Summit 8000 by Andrew Lock reviewed

Summit 8000 Life and Death with Australia's Master of Thin Air Book Cover Summit 8000 Life and Death with Australia's Master of Thin Air
Andrew Lock
Non fiction
Melbourne University Press
November 28, 2016

A thrilling memoir of the spectacular high-altitude mountaineering achievements of Andrew Lock: the only Australian to have summited all fourteen 8000-metre peaks in the world, including Mount Everest—twice.

Here Andrew Lock gives us a gripping account of his death-defying ascents and explains his passion for climbing in small teams, or solo, without Sherpas or bottled oxygen. Andrew's story is one of extraordinary passion, self-motivation, perseverance and resilience, as he leads us through his sixteen-year odyssey to achieve the Grand Slam of Himalayan mountaineering. We are taken through the victories, the near-misses and the great tragedies. The intense human drama of the expeditions infuses the book—sometimes funny, sometimes fierce and always fascinating stories about survival, climbing rivalries and mountaineering politics. The remote and stunning landscapes and cultures that Andrew encounters on his journeys add rich texture to his tale, culminating in his 2014 trip to Everest, where he was witness to the deadliest avalanche in the peak's history.

Ultimately, we learn 'why does he do it?' Why does anyone take on such a challenge, knowing how easily they might be killed? Andrew's story is both candid and inspiring.

Andrew Lock, the author of Summit 8000, is a leading Australian climber and is the only Australian to have summited all the 8000 metre peaks. The 14 8000 metre peaks are all in the Karakorum, Himalaya chain. This is the story of his high altitudes climbs and those on 8000+ metre peaks in particular. He also mentions other aspects of his life although this is mostly a book about climbing and climbers.

I loved the prologue, “Falling” on his first 8000 metre peak which was K2 – the “madness” of high altitude climbing comes over clearly. The autobiography then moves to his dawning interest in climbing in Australia and then South Island, New Zealand. After that there is an expedition to Mount McKinley (Denali). By then he is effectively hooked on this type of climbing. The chapters then work chronologically through his climbing career. K2 is the first 8000 metre peak he attempts and his ascent of Shishapangma after a number of attempts closes the challenge. Postscripts are on most of the chapters generally concerning the death of other on the mountain at the same time as him. I found these interesting and they also added to the atmosphere of attrition among such climbers. With the narrative on each peak there is information on earlier attempts and first ascents which was useful information. There is a glossary of Mountaineering terms and a decent index.

This is not a book about climbing techniques or routes particularly nor the minutia of camp life high on mountains. It is far more about the personal growth of someone who became a dedicated high mountain specialist. In part it is also about the people he met on expeditions and often the deaths in that community. There is controversy in some of the chapters. This is evident in a climb the author made at the same time as Alan Hinks. I’ve read Hinks’s version of the climb too and on balance I think my sympathies lie with the author of this book.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and only have a small number of minor issues with it. I really would have liked to have seen some photographs in a book of this nature. Not I hasten to add to prove the author was “there” – he has dealt with that – but it would add a dimension to this book. Equally some detailed maps of the peaks and outline routes would have appealed to me as an armchair mountaineer. I am well aware of the Everest routes and some of the other major peaks however there are a few I’m not familiar with.  This would have helped me visualise them better. There are times I found the writing workman like rather than exciting I guess.  However other parts had me gripped.

The book is peppered with views on his and other climbers motivations/rationales which I really enjoyed. Ultimately Lock considers this more deeply and, in common with other similar books of this genre, the thorny subject of guiding people who are not climbers to the top of high mountains, particularly Everest. I did really enjoy the author’s views shared in the final chapter. These came from someone who has clearly grown a lot in the years of high altitude mountaineering covered in this book. However the question is can he kick the drug!

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review