- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Mountaineers Books; New edition edition (1 November 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0898867398
- ISBN-13: 978-0898867398
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.3 x 22.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,55,445 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Nanda Devi: The Tragic Expedition Paperback – 1 Nov 2000
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Roskelley's description of the effort to bring a team together, gather the necessary equipment, and move it to Base Camp in India contains the early signs of trouble. The expedition co-leaders seemed unwilling to assert themselves. Perhaps worse, the expedition members did not share a common climbing philosophy. Team "A", of which Roskelley was a founding member, was focused on summitting the mountain. Team "B" seems to have entertained the notion that the trip was the adventure, with reaching the summit a seemingly secondary objective. Whatever the merits of the respective approaches, they were incompatible in the same expedition and left Team B less mentally prepared for the horrendous challenges of the actual climb.
Roskelley's description of the approach march into the remote valley at the base of Nanda Devi is fascinating. The actual climb makes for exciting reading; the expedition worked under marginal weather conditions on an untried and extremely dangerous route up the Northwest Ridge of Nanda Devi. Team A repeatedly pushes the pace, alternately bullying and shaming Team B to participate in placing camps higher on the mountain. Several climbers suffer from illness and crises of confidence. One sick climber is evacuated; another quits. In retrospect, Team B's misgivings about the route were well-taken; Roskelley describes a series of hair-raising pitches over difficult rock in poor weather and under constant threat of avalanche. Only some superb mountaineering overcomes the challenges and places three men on top. A second summit team which included Devi Unsoeld moved to the top camp but turned back when Devi sickened and died at the 24,000 foot level.
Roskelley's candid commentary appears to have been adapted from his diary entries and letters; the story is told day by day, without undue foreshadowing of the outcome.
Leadership challenges should not have been unexpected given the fierce will, competitiveness and self-confidence required to climb at high altitude. The failure to pick a more balanced team might have been the first failure of leadership. The reluctance by the expedition leaders to impose organization led to a second major failure: rolling chaos in the creation and supply of the various camps and in constant bickering over assignments. In retrospect, the lack of leadership created a third failure: a situation in which an unwell and unacclimatized Devi Unsoeld was allowed to proceed on a summit attempt against the expressed better judgement of the expedition doctor and several more experienced climbers.
Roskelley's multiple epilogues underline the hard feelings that followed the expedition. Death at altitude is a common hazard of the sport; unnecessary death made all the bickering less forgiveable. Although not within the scope of this book, an account by a member of Team "B" would be of interest in providing "the rest of the story."
This book is highly recommended to those interested in high altitude mountaineering and to those interested in some lessons in leadership.
This expedition had two leaders, uncommon for high altitude expeditions. Initial meetings detail disagreements in selection of climbers and goals for the climb. With no clear leader, these initial disagreements festered on the mountain and contributed to the partial failure of the expedition. But the unique perspective of this book is that the author appears to be the central antagonist in the disagreements. Now clearly, he writes from his perspective and supports his position in a no compromise, "perfection" oriented climbing method. But it's clear these conflicts are partially his fault as he has minimal compromising capabilities which exasperates the team leaders. I've never read a climbing adventure so centered on a conflict that ends in such tragic proportions.
The characters on this climb are expertly described by the author and the expedition is described in detail. I hesitate to provide details of the climb so you might enjoy the excitement in the read but suffice to say, the most compelling human being on the mountain ends up in the most precarious fate. Read this book if you enjoy climbing or tales of adventure. You will not be disappointed.
They also survived one of the most acrimonious and tragic of expeditions, as it ended with the needless death of Nanda Devi Unsoeld, daughter of mountaineering legend, Willi Unsoeld, who was co-leader of the expedition. Named after the mountain which her father so loved, Nanda Devi Unsoeld was consigned in death to her namesake. It was she who had been the driving force in the creation of the expedition, spurred on by her desire to climb the mountain for which she had been named, not knowing that death would await her on its slopes.
This expedition, which was replete with mountaineering greats, started off on the wrong foot, as it had two co-leaders, Willi Unsoeld and Ad Carter, neither of whom was willing to take a real leadership role and make decisive decisions. This saw the expedition fracture into two groups, with a great deal of acrimony between the two, as a philosophical divide developed. The author paints a picture of what life was like on this expedition. It is a no holds barred portrait, warts and all, unflattering to the author, as well as to others on this expedition.
While Roskelley was clearly a mountaineer of superior ability, as compared with others on the team, it is probable that his brusque manner helped to divide the expedition into what was perceived to be the "A" and "B" teams. It was the delivery, I surmise, and not the message, which rankled others and prompted them to behave badly which they, undoubtedly, did during the course of the expedition.
What is inexplicable to me, however, is Willi Unsoeld's handling of his daughter's illness on the expedition, and his behavior at her mysterious and unexpected death on the mountain. One would expect more from an expedition leader, never mind a father. It is almost as if he relished consigning her to the mountain in death, with all its mystical implications. A sad end for a being who in life was beautiful and joyous, yet certainly the stuff around which legends are created. In fact, some believed that the goddess Nanda Devi had been reborn as Wlli Unsoeld's daughter, living as a mortal and unaware of her divinity, until she returned to her home, the mountain for which she had been named.
The book is written in lean, spare prose, with enough mountaineering lore and tidbits to engage all climbing enthusiasts, as well as readers who simply love a good adventure story.