Tuesday, January 03, 2012
CBC Books - Wade Davis and the 'twilight shadow of hell'
I really recommend following the link above and watching the interview with Wade Davis. Wade Davis wrote one of the best and one of my most favourite books ever....One River. If you haven't read One River you have missed one of the greatest experiences. Just go and read it right now! (I once read it aloud to Mister Anchovy's father).
Wade is a fantastic storyteller and adventurer. He lives right in the area where I went to high school and has recently written a book about the three main rivers of northwestern British Columbia and their threat by corporate mineral digs. He also has a new book about mallory and climbing Everest with some great insights into the minds and motives of the explores after World War 1.
"Because it's there," is what Mallory famously quipped upon being asked why he intended to climb Mount Everest. "It kind of distilled the essence of pure desire that led these men to Everest," Davis said. Mallory led expeditions to Everest in 1921, '22 and '24. "In '21, just to find the mountain they had to walk 400 miles off the map," said Davis. "In 1924, when [Mallory] made his final attempt, he was seen going strong when the mists rolled in and enveloped his memory in myth. A big question for mountaineers has always been 'Did he get to the top of the mountain before he died?'"
Davis thinks it's quite unlikely that Mallory made it to the top in the end, but that isn't the important part of the story to him. "I'm interested in the spirit that carried them on," he explained. "I had this feeling that all that generation had gone through the agony of the First World War, and not that they were cavalier about death, but in a way death had no hold on them."
For Davis, the research to complete this book was harrowing. "[It] was like a journey through the twilight shadow of hell," he said. "The war had such an impact on every single phase...so my thought was that life mattered less than the moments of being alive. Because of their experiences in the war, Mallory and his colleagues were willing to accept a level of risk that might have been unimaginable before the war. And it was that kind of risk and that kind of courage that Everest demanded."
The quest to conquer Everest was also, in a sense, an attempt to escape from humanity. "In the wake of the war there was a chasm that existed between the men that lived at the front, and those that stayed home and profited from the war," said Davis. "So after the war, there was this feeling of wanting to get away...In a way, that's what Everest became: a sentinel in the sky."
The sheer toughness of these men continues to amaze Davis. "These guys were from another reality," he said.