Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Solo crevasse crossing...

This is a message from Andrew Jillings:

Janelle, when we were doing the crevasse crossing activity on the back deck, some students asked me about crossing glaciers solo, and I told them about wearing a long pole to stop falling in crevasses. This obit mentions Charlie doing just that.

Monday, February 24, 2014


After reading Annapurna, A Woman’s Place, and Into Thin Air, Touching My Father’s Soul by Jamling Tenzing Norgay changed my perception of adventure narratives. Other books we’ve read this semester have focused on the nitty-gritty mountaineering details and focused on the demanding task at hand, while keeping the armchair adventurer on the edge of their seat. In contrast, Touching My Father’s Soul concentrates on the historical, cultural, and personal elements of Everest, only quickly discussing load carrying and equipment. Throughout this semester we’ve focused on the motivations for climbing dangerous peaks: self-discovery/personal challenge, economic security (ie. Hall, Fischer, and Sherpas), or simply “because it’s there”. While Herzog’s expedition sets out to conquer the first 8,000m peak and Blum’s expedition hopes to put the first female American on top of Annapurna, Norgay’s desire to climb Everest is far different: he wants to learn about himself by learning more about his father. “I had to learn what it was that had driven my father and what he had found on the mountain” (pg 6).  Norgay’s journey allows him to explore his Buddhist faith and to rekindle the bonds with his family and heritage. In Norgay’s eyes, Everest is not simply about summiting, but an opportunity to grow spiritually and bonding with his deceased father.  

A Continued Contemplation on Commercialization

“Namche told me that he wasn’t sure that tourism and prosperity have been universally good for the Sherpa community, because of the social upheaval and divisiveness that accompany them” (47). I thought that Norgay offered an interesting and refreshing perspective on the benefits and drawbacks of the commercialization of Everest. He touched upon a lot of the things we mentioned in class when discussing Into Thin Air, but also offered inside into the more interpersonal consequences that have arisen. He talked about how tourism stimulated the economy and how people made donations for community based projects that would benefit people equally but also touched upon the more negative effects that individual donations have had. He mentioned the arbitrary nature of many of the tips and donations that are given at the end of treks and how irreparable rifts are caused within families because two Sherpas on successful trips received drastically different compensation. He also mentioned how people are desperate to leave their local communities to send their children to schools in Kathmandu or preferably India or oversees regardless of the opportunities that exist within their own communities. It was interesting to see how on the one hand he worried how people were losing their connection to their own culture and language but had just previously mentioned how incredible and valuable it was that where most Sherpas only spoke their local language years before, almost everyone was now bilingual. It seemed to me that Norgay was torn, much as we were, between the ways that tourism and commercialization have both helped and hindered the communities around Everest. I felt it was a further manifestation of the rift he felt in his religious identity that he described as being a byproduct of St. Paul's, and spending time in the United States.

Everest As a Means

The style of narration used to compose Touching my Father’s Soul as determined by Jamling Tenzing Norgay brought the questions of “Why climb mountains?” and “Why write about climbing mountains?” into starker relief for me compared to the accounts by Herzog, Blum, and Krakauer. His method of inclusive explanation for all aspects of this emotional, spiritual, and adventurous story leaves behind a feeling of raw personal experience that is uniquely disentangled from ulterior motives regarding selling books, cultivating readership, or becoming famous. Interestingly, I found Norgay to be the most trustworthy of the narrators I’ve read in this mountaineering subject, despite his relative irregularity in terms of spirituality. He struggles between skepticism and being a devout Buddhist, but that conflict only bolsters his integrity in my eyes. In this story the Mountain represents that conflict, as personified by his stepmother Ang Lhamu being a supposed reincarnation of Miyolansangma’s spirit.

The motives of the “Mikaru foreigners” are as enigmatic to Norgay as they are to myself, leaving him to postulate that “personal challenge,” or the conquering of “inner demons” was responsible for their seemingly reckless actions (80). As we discussed in class, their motives are undoubtedly individualistic, as allowed by the commercialization of climbing Mount Everest, making it accessible to anyone who can afford it. The most interesting additional perspective to this discussion, which Norgay’s narrative amply provides, is that of the Sherpa community profiting from the commercialization. I immensely enjoyed the Sherpa woman’s description of foreigners as “much like cattle…aimlessly wandering about all day long…getting sick…and you have to lead them by the nose over difficult terrain or they’ll fall off the trail…But if you feed them well, they’ll produce a lot of rich milk for you” (48). My interpretation of Norgay, as purposefully described from a Sherpa’s perspective, is that he is the first narrator that we have read who would unquestionably be identified as a Mountaineer as opposed to a Summiteer. His goal is much less about standing on top of Everest as it is about taking something away from the comprehensive experience. I therefore felt vicariously rewarded in reading about his experiences from my armchair, and came away from this story with a much longed for feeling of accomplishment.   

