{Book Review} The Death Zone: Climbing Everest Through the Killer Storm

I decided I’m going to write a couple of reviews here and there. However, since my blog is mostly about worldbuilding, I’m going to start with reviewing docufiction and adventure memoirs. These are the books I read out of enjoyment to be soaked in the first-hand experience of people who were places I could never go and seen things I could never even imagined exist. And I find myself not lacking in imagination department. 😉

From worldbuilder’s perspective these books are the best reference for something otherwise missing in other types of literature. I strongly believe it is the best source for learning to master descriptions that have author’s character interwoven in them. That character could be your fictional character as well. So you are killing three birds with one stone: you learn to describe something well; you learn how to show character through the description; and you learn how to move the story forward. Because it’s an adventure.

The fourth bird to kill is to gain knowledge and experience in certain areas. The necessary and very specific bits of information to incorporate into your own fiction.

Sometimes I caught myself thinking “Damn, I want my fiction to feel this real! How do they do that?”

They live it.

I’ve never been to the mountains, let alone Himalayas, but Matt made me feel like I had been climbing the Everest along with him and his team. Slowly, a few steps at a time, catching my breath, learning along the way, acclimatizing to the altitude before going for the summit.

Matt is a film-maker and writer who specializes in adventure documentaries. He is a seasoned traveler, but by no means he is a professional high-altitude mountaineer, and Mount Everest’s North Face is one of the most technically demanding climbs on the world’s highest peak. This alone rises the appeal of this book, since the person ‘on the other side’ of this most challenging adventure is a regular sea-level dwelling person like you and me.

The term Death Zone was invented in 1952 by a Swiss physician and alpinist Edouard Wyss-Dunant, in the book called The Mountain World. In it he described with high accuracy the effects of altitude on human body. At the 6000 meters it is still possible to acclimatise in the short term. At 7000 meters no acclimatisation is possible. The zone above 7500 meters received a special name. Above that altitude, not only human life can not be sustained, it deteriorates terrifyingly fast. Here no living creature belongs and the cells of vital organs are eliminated in their millions each hour. With the oxygen levels only 1/3 of that on the sea-level,

the Death Zone is a place where the mind wanders into strange and dark corners, where insanity and illusions are ever present traps, and where the corpses, of far stronger warriors than you will ever be, lie in the screaming wind with their sculls gaping from the ripped remains of their battledress.

Matt’s expedition, a British attempt on the North Face via the North East Ridge, was at camp three (6450 meters), poised at the edge of their own summit attempt when on 10 May 1996 just before 4 p.m. the storm thundered in.

At speeds touching 80 to 100 kilometers an hour, the storm whipped into the [base] camp [5360 m] just minutes later, plunging the temperature down by ten or fifteen degrees in as many seconds, ripping into the tents in a blinding fury of driving snow. The storm swept up the southern flanks of Everest engulfing the ice-clad slopes effortlessly in a swirling mantle of hurricane-force winds. Within minutes it had the northern side in its grip, and then it rose to take the summit. The mightiest mountain in the world disappeared from view as the storm took control.

And it got worse for those who were on the mountain, where more than thirty climbers were fighting for their lives.

The temperature had dropped approximately twenty degrees in as many minutes.

The full wrath of Everest’s fury was unleashed all around us, with a blizzard potent enough to lift a climber off his feet and blow him off the mountain like a scrap of paper.

Wind speeds over 100 miles an hour [more than 160 km/h] are not uncommon on Everest during such storms and by 5 p.m. the snow was driving horizontally through the air with sufficient velocity to draw blood from exposed flesh.

The snow became granulated hard ice as it flew, beating a relentless drumming tone against the tight nylon skins of the tents, a mind-numbing white noise like the hiss of static.

It was the worst twenty-four hours in the history of the peak. That storm claimed may lives, and Matt’s team survived only because they did not attempt to summit that day.

“You see those clouds?” Barney [Martin Barnicott] pointed up to the north where a milky haze clouded the upper atmosphere. “The whole system is unstable.”

The weather window is the fragile and elusive moment of opportunity. It can turn into weather trap in moments — conditions change rapidly on Everest. That, more than supplies and tent space, decides who will make it to the summit and return alive.

This book is a remarkable tale of a disaster and human triumph.

Matt Dickinson Website
Matt Dickinson on Wikipedia

Jeno Marz
JENO MARZ is a science fiction writer from Latvia, Northern Europe, with background in electronics engineering and computer science. She is the author of two serial novels, Falaha’s Journey: A Spacegirl’s Account in Three Movements and Falaha’s Journey into Pleasure. Marz is current at work on a new SF trilogy. All her fiction is aimed at an adult audience.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: