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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Gripping Counterpart to 'Into Thin Air"
As an admitted acrophobic who isn't fond of cold weather, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of climbing the highest mountain in the world. To me, it seems nothing short of insanity. So when I stumbled upon the Discovery Channel reality show about Russell Brice's 2006 expedition team and their attempt to summit Everest, I was completely enthralled...
Published on January 17, 2010 by Skittish

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212 of 258 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Captivating and well-told
The story is captivating and well-told, but the text needs a serious round of copy-editing.

You may recall books like "Into Thin Air," which recounted the 1996 disaster on Mount Everest. From those accounts, we know the weather was a central factor in the horrific events that played out. In 2006, the body count was just as bad, but the weather was fine. With...
Published on May 1, 2008 by M. L Lamendola


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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Gripping Counterpart to 'Into Thin Air", January 17, 2010
This review is from: Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Season (Hardcover)
As an admitted acrophobic who isn't fond of cold weather, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of climbing the highest mountain in the world. To me, it seems nothing short of insanity. So when I stumbled upon the Discovery Channel reality show about Russell Brice's 2006 expedition team and their attempt to summit Everest, I was completely enthralled (and horrified)... enough so that I began to seek out books on the subject. The first, and probably best, account of an Everest expedition that I read was Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air." This, however was a close second.

In both cases I found myself repeatedly asking "What is wrong with these people!? Are they insane?" Yeah, apparently. But mountain madness has taken a truly dark turn here, where we see the drive to push one's self to physical extremes tainted by mercenary expedition leaders, oversize egos, poor planning, the vicissitudes of nature, and amateurs who are paying their way to the top of the mountain rather than putting in the grueling years of training and preparation that used to be requisite on Everest.

My criticisms are few: first, there are some copy editing errors that are kind of inexcusable for a widely-published book from a major house ("Sharp" instead of "sherpa," "marshall" instead of "martial," some grammar issues, etc.) Second... well, it's hard for this book to match the energy and intensity of Krakauer's since Krakauer's was written by a man actually on an Everest expedition. Both Krakauer and Heil are strong writers, both are elite climbers, both have a unique viewpoint and something new and interesting to bring to the table, but the immediacy of a first-hand account resonated more deeply with me than Heil's expert yet uninvolved perspective. The two are great companion pieces to each other, and I recommend them both. I still can't imagine why anyone would possibly do this to themselves, yet the subject makes for a fascinating-- and harrowing-- read.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good addition to Everest lit, April 30, 2008
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Dark Summit is a welcome addition to Everest literature. Heil writes in an even-handed tone, and attempts to give a balanced view of what happened in 2006. Heil examines the deaths of David Sharp, Thomas Weber, and the near-death experience of Lincoln Hall. Weber's death, I feel, remains most puzzling and bizarre. Russell Brice and Himex receive extensive coverage.

Dark Summit is well worth 8 hours of your time and $17.

Strengths: This is generally a well-designed book by Henry Holt. The book has a very readable type face, and sports several outstanding photos. Heil offers a more nuanced perspective on Russell Brice and Himex than offered by his detractors. Good bibliography.

Weakness: Heil's writing is readable indeed, but Heil does not come across as a naturally gifted writer (compare: Michael Kodas [High Crimes] is a much stronger and fluid writer). This book would have benefited from another round of editing.

Examples:
p. 137
"Within the next hour, Sharp would have climbed the last dihedral, cresting a gently sloping corniced ridge, the summit straight ahead. If the crossing the last section of the ridgeline appeared difficult--and what didn't at such altitude?--even more difficult would be returning to the world below with the business unfinished. The summit wasn't the end of the journey, but it was its culmination--the cure for the things that had gnawed inside him for so long."

p. 182
"They harped on the old oxygen bugaboo--faulty equipment (7 Summits Club had swapped out about a third of its regulators during the trip), the unreliability of refilled canisters--but the thrust of the editorials was becoming less about technical issues and more about the ethic behind the action."

