Bear Grylls’ account of his summiting of Mount Everest as the youngest member (ripe old age of 23!) part of the 1998 British expedition is so far the best that I have read. I recently reviewed The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest by Anatoli Boukreev and G. Weston DeWalt, which was an account of the 1996 American expedition led by Mountain Madness’ Scott Fischer.
In Facing Up: A Remarkable Journey to the Summit of Mount Everest, Grylls gives the reader an inside look on preparing for an expedition in terms of training and fundraising (the costs that I have seen so far have exceeded $50,000.00 per climber). More importantly, Grylls details life at the various camps (Base Camp and Camps 1-4), trekking through the Khumbu Ice Fall, including his harrowing near-death hanging by a rope incident. It can happen to anyone, even to Sherps, who provide logistical and material support to climbers.
What is so different about Grylls’ account is the details that he provides. In addition to life at Base Camp, he provides information on the mechanics of the climb. Also included are what ordinarily would be minutiae. In some contexts, it would be overkill and cut in a final edit. This minutiae is what sets Facing Up from The Climb and other accounts. You can see what goes wrong, and more importantly, why and how.
Take for example, the use of oxygen. In a lot of accounts, you read about the flow per minute but Grylls goes much further. He details how he and his team members trained themselves to operate the canisters at Base Camp and then how that compared at Camp 4 and higher.
One memorable scene was Grylls’ getting off Everest — inventive to say the least!
There is not much that I found wanting about Facing Up. That being said, I wish Grylls had included more entries from the diary he kept during the expedition. Those are real-time memories that cannot be fully rehashed after the fact. An odd thing was Grylls’ comment once back in Kathmandu about team member Neil getting lucky with a Scottish girl struck me as odd — as I thought Grylls had a girlfriend at the time.