Penguins on Everest

Penguins on Everest

**Update 2016: The author did contact me and asked me to remove this review. I deleted one paragraph that he had a particular problem with, but I do not believe in censorship. The paragraph I deleted was about plagiarism. I still believe the author did not adequately cite some of his information, but I'm not an English teacher or a lawyer. He did notify me that "his friends disagree" with my review. Well. I also note I am the only one who has reviewed this book on Amazon. By David Durkan. Our trekking…continue reading →

Penguins on Everest

**Update 2016: The author did contact me and asked me to remove this review. I deleted one paragraph that he had a particular problem with, but I do not believe in censorship. The paragraph I deleted was about plagiarism. I still believe the author did not adequately cite some of his information, but I’m not an English teacher or a lawyer. He did notify me that “his friends disagree” with my review. Well.

I also note I am the only one who has reviewed this book on Amazon.

By David Durkan.

Our trekking partner and good friend, Jennifer, met David Durkan at the Kathmandu Guest House and purchased his book. She pointed me to the chapters specifically regarding Everest.

Durkan starts the book with a semi-autobiography of his childhood in Wales: learning to climb per the encouragement of a science teacher, running away from home, joining the Royal Air Force, more climbing adventures in Europe, desert patrol in the Middle East, marriage and babies, and finally traveling to Pakistan, India, and Nepal. The first chapters are mostly unrelated to politics of Himalayan climbing, but rather an autobiography full of political rhetoric.

The chapters on Annapurna and Everest are the highest quality and most pertinent to the “overall theme” of the book. Durkan unabashedly lambasts so-called “instant mountaineers” and the commercial outfits and interests that encourage untrained paying customers to be “led” up Everest.

The original title of the book was going to be “Barbie goes to Everest” which was luckily kaiboshed due to trademark legality. Most of the climbers on Everest and other Himalayan peaks are men, so “Ken goes to Everest” would be more appropriate. Yet, Durkan chooses to focus on a Korean woman named Oh Eun-sun who attempted to be the first woman to summit all peaks over 8,000 m. Sure, her entourage at Annapurna base camp sounded like a real horse and pony show, and her title as “first woman” was later challenged and made void. Durkan writes two ending sentences of this chapter highlighting two other female climbers, which seems a flimsy acknowledgement.

Durkan, however, does a solid job of presenting the dangerous life of high-altitude Nepali workers (or Sherpas–although Durkan notes not all are from the Sherpa caste). Durkan lists the 104 Nepalis “who died on Everest from 1922 to 2014.” Durkan also states (again, not referenced) that 70% of Nepali workers are “exposed to extreme danger for 70%” of the expedition, while “climbing-tourists” are only exposed 20% of the time. Durkan poses some potential “solutions” for this disproportionate and unfair effect on Nepali workers.

On Everest–the incredible trash, number of people, lack of experience, and abuse of Nepali people are certainly cause to be enraged. I don’t disagree with Durkan on that point. We purposefully avoided Everest Base Camp trek due to everything we have read and learned about it. Again, the chapters on Annapurna and Everest are especially worth reading.

The book is slightly preachy overall. Even when I agree with Durkan’s sentiments, his bitterness is deep and exhausting and his ego large. He occasionally remedies this with dark humor, which is a relief. On pages 189 and 190, Durkan does try and list concrete “suggested change” and although some of these ideas may never be feasible, he is at least optimistic enough to advocate for them. I can certainly appreciate his utmost respect and compassion for the mountains and for the Nepali people.

Durkan founded the organization Mountain People with the the philosophy, “helping mountain people to help themselves.”

 

 

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