Heil also engages in speculation in various places of the book regarding David Sharp, and parts of the book appears to be a summary of the excellent Everest series on Discovery.

Reference to Joe Tasker's body on p.42 needed an elaboration, and contrary to the index, Tasker is not mentioned on pages 43-45.
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212 of 258 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Captivating and well-told, May 1, 2008
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The story is captivating and well-told, but the text needs a serious round of copy-editing.

You may recall books like "Into Thin Air," which recounted the 1996 disaster on Mount Everest. From those accounts, we know the weather was a central factor in the horrific events that played out. In 2006, the body count was just as bad, but the weather was fine. With the weather not part of the death equation, why did so many people die on Mount Everest in 2006?

Dark Summit holds many clues, because it provides a detailed narrative of about the various tragedies of 2006 and what led up to them. Given what went on, it's surprising that the body count wasn't even higher.

In the ten years that followed the 1996 disaster, the two national governments (Nepal and China) that control access to Everest failed to institute such basic safety measures as limiting access to qualified personnel. In the industrial safety arena, a "qualified person" is one who meets certain minimum competence standards for the task at hand. This concept is conspicuously absent from the management of access to Everest.

Another basic safety measure would be the formation of permanent rescue teams, which would be present and on standby during the climbing season. Nobody has set up a fund for this, though the sheer number of people shelling out money to climb Everest would easily make that possible.

Nor do we find any formal contingency plans or evacuation plans. It seems that everyone involved is, every year, surprised that people show up. And they appear to be surprised further still that danger exists on Everest--gee, what a concept. Apparently, the increasing number of corpses littering the mountain doesn't translate into the idea that it's dangerous to be on the mountain.

Because of this failure to connect these really huge dots, the death toll in 2006 was on par with that of 1996. Same drill, different year.

Construction safety managers like to say, "Safety is no accident." The thought behind this pithy saying is that safety occurs because you plan for it and follow your plan. Safety doesn't happen by accident. It happens because you follow a proper safety plan.

On Everest, however, we see that the overall safety plan for 2006 wasn't even accidental--there wasn't one. Nor did all of the Everest "climbers" make their safety their personal responsibility. It seems clear (in hindsight) that most of the expedition companies put summiting first and worried about safety second. The high body count, then, is no surprise at all.

A couple of expedition companies, such as Himex, put safety first and make a point of getting clients back alive. That's part of their DNA. Their philosophy is a bit more complex than the idea that real mountaineering is purely about summiting at any cost. Those very companies have been pilloried for not doing enough to "save" people whose own actions (or lack thereof) put them in their predicaments to begin with. The "logic" is that those who have planned are supposed to bail out those who gambled.

Climbers are a particularly safe bunch (I know because I are one!). A climber follows certain rituals and procedures, period. For example, climbers check each other's harnesses before each ascent, even if they have already done so a dozen times that day. Except for a few risk-seeking superstars, a real climber asks, "What are the dangers and how do I protect myself?" A real climber is looking forward to climbing many more times in the future rather than dying on this one climb. The climbing culture involves layers of safety practices. The quickest way for a climber to be ostracized by other climbers is to act cavalier about safety.

In many climbing settings, access is contingent upon following safety protocols. Violate these, and you are permanently banned. As we can tell from the bodies strewn on Everest, that isn't the case everywhere.

Everest is increasingly populated with climber wannabes who have no business being there. They are climbing way beyond their ability level, both figuratively and literally. In doing so, they endanger not just themselves but others. They tend to compromise the expeditions of people who would otherwise have been able to summit and descend safely. And, as we are seeing, many of these wannabes go up but don't come down.

A few Everest-related Websites tell stories about the various tragedies, near misses, and other consequences of the hubris that is now standard for Mount Everest expeditions (not all, but most). Unfortunately, many pundits blame a few specific people who, when you look at the actual facts, and circumstances, are not at fault. They weren't the ones who showed up unqualified, unprepared, under-equipped, and out of shape.