Rule of Rescue

I've been thinking a lot about the Rule of Rescue (RoR) since our last class. I'm interested in wilderness emergency medicine so this topic caught my attention.

I took a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course in Minnesota last winter which teaches students how to assess risk and deal with injury in the back country. 

As a trip leader, one of the questions we were forced to think about is if we were to encounter a severely injured stranger while leading a trip through the back country how would you react? You could jeopardize the success of your trip by helping this individual. Do you do it anyways? 

I believe the answer is almost always yes. However, the debate really comes down to if you can safely leave your trip. As the responder it is ultimately your decision. It is an issue of morality and safety. If I could safely leave my group the answer is absolutely yes. Will my co-leader be safe with the group if I go to attempt rescue? Will I be putting my participants, my co-leader, or myself at serious risk by going? Is successful rescue a viable and feasible option? It's my duty as a human being to do my best to save an identified endangered life. However, if  for some reason my group cannot safely be left it's an entirely different issue... I have young, healthy people that it is my contracted job to protect. How would I reconcile or deal with this? 

In the case of Everest  the Japanese team argue that they could not have safely carried the endangered down so they continue to the summit. However, the way the event is recalled indicates that they did not try anything before making this assertion. (If, in fact the assertion is accurate and not just a cover for their selfish desire to continue the climb.) To see a body in the snow and assume they are dead, if it is not initially clear, is wrong. The division between ethical and unethical seems to me to fall where you have tried everything you can and contacted everyone who could possibly help before deciding it is in fact not feasible or too risky for you as a responder. This is the only way that I can accept ignoring the chance to save a severely endangered life.

Hypocrisy and the Father-Child Connection

I found Touching My Father’s Soul refreshing. I have had a tough time connecting to climber’s motives in the past books that we have read, but Norgay portrays his reasoning in a genuine and relatable manner. I admire his desire to connect with his father and appreciate how he clearly articulates his rationale for climbing Everest. While some climbers do not explore their drives for adventure, Norgay carefully discusses why he feels it necessary to risk his life on the mountain.

At the center of this drive lies the stressed relationship between Norgay and his father. Norgay makes a point of continually emphasizing the disconnection he feels from his father. He notes that his father was away climbing for most of his childhood, and this void has obviously impacted the course of Norgay’s entire life. Because he felt so separate from his father growing up, he must connect with him after he has passed away. While I can relate to the strong desire to connect to people who are gone by following in their footsteps, I find myself wondering weather chasing this particular connection to his father will inhibit Norgay’s connection to his own child. The father-child connection, or lack thereof, is at the core of Norgay’s being, but just like his father, Norgay will miss a portion of his eldest child’s earliest childhood. He spends time discussing his wife’s opinion about the climb, and even his fear of leaving his wife and child widowed and fatherless if a tragedy should occur on the mountain. In this way, Norgay’s decision to climb Everest seems somewhat hypocritical. His own consciousness of this contradiction troubles him, but he still feels a pull towards his father’s history on the mountain.

