Fearless On Everest, The Quest for Sandy Irvine
As a rapacious 10 year old I came across a Readers Digest Condensed Book on my grandparents porch containing an abridged version of Edmund Hillary's "High Adventure." I still remember Ed Hillary's words as he stood on the summit:
"Inevitably my thoughts turned to Mallory and Irvine who had lost their lives on the mountain thirty years before. With little hope I looked around for some sign that they had reached the summit, but could see nothing."
43 years later, reading Julie Summers' biography of Sandy Irvine brought back the same sense of mystery I felt all those years ago.
Little has been written about Irvine other than a short history by his younger brother Alec, published in Herbert Carr's '79 book, "The Irvine Diaries." Here we finally have a real biography containing the intimate details of his too-brief life: the relationship with his formidable mother Lilian, an affair with the wife of a family friend, success with the Oxford crew, indisputable proof of his considerable engineering talents and much more. These combine to provide the picture of Irvine the man that has been missing all these years. New information about the sea voyage to India, the long overland trek to Everest basecamp and even events leading right up his and Mallory's disappearance are supplied - most taken from 11 newly found letters to his mother, as well as his and others' letters and expedition diaries. Two examples include how his sunburned face was so severely chafed by the tight oxygen mask that every time he took it off the skin would peel away and the wonderful engineering drawings of his radical modifications to the 1922 oxygen apparatus he did while on the trip are both revealing.
Julie Summers delivers a well researched and highly readable book. I would have loved it if she had included the copies of the original letters and diaries, but I can only hope that these are printed in the future. Although she obviously can't supply the answer to the ultimate mystery, she does deliver insights into the character of Sandy Irvine and other expedition members that you won't find anywhere else. "Fearless On Everest" presents a new level of detail about the '24 expedition and its participants that is captivating.
If you are a Everest aficionado it is a must-have, and even if you're not it makes a great read.
B&W photos, softcover, ISBN #: 0-89886-796-7