Those sites, then, aren't helping prevent future calamities. But, they have the power to do so. They can post articles that point out the system problems, and they can provide a means for people to collaborate on on implementing the solutions. It seems a shame that they don't use that opportunity.

Solutions to the major deficiencies are reasonable and achievable. For example, why haven't the larger expedition companies formed an Everest Association that has rules for participation? And that provides full-time rescue teams? If there's one thing you can say about governments, it's that they like to suck up money. So such an association could kick a percentage of its membership fees to the two national governments that control access to Everest. Those two governments could then make association membership a mandatory condition for access. Heil doesn't prescribe this in his book, and given both his in-depth knowledge and and high credibility that seems like a wasted opportunity.

Unlike most commentators, Heil avoids finger-pointing as he brings us his account of the 2006 fiasco. He focuses on accurately portraying the events. What emerges is a dark tale of the dark summit, with details that allow the reader to have a clear picture of what transpired. Unlike some others who have told the story, Heil does very solid reporting. Reading his account, I could not help but feel the tagline under the title means just what it says--the true story.

And what a story it is. When you look at some of the people who were there, it's small wonder that this particular season was so tragic. Some examples include:

*A double amputee.
*A guy whose bones had been screwed together following a motorcycle accident.
*An out of shape guy with a condition that renders him blind at high altitude.
*A guide with only one previous 8,000 meter ascent (and that one didn't go well).

During climbing season, Everest is so crowded that people pile up dangerously at points all along the climbing routes. Unqualified "climbers" are struggling, due to a lack of expertise, a lack of preparation, a lack of fitness, a lack of experience, or some combination thereof.

Increasingly (as Heil shows), the population on Everest represents a slice of upper middle class dreamers and thrill-seekers rather than real climbers. When these dilettantes get in trouble, they can't just snap their fingers for assistance. Which is why so many of them suffer profound disfigurement or even die. Whose fault is that? Who should assist them?

Heil brings up some interesting questions, regarding responsibility for others on Everest. Here's one to ponder. Suppose you spent several years to prepare to summit Everest. You've climbed several 8,000 meter peaks, thus earning your stripes. Now you've trained especially hard for the past several months and spent $50,000 in expedition fees for this one climb. It's your fourth attempt.

Another person, who has only negligible mountaineering experience, shows up with little preparation and even less equipment. This person paid a no-name expedition company $7500 for a no-frills package and that means pretty much no support.

You have a one-day window to summit before a storm hits, and you know you can make it. But as you start out on your final day, you encounter Mr. No Frills. He's catatonic and can't move. Do you stop to help him down?

The short answer is no. Not because you will blow $50,000 that this person probably can't pay back, but because you are barely surviving at that altitude yourself. At 29,000 feet, your body is eating itself up and you have the most dangerous part--the descent--ahead of you. Your coordination, strength, and mental focus are all way below par. Nobody carries a dead body or a non-moving person down from the higher altitudes, because they can't. Which is why the dead are just left there.

So you can choose to do what you came to do, or you can choose to give it up for a rescue effort that has almost no hope of succeeding. You know that the attempt could cost you your fingers, even if you manage to survive. The other person, who shouldn't be there, will probably die anyhow.

By understanding the challenges facing people on Everest, you better understand those whose behavior might otherwise seem as cold and unfeeling as the mountain itself. Heil tells the story as it happened, giving the reader a sense of actually being there. He provides plenty of detail about what happens to the human body and the mind at the higher elevations, so that you get a sense of just how incapacitating it is to be there. Everest is not a test of climbing skill so much as it is a test of endurance at the outer limits of possibility.

I found the book engrossing and highly informative. The author didn't take any cheap shots at anyone or push his personal agenda. Nor did he sensationalize--given what really went on, he didn't need to. The reality was sensational enough. Heil provided rich detail and told the story in a way that kept me turning the pages.

Dark Summit could have been an excellent book, but it misses the mark due to mechanical errors in the text. I close this review with an explanation of my opening remark about the need for copyediting. I encountered mistakes like:

*"Sharp" used in place of "sherpa" (capitalized as shown).
*"marshall artists" instead of "martial artists"
*A large number of misspellings.
*Some parallel sentence structure, which is confusing.
*Some composition errors that rendered a few sentences incomprehensible.
*Miscellaneous scraps of text appearing completely out of place (copy and paste errors?).

Heil worked as a magazine editor. In the enthusiast magazine industry, the title "editor" doesn't mean "one who edits." It means "subject matter expert who writes articles that someone else must edit." That editing work should have been done on this manuscript before publishing it. Heil comes across as a great verbal story teller and a solid researcher with high standards of editorial integrity. But a good copyeditor should have cleaned up this text to prevent the mental gymnastics that interrupted the flow of this intriguing story.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Safety not in numbers, May 6, 2008
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For the reader fascinated by Mt. Everest, this book provides a very interesting status report on the current commercial climbing scene there. It seems each year that the present permit system continues it is a set-up for tragedies such as what happened to British climber David Sharp plus incredible survival stories like that of Australian Lincoln Hall. As anyone knows who has been there, Everest has a magical allure but at the same time the margin for error or inadequate preparation is slim. The account of 2006 on the Northeast ridge makes for riveting reading. At the same time, the account points out a glaring need for change such as a quota system and some serious climbing prerequisites. Philosophically does one really want to stand in line on a route where progress is slowed and risks increased by some "climbers" who probably shouldn't be on the mountain in the first place. On Everest, the stakes are too high.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good companion to the Discovery Series, April 30, 2012
I thought the half of the book that dealt with the Discovery show was very good. As for the rest, I think it was necessary to provide some background on Everest but that other books do a better job of providing background on Everest. In particular, I recommend that people read Conrad Anker's book on finding Mallory, and Jon Krakauer and Matt Dickenson's books on the 1996 disaster (and I hear Boukreev's book is a must read too about 1996 if you want to balance out Jon Krakauer's self-serving take on the 1996 disaster, but I haven't read it yet). This book seemed to give a balanced report of the events on Everest in 2006 as well as the various views on the personal responsiblity of the climbers. It is my view that responsibility for David Sharp's death falls on David Sharp and this book reinforced this belief for me. I do not understand Brett Merrell's comments about Russell Brice. The Discovery show was flattering to him and I can only guess that it is his disappointment at not making it to the top that is eating away at him. Discovery's Everest series for 2006, 2007 and 2009 are currently available on Netflix as is the IMAX documentary on Everest that was filmed during the time of the 1996 disaster. The 1996 IMAX is paraticularly interesting to watch as the climbers climb the summit ridge to the top of the mountain without the fixed ropes and through thigh deep snow which I assume was from the tragic storm that took so many lives. After watching the 3 climbers in the IMAX movie making their own trail and climbing without fixed ropes, I don't think that many of the people on the Himex or IMG guided tours would have made it to the top if that had to do that. The IMAX documentary helped me to understand the difference between the commercialized guided tours and the climbing that is done by real mountaineers. However, Everest is the top of the world so it makes sense to me that the commercialized guided tours exist because going to the top of Everest is really is about the destination and not climbing. It also makes sense to me that if someone like David Sharp wants to do a cheap, solo climb to the top of Everest without oxygen and without arranging (at least his expedition group denied that they were responsible for anything else) for any support on the mountain, then he is responsible for his own fate, sad as that might be.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark Summit, December 1, 2008
If you are into mountaineering books, Dark Summit is one to read. I have been intriqued by why climbers are so obsessed with climbing the higher peaks over 8000 meters. Iam an avid hiker and climb only moderate peaks. I became obsessed myself with the tragedy of 1996 with Scott Fischer and Rob Halls' group and why in the face of danger would a client or climber risk their lives to bag the ultimate summit. In So many unseem factors led to their demise. Dark Summit tragedy strikes again ten years after the first one in 1996. As in the first, there are remarkable similarities that occur though under different circumstances. As the story unfolds, author, Nick Heil does a wonderful job in portraying the events as they happen. I wanted to continue reading to find out what happened next and didn't want to put the book down. Like many of the other mountaineering books I read, I wanted to seek out answers to questions in my mind such as why do climbers put their body through so much torture and pain to what it must feel like being in the death zone. There are many complexies to solving the puzzle. This is one book that evokes interest in the quest of obtaining the ultimate dream of summiting mountains that seem to be like pillars that connect earth to the heavens. You will not be disappointed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating look at the less well known north face, July 30, 2010
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This review is from: Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Season (Hardcover)
Nick Heil joins a growing number of authors who have discussed the growing problems of commercialized mountaineering on Mt. Everest. This book is extremely well written and presents an objective view about the less well known north side with an emphasis on the deadly 2006 season. Anyone who enjoys these books will find this one fascinating. It describes the technical aspects of the north face in detail, but does an outstanding job of bringing to life the people involved, both as guides with vast experience and as clients who often should not be on the mountain. This one is hard to put down.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Troubling Mistake?, February 17, 2011
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I gasped when I read this author's brief reference to "Joe Tasker's corpse [sitting] serenely in the snow" between the Second and Third Pinnacles of Everest. For decades I had believed he and Peter Boardman, my most admired climbing heroes, had likely stepped through a cornice -- as numerous books had speculated. The Shining Mountain, Boardman's book about his and Tasker's climbing of Changabang, gives the reader such a personal connection to the climbers that it inspires a lasting affection and loyalty. Fueled by the apparently new revelation in Dark Summit regarding Pete and Joe's possible last hours, I swiftly began researching what has been discovered. To my dismay, it really looks like it is Peter Boardman's body, NOT Joe Tasker's, that rests there. Joe's has not been found. So then I went on Google to see if there is at least a correction/retraction associated with what appears to be a significant error in this book, and I didn't see one. So I thought I should at least write something. The two were very close partners, but not interchangeable.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, workmanlike, a little anti non-western climbers, May 31, 2011
I generally enjoyed reading this book, having also enjoyed Into Thin Air. I was glad I had read the earlier book, and knew a little about climbing, because I think the book takes a little bit of knowledge for granted. Not much, but someone who hadn't read anything about climbing might lose track of things from time to time.

I want to comment on something that bothered me in this and (less so) in Into Thin Air. There is a sense in these books that somehow non-western climbers are less capable or less able than the western teams. No doubt some of them are, but not to the extent that this book subtly conveyed.

A classic example was the anecdote in Dark Summit about Brice's western team caught behind a slower Chinese team. The author laments that the Chinese team didn't understand the English language exhortations to "get the f... outta the way".

Well, you know what? The north face of Everest is in CHINA. So take the effort to learn a few words of Chinese! No doubt you'd be annoyed on Mt Cook if a Chinese climber tried to overtake you yelling "Qing guo yixiar"!

Other than that streak of remnant colonialism, this was a good, not great book. I am glad I read it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Truthsayer, January 19, 2010
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A true account.
Very believable and accurate.
I found particularly interesting the section about the death of Thomas Weber, the partially blind climber who died at the foot of the Hillary Step. One of his aiders was Scott Wollums. I met Scott while climbing Mustagata in western China probably a month after the Everest season of 2006. Heil's description of Scott rang true. He was a helpful and direct guide from my experience. Wollums offered aid to Weber, but it was too little, to late. Wollums seemed the type that would not simply walk by a struggling climber, unlike the 40 or so that walked past David Sharp at the Rock Cave.
The book was accurate in other parts as well, and offers an objective and forthright description of the events that left 11 dead, including David Sharp, and a near-dead, Lincoln Hall.
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