Mountain Connection

“The truth, especially when presented in advance, can be too much for some people to accept graciously.” (5) In Norgay’s account of the Everest disaster in Touching My Father's Soul, Norgay reveals in the first few pages how he sought a divination from a lama regarding how the coming season on the mountain would pan out. He received less than heartening news, yet this did not stop him from climbing and continuing on the journey. He was angry that this prediction had been made and, furthermore, was already committed to the expedition. What I found most interesting about this idea raised at the beginning of Norgay's account is, simply put, his pull to climb Everest regardless of the lama’s ominous prediction. Differing from the accounts we have read thus far, Norgay is drawn to the mountain by his father, whom he desperately seeks to have a stronger connection with. His father many years prior had climbed Everest and Norgay reveals early on his account of the journey that this is a major motivation for him to climb – to follow in his father’s footsteps and uphold his family’s legacy.  He climbed to find his father, even though he knew it would be challenging and (nearly) life threatening. Along those lines, however, did the lama’s prediction potentially save Norgay’s life – reminding him to climb with more caution than he may have otherwise?
Norgay's focus on the environmental and cultural impacts of mountaineering expeditions and tourism in Nepal elucidated these issues through a multifaceted, multiracial perspective that is unique to Norgay. Norgay provides an intriguing perspective on the socioeconomic, cultural, and environmental issues that plague many developing countries that encounter the title wave of influence that is the American tourism industry. Norgay describes the cultural norms in his home region with a refreshing sense of pride and respect that cannot be communicated from a westerner's perspective. He provides an illustration of the simultaneous simplicity, humility, and difficulty of subsistence living. I found his comparison of his few personal possessions to the excessive belongings of his college roommates to propose a very important cultural juxtaposition that reflects much larger cultural distinctions that characterize the dynamic that exists between subsistence cultures, such as sherpas, and western expeditions that extend a problematic influence on these regions.

The Effect of the Commercialization of Mountaineering on Socioeconomic Shifts

Following up on our conversation in class about how the region around Mount Everest is changing due to the tourism generated by mountaineering and the commercialization of mountaineering, it was really interesting to read about Jamling Tenzing Norgay’s opinion of how the socioeconomic situation has changed in Nepal. On page 74, according to Norgay, “in [his] father’s day all the loads were carried by Sherpas (and a handful of yaks), but within a generation [his] ethnic group has climbed a whole rung higher on the socioeconomic ladder.” In today’s Nepal, as seen in all of the Himalayan mountaineering texts we have read, porters carry most of the loads while the Sherpas carry some of the loads and are instead mostly focused on the actual mountaineering. In this way, tourism and the commercialization of mountaineering have drastically changed Nepalese society because they caused the Sherpa class to move up in society and the lower classes to fill their previously occupied niche. Norgay doesn’t expound to a great deal on these changes, but it would be really interesting to learn more about the effects of the shift in the lower economic classes as they would probably have felt the brunt of the shift. Some of the lower classes, such as the porters, would have moved up in society from their previous societal roles, which would only have benefitted the entire economy of Nepal as there would have been greater influxes of wealth at all socioeconomic levels. However, considering the magnitude of the shift, it is also possible that the shift may have created gaps in the Nepalese economy that no classes wanted to fill because they were not as lucrative as the jobs created by tourism and the commercialization of mountaineering. Consequently, although it is impossible to entirely predict how a change such as tourism will affect the society and economy of a country, the various possibilities of the impacts of bringing in a tourist industry as aggressive as commercial mountaineering should be taken very seriously as these industries could irreversibly change a country and its culture and, possibly, for the worst.


This book is geared towards the even more uninformed armchair reader.  Everything seems spelled out and explained.  I first noticed this when he was continuously explaining events/actions/thoughts that were connected to his religion and his people.  Every time he goes to a lama or puts up prayer flags he mentions the particulars of what is happening and why it happens that particular way.  Sitting in a Buddhist/Sherpa ignorant armchair, I am really enjoying all this detail.  The purpose of this book seems more to inform than to simply recount climbing events.  He extends this informing to the climbing tools and areas of Everest.  I find this sometimes annoyingly slow, but that is because I am more knowledgeable in this area.  Krakauer mentions that he wrote "Into Thin Are" to expunge the events from his mind.  In a broad sense, "Touching My Father's Soul," is much less about what the book can do for the author, but what the book can do for the reader.  He wants you to follow his journey so that you can reap benefits from what he learned on the journey.

p.80- "Why were they here?"

Given that we ended our last class with our continued question of "what do mountains do?" and "why climb?" I was particularly drawn to a quote on p.80. Norgay begins the second paragraph on that page with two questions similar to our own from class: "So what motivates these foreigners to climb? Why were they here?" He claims that "for the commercial guides-like the Sherpas- it is a business," while other climbers (presumably the foreigners he referenced in his first question) come for "personal challenge,” which he suggests may be in actuality them "hurling against their inner demons,” and others in order to "gain recognition." He ends by making the claim that "most of the climbers, myself included, don't know what we will find during our journey, other than a brief glimpse of the impermanence and the frailty of the human condition." This quote reminded me a lot of the epigraph that Blum chose to include at the beginning of Annapurna: A Woman's Place, about how you can never truly conquer a mountain because a human's footprints are quickly and easily blown away from the top right after he summits. After considering both of these passages, I suggest that though Norgay divides these climbers up into different answers for "why climb?" mountains appear to be "doing" the same thing for most of them. By that I mean that the mountains are these impenetrable forces of nature that work to reveal that "frailty of the human condition" that Norgay mentions. And it is the "conquering" of-or at least, surviving in spite of-this frailty that allows a climber to achieve their goal. I see this in the fact that even though he lost most of his fingers and toes, Herzog gained recognition for himself and France because he made it to the top and he made it back down, despite what Annapurna threw his way. I also see this in the climbers both Krakauer and Norgay discuss; those who have made it their goal to not only climb Everest, but to do so without oxygen. Thus, I agree with Norgay that you get this "brief glimpse of the impermanence and the frailty of the human condition" and that that is a kind of certainty in mountaineering- because that, to me, seems to be one of the things which mountains "do.”

Krakauer made me want to climb, Jamling made me want to become a Buddhist.

My first reaction to this book was, why is Krakauer always writing intros for people? His intro follows a foreword by the Dalai Lama—an interesting juxtaposition. Anyways, Kraukauer’s introduction irked me because he starts off recounting all the books that have been written on climbing Mount Everest. He writes, “A half decade after the fact, one would be forgiven for wondering why anybody other than the most obsessive Everest fanatic should bother reading yet another account of that infamous season on the world’s highest mountain” (p. xiii). It’s like Krakauer is saying, why are you people reading this? Wasn’t my story enough for you?

Introduction complaints aside, I enjoyed this book because it turned out to be much more than a personal narrative about Jamling; for me, it’s about something greater than climbing: Buddhism. Buddhism is about being mindful, which is something I am trying to be better at myself. I’m reading a book called “The Buddha Walks into a Bar,” an introduction to Buddhism and living a mindful life with compassion for others. It’s teaching me how to control my thoughts and basically chill out when I feel up to my eyeballs in stress. The practice of Buddhism guides the climb and narrative. Jamling’s wife says, “If my mother and I had known you were going for the summit today, we would have done more rituals and said more prayers.” Jamling and his family have a different—possibly greater—perspective on the climb than anyone we have read thus far. They realize that the mountain is bigger than them. Jamling writes, “My father knew before he ever set foot on the mountain that it had to be approached with respect and love, the way a child climbs into the lap of its mother” (p. 257).

What is Jamling saying about climbing mountains? Jamling says that a goal can never be reached through force. He writes, “But anyone motivated by compassion and a desire to help others will see the fruits of their efforts—though perhaps not in this lifetime.” This makes me think of Herzog’s ascent of Annapurna, which was achieved through force, and if he was satisfied with it. I wonder if a climb in this spiritual sense—in the name of something greater—is more fulfilling. 

“Yaks are not natural actors"

                Norgay’s novel and his description of the IMAX filming present ideas about the different mediums of “true retellings” of events, and how the story can subtly change depending on the retelling. Norgay’s journey with the IMAX film crew not only presents the idea of a constructed visual narrative, but also reflects this on the creation of the novel itself.
                On page 70, Norgay describes “This year, he wanted yaks in the shot. By walkie-talkie, David and I coordinated the timing of a yak train…” He slides this into his narrative as if it is nothing, but it’s an important idea in the creation of a documentary. This shot, while minor, was constructed by the film crew because the director wanted the yaks to be dragged across the bridge.  This documentary, which I assume presents itself a “true retelling,” is described here with a shot that is constructed by the maker of the film.  Many descriptions of the team filming emphasize this idea, because they only film after they have finished parts of the trek and have pitched their camp.  They don’t film while actually climbing the mountain, which (I assume) is what is often presented in the documentary. This certainly isn’t bad, and I’m sure it happens with many other documentaries, but I wonder what other sequences of the footage were images that the director wanted, so he manipulated and constructed them in order to include them in his film?

                Novels present a whole different collection of validity issues. Although Norgay did not have to go out of his way to “construct” a scene that he wanted to include in his book because he could just make it up, he was able to write about things that occurred while he wasn't physically present. Norgay spends many pages describing events that happened while he wasn't there, such as his retelling of the disaster on the top of the mountain, which occurred while he was at base camp. While this true of many novels and is not necessarily a bad thing, when novels or films present themselves as a “true” representation it is interesting to think how much of that work is “truth” and how much is a construction of the creator.