By Chris Bonington
In 1970, Chris Bonington lead an immensely competent British expedition to climb the unclimbed South Face of Annapurna. A face wrought with danger, and this being Bonington’s first time leading a major expedition, to many, it didn’t exactly look as thought they were set up for success.
The book offers a remarkably detailed account of these hard-as-nails men spending up to 28 days at a time on the face, pushing themselves to the utter limit, as well as those who spent the expedition carrying loads, working logistics and taking care of these climbers.
What initially started as a plan to go small and light, slowly turned into a siege, requiring meticulous planning and preparation to account for everything that could go wrong. The plan was to rotate pairs of climbers from carrying loads to spending days out developing the route in front - however Bonington soon found this was difficult to stick to with varying recovery times, and differences in climbing speeds - causing the biggest major argument of the entire expedition.
Before reading this, I had no idea Bonington had a military background,but he readily attributes much of his success at running the operation to his time at Sandhurst. In addition to the direct benefits this background has, it also helps him make contact with Kelvin Kent, who is appointed Base Camp manager, a crucial decision. Bonington makes an effort to recognise the outstanding selfless efforts made by Kelvin on the expedition, dutifully performing unwanted tasks for the good of the team.
It is immensely refreshing to read and understand so deeply the thoughts and emotions of Bonington whilst preparing and executing this expedition. He is relentlessly honest about potential mistakes and uncertain judgement calls he made - still weighing up decisions even at the time of writing the book.
Where Jon Krakauer’s writing is very digestable, Bonington’s style is much more of a no-nonsense account - not leaving much room for creative descriptions of scenery, but instead offering some vastly similar passages, simply describing the motion of moving up the beast of a face. The finished book is therefore far more enjoyable for those with a passion for climbing, instead of necessarily a normal reader.
Whilst I found the book less easy to read than the work of Krakauer, which feels it could fulfill the role of a fiction novel - the writing of Bonington is still easy to digest, and fascinating to read. He goes into extraordinary detail into the planning, decisions, and methods he used to successfully scale this mammoth face. It gives a phenomenal account of the logistical difficulty of running a large expedition, and the baggage that comes with the resonsibility.
After climbing the face, the team begins the evacuation process, during which an avalanche claims the life of Ian Clough. This was one of the most harrowing passages in the book, as we see the internal debate of whether the vast achievement is worth their close friends life, and ultimately - with Bonington finishing the book with a view to another big goal - we see to him, it is worth such tragedy.