George's dilemma ,torn between the passion for his wife and the Everest,so powerfully to enable the reader to share George's thoughts and the torment of his decision. To continue with his ambition while suffering the pangs of separation from his wife for long periods , or settle down to a family life and refuse the last trip.Its a saga of supreme human endeavour, endurance to reach the heights of life's ambition, as also a story of love, passion and sacrifice .When Mallory showed reluctance to join the final expedition, Ruth his loved wife pursuades him to continue as she knew Mallory would never be happy living without having fulfilled his dream. Yet she understood the danger of losing him; a sacrifice in her love for him .

Jeffrey Archer has surpassed in imagination to narrate Mallory's story of his two Everest expeditions, in 1922 and the final one in1924,through umpteen letters by Mallory to his loving wife Ruth abounding in love:extraordinary chronicles of his experiences at each stage of the expedition . The genius of the author in covering Mallory's mountaineering expeditions, in detail ,and so vivdly through the letters is amazing . Of George's experiences not of mountaineering alone but of his feelings , thoughts for hiswife, conveyed so realistically with love, passion , and his pining for the two loves in life! His letters, whether actual or imagined by the author communicate the difficulties that beset men in quest for the mountains in their supreme human endurance in mind and body;which only a mountaineer will understand. Of course Mallory,a modest man , gives all credit to his team which made his task that much easier.

The Everest expeditions were planned and organised by the Royal Geographic Society in concert with the Alpine Club to score a' first' in putting an Englishman atop the roof of the world . The expeditions were planned through Tibet to climb the mountain from the North face . The Everest Committee selected a team of volunteers, putting them through vigorous expeditions in Scotland and the Alps , culminating in the climb of Mont Blanc[1500 feet}. Mallory was unanimously selected as the leader for his exceptional endurance skills in body and mind , with an uncanny intution to select the shortest route to a mountain . His propensities at adventurism were unbound as he climbed the Eiffel Tower as a prankster, avoiding the lifts and conveyers for which he nearly landed up in jail.

In the 1920s the transportation and mountaineering equipment was not so advanced which made the trip that much more difficult. The journey to the launch site was itself gruelling . A 5 week sea voyage to Bombay , an ardous train journey to Darjeeling and then a trek of near 8oo Kms through Sikkim , crossing the Jelep lapass at 14000 feet into Phari Dzong into Tibet, to reach the base camp at Rongbuk in overa month. It was an odd caravan of 50 mule packs and 300 porters to get the equipment and supplies in place . The snow clothing was primitive , but the availability of oxygen cylinders was a bonus. Mallory was bent on climbing the Everest without oxygen , but finally yielded to its usage beyond 27000 feet , after his experience of the second expedition of 1922.

The book is a feast for not the mountaineers alone, but fascinating reading for all those who relish fiction and history fusion , as a travelogue . The 'soul' of 'Paths of Glory' resides in Mallory's letters to his wife Ruth, where he shares his experiences with her each day . The book immortalises Mallory's character in his final letter to Ruth, excerpts of which I reproduce below, to whett the appetite for your reading of the book !

" Darling, June 7th 1924

I am sitting in a tiny tent some 27300 feet above sea level, 5000 miles from home, seeking paths of glory. Even if I were to find them ,it would be nothing , If I am unable to share the moment with you . I should not have needed to travel halfway round the world to discover, without you I am nothing ,as many less fortunate men with envy in their eyes oft reminded me, and they do not know the half , Ask any of them what he would sacrifice for that first moment of passion to last a lifetime, and he would tell you half his days, for no such woman exists. They are wrong. I have found that woman, and nothing will ever take place, certainly not the 'Ice-Cold Virgin ' that slumbers above me. -------------------Forgive me for having taken so long to realise that you are more important than life itself.------------------------ Your loving husband George.

I shal add some photos of the Everest to make it more interesting for you to read the book , in case my review falls short in glorfying Mallory's affair with Chomolungma---as Ruth writes- "I am envious that you have two loves in life, me and Chomolungma"


George Mallory was the first man in the world to discover a route to the Everest in his first expedition in 1921 , which he found along the North East face via Tibet . He was also the first to climb the Everest in his third trip in 1924 from the same route, but never lived to share his saga with the world .There are two routes to the Everest-along the North East face via Tibet , and the South East face via Nepal. Till today there have been 4102 expeditions to the Everest , and 2700 climbers have reached the summit. Nearly all expeditions have been through Nepal -SE Col-, as Tibet was closed to the mountaineers by the Chinese which they have opened only recently.


1953- Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norkay were the first to conquer the Everest, via Nepal SE face, using Oxygen.

1978-A German expedition with Reinhold and Peter Harbiler climbed the summit without Oxygen.

1980-A polish expedition under Andrezeg Zwarde climbed the Everest at night during winters with no oxygen.


NE Col-in 2007 by Christian Stragl {Austrian } in 16 hrs 42 mins from Camp3 , 10kms to summit, without oxygen.SECol-in 2004 by Pemba Sherpa in 9 hrs , 17 km with oxygen.

YOUNGEST AND OLDEST CLIMBERS2009-Minga Kipa a Sherpa girl 15 years old ; and a US climber Johnny Strange 17 years old ;oldest Sher Bahadur Serchen sherpa 76 years old: maximum numbers of climbs in life- 19 by APA Sherpa.

HELICOPTER LANDING ON SUMMIT1996- by a Frenchman Didier Delsall on Eurocopter AS-350-B3 for 4 mins .Heptr ceiling is normally 14000 feet.

The saga of the Everest is endless as every aspiring mountaineer lusts to conquer the Queen of the Himalayas. When Mallory was asked ' why do you want to climb the Everest'?He replied " Because it is there !" The famous line which resounds in the world of mountaineers.

The body of George Leigh Mallory was discovered on May 1st 1999 at 26760 ft. The photo of his wife Ruth was not in the wallet and there was no sign of a camera.May be he left it on the summit as promised. To this day the climbing fraternity are divided as to whether he was the person to conquer Everest. Few doubt that he was capable of it ! Kaye Sharma

Legend of the Glass Mountain