I'm a woman

I'm a woman
Photos copyright Laurence Gouault
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Friday, 7 April 2017

Norton of Everest book review, by Stevie Haston.

Norton of Everest, the biography written by Hugh Norton, with a foreword by Wade Davis, and published by Vertebrate Publishing, is a very good read.
Why is it a good read? Well because it is a life rather than a collection of scurfy climbs, because it is of a time gone by, and now with the benefit of hindsight we can see how monumental it was for this, "not an every day" man, to break almost into the stratosphere, all those years ago.
What are we talking about, these far off times are indeed far off when girls are now around 9a + rock climbing grade, and women have broken Nortons altitude record? Well the world in 1924 was at once a smaller place, and an infinitely more magical place, but possibly its brutality was also much more evident even to the people of the Western world.

 Don't judge a book by its cover, and don't judge Norton by his altitude record.

Wade Davis does a brilliant foreword on Norton for the book, and clearly I can't compete with his glowing words, what I can do is give a slightly different view. My sideways viewpoint is that, while I always adored this mans mountaineering achievement, I was always put off by his his military status. As a life long pacifist  I wasn't keen to discover his brutish military side, or indeed his value to the Great British Empire. It was as you might guess, a very pleasant surprise to find Norton was one of the most humane of men, showing incredible sympathy, and genuine concerns for people from every walk of life, and every country. His rescue of Porