– Are you training for Everest?
– No, obviously, otherwise I’d be trudging up a loose rubbish dump covered from head to toe in down and plastic, instead of clinging to an acutely overhanging boulder in nothing but a pair of shorts and a woolly hat!
That’s what we ought to say, isn’t is. But most of the time it’s easier to just bludgeon bimblers to death and toss them into the Rubicon.
Having said that, it’s been a while since anyone asked me that idiotic question. I distinctly remember being asked on occasion, back in the day, but I guess it might have been the 1990s, an in Yorkshire at that. I wonder if young climbers even know “are you training for Everest” is a thing?
Well, it was, and I’ve already digressed considerably as I’m supposed to be reviewing a book about Nanga Parbat. But the point is, we warm weather climbers don’t necessarily have much interest in Himalayan mountaineering, and we are pretty damn sure that there is little connection between even a technical route on an 8,000er and the Spanish redpoint glory we dream about when considering a foreign trip.
Which is a long-winded way of saying that I have no interest in climbing an 8,000m peak, and seldom read books about it. However, publisher Vertebrate kindly sent In Some Lost Place over so I thought I’d open my mind and give it a go. Guess what? it’s really good.
Due to my lack of interest in alpinism, I hadn’t heard of Sandy Allan, although he’s clearly been on the scene for quite a while. Indeed, one of the most amazing things about his ascent of Nanga Parbat via the Mazeno Ridge is that both he and his partner, Rick Allen, were in their late 50s at the time. Maybe I will take up Himalayan climbing in a few years’ time then, because Sandy’s book has got me inspired.
Sandy is clearly an extremely accomplished mountaineer and his narrative involves many of the famous names that even your average boulderer will be acquainted with. He’s also a good writer, as his simple prose rapidly drew me in. Maybe I have a weakness for books and for a good tale, but I found myself thoroughly gripped by his account of the epic ascent. Even though I obviously knew that the duo survived, and indeed received a Piolet ‘Or for their efforts, I found myself racing through the final chapters to see how they got off the “Killer Mountain”.
In part, that is because of the sheer audacity of the climb. Even to the total layman, it is obvious that this was a different world to the well-publicised tawdriness of commercial Himalayan expeditions that puts many of us off alpinism.
But the grip factor is also a testament to Sandy’s writing. Accounts of a single climb of any nature can be prone to floundering into repetitiveness, falling into cliches or getting bogged down on the technical. Sandy skilfully sidesteps these by concentrating on the human. The book naturally falls into two halves, with the first laying the background to both Sandy’s personal story and that of the Mazeno Ridge. That is all neatly book-ended by a dramatic moment on the mountain, and takes the adventurous party along the ridge and onto the upper slopes of Nanga Parbat itself. That relative time of safety for the mountaineers is a dangerous moment for the book, as it loses pace and hovers on introspection.
But, like the climbers, it has merely stopped for a breather. Soon it is into the gripping account of the final ascent and descent, comprising an insane amount of time spent without food or water at well over 7,000m. The entire adventure is described in considerable detail but this never becomes tedious as Sandy focuses on the battle of the mind. That is something all of us climbers can relate to in a sense, even if we’ve only ever sieged a hard boulder problem near our home.