I like Dianne Whelan. She’s tough. You’d want to be if you’re a lady documentary film maker with no sponsors, doing your thing as an independent, with a plan to spend 40 days below the shrinking Khumbu glacier at the world’s highest pile of rock, Mount Everest.
Actually it was only 37 days but by then 40 was just a number and meant nothing. It was time to leave.
This is the book, just published, about the filming of the 88 minute documentary 40 Days at Base Camp released in 2012. Both the book and the film are about Everest base camp in 2010. I’ve yet to screen the film. The book is first-rate which should be all you need to know about the film.
Dianne’s not a mountaineer but she’s written a book on the subject of mountaineering. There aren’t that many around by Canadians although there’s no shortage of climbers in Canada and certainly no shortage of mountains.
It’s unfortunate that some of the greatest names in Canadian mountaineering are unknown outside the sport. Is it a sport? If you can call a taste for death-defying and occasionally death-dealing epics sport maybe it is. But if you know what you’re doing it makes a difference. I think of names like Patrick Morrow, Sharon Wood and Jim Haberl. Ever heard of these people? It’s a shame.
I’ve got a huge amount of experience as a mountaineer. Armchair Expeditions Inc. I owe a lot to the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) main branch.
I’ve rolled with Reinhold Messner on Nanga Parbat and was a microbe in his rucksack when he soloed Everest without the gas. A really cold microbe.
I’ve topped out on Aconcagua, slaughtered Changabang with Pete and Joe, shadowed John Roskelly on Nanda Devi.
I stood at Conrad Anker ‘s shoulder as he looked down at the body of George Mallory on the north face of Everest in 1999, nearly 75 years to the day after Mallory “disappeared”. He didn’t disappear. And he’s still on the north face.
I was on the nose of El Capitan with Warren Harding. I was there with Sir Christian Bonington when he topped out on the rug-sized “roof of the world” at last. It’s a lot of work.
We search for our goal, we mountaineers, and lots of us are dead but you can say that about any group. Doctors, architects, Formula 1 drivers, hummingbirds. We’re fools, selfish bastards (and bitches) and conquistadors of the useless, as a wit put it. Lionel Terray was his name. So I had a lot of background on first looking into Base Camp.
The book’s basically a diary of Dianne’s stay below Everest while shooting the doc. It was her second trip to the Everest region. Base camp isn’t a nice place but it’s never stopped people from going there. 40,000 trekkers a year check it out. They find there’s not enough air, too much garbage, nothing grows and too many bodies are oozing out of the glacier.
That’s the thing about Everest. It’s a great place for antique bodies wearing old climbing gear. The bodies don’t decompose because things are frozen all the time. And it’s time, avalanches and the glacier that move them down the mountain. Not all of them. Not all 250, the current estimate of the body count on hard old Chomolungma. But a few.
It’s not a new phenomena but the rate of dead old mountaineers revealing themselves to a new world out of the Khumbu has gone up in recent years due to climate change. That must be the reason.
And change is one of the themes of this book. Change not really for the better. Dianne’s other theme is the commercialization to an unsound, dangerous degree of what happens on Everest. She’s not the only person who’s written on that subject.
I was reminded of the story of Shriya Shah-Klorfine, May 2012. CBC did a doc. about her. Canadian, Nepalese by birth, she had a dream to get up Everest. She did. She had basically zero climbing experience.
She hired help out of Katmandu but got caught up in the usual stupidity anyway–a long line of too many people making for the summit. She waited it out, made it to the top late, and died coming down. Beyond exhaustion. Out of gas. It should never have happened.
It’s not like it’s the first time it happened to somebody. Far from it. She died because she really shouldn’t have been on the mountain. Everest is not a joke. I haven’t been there but I know that much.
BASE CAMP 40 DAYS ON EVEREST. DIANNE WHELAN. CAITLIN PRESS 2014. 978-1-927575-43-7
I really like Dianne. I’m looking forward to screening the doc. It’s puzzling, though, why it’s an image of K2 through the tent door on the book’s cover. That’s what it looks like. It’s certainly not Everest.
Update June 26, 2014. After further consultation the peak isn’t K2 either but one imaged by Dianne from her tent at Everest base camp. Now I’m wondering what its name is. May have to get up there and find out.