The World Beneath Their Feet Review

Review by Magda

This well researched and attention grabbing non-fiction book on early day mountaineering documents the competition to the top of the world, which was the last of the last untouched place shrined in mystery. The race by the Swiss, Germans, Americans, New Zealanders, French, and British could easily be compared to the later race to the Moon. But, at first it had to be establish exactly which mountain truly is the tallest on this planet.  The first true mountaineering expedition to the region was in the 1740s. Multiple unsuccessful attempts and final victories are described together with the lives of the Sherpas and other remote local tribes of the mystical hill towns of Darjeeling foot hills just past the silk and spice road. Those were the days when extensive diplomatic negotiations were needed to allow only two teams per year so as not to disturb this secret mountain. Those were also the days when climbers brought with them their umbrellas and even heavy books. Modern climbers plan their gear to every ounce, and their climbing boots are a thousand dollars top of the “art”. Told in vivid details, THE famous climb, everyone not even remotely interested in mountaineering has heard about, is accomplished by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, which was happening at the exact time of the coronation of the Queen Elizabeth II.  They were the next generation of mountain climbers with new technology and new ideas expanding limits to what human bodies can endure. The book tells the tales of human bravery and egos, but is also full of stories of sudden storms and deadly falls, snow blindness and severe frost bites, as well as, now amusing stories in which Italians wore neckties all the way to the top of the mountain and the first French expedition did not believe in traveling light.  They had “8 tons of supplies, including 72 bottles of champagne, 96 bottles of Cointreau and other aperitifs, countless tins of foie gras, and 672 porters in addition to 36 Sherpas” to help them along the way to the top. In the early days, Sherpas were the unsung heroes and never mentioned. Supplies of food, fuel and equipment for each expedition caused shortages for locals down in the valley. The book divulges how the mountains K1 and K2 got their names by the first explores of the region in the 1850s. The book contains an appendix of mountaineering terms and list of all expeditions by decades, as well as their countries of origin, also giving a contribution to the Sherpas. Since many of us will never travel to the Himalayas having this romantic dream unfulfilled and the highest ski mountain in the US is the way below even the base camp of Mount Everest (I checked!), I would highly recommend to live this experience via this well researched and captivating adventure book.

Find The World Beneath Their Feet: Mountaineering, Madness, and the Deadly Race to Summit the Himalayas by Scott Ellsworth at one of our branches.