86. ‘the death zone’ by matt dickinson

A while ago I posted about the surprising quantity of mountaineering books I had found in Mum’s books, astonished to find so many volumes about a subject I had no idea she was interested in. But, having read a few now, I totally get it – a good one is truly fascinating, an insight into a mindset completely unlike my own, and a journey into a world hitherto unknown. As some of you may already know, I am currently camping at Eldest Daughters while awaiting a flight home to Australia, and again to my surprise, find her also fascinated by mountains – she has been watching endless documentaries about Everest in particular – but with no actual desire to climb it!

Side story. Here’s my personal ‘Everest’ experience. When I was teaching in Surabaya, Indonesia, one particularly hot and sweaty Sunday I decided to go to the movies to cool down – the air conditioning is always excellent in a cinema. I arrived wearing a dress suitable for the boiling hot day it was outside, and settled down to watch… ‘Everest’. In 3D. I was already huddled in my seat shivering, with my arms wrapped around me, by the time it reached the blizzard scene and, finding myself surrounded by whirling snowflakes, I had to leave… I felt in imminent danger of frostbite! I watched it again though the other night with Eldest Daughter in front of a blazing log burner, and seriously, these guys are crazy mad, brave and yet admirably heroic.

To this book. Matt Dickinson was a freelance TV director with no real experience of mountaineering when he was approached to film Brian Blessed’s third attempt to summit Everest. (I had no idea Brian Blessed had even made an attempt on Everest, and take my hat off to him!) Matt is perfectly candid about his lack of experience, and doubts regarding whether he can make the film, let alone climb the mountain, despite having lived an adventurous life, but his research appears to be on point and accurate, and his story-telling is refreshingly lively and engaging.

He writes an honest, no holds barred account of one of the most significant experiences of his life, touching on so many aspects of something so alien to the majority of us.. and him. The struggle is completely real, as is the fear and the awareness of how perilous the ascent can be. The attempt took place in Spring 1996, the year of the blizzard that killed experienced Everest expedition leaders Rob Hall and Scott Fischer along with six others, and is featured in the afore mentioned film. Another yet to be read book about this is ‘Into Thin Air’ by Jon Krakauer, also in Mum’s library but currently en route to Australia – I am told it is another cracking read though.

It’s a slim and succinct read – both Eldest Daughter and I have given it a big thumbs up, and recommend it, and this, Mum’s copy, read by her in 1999, is now looking for a new home – do get in touch if you’d like it and I will happily gift it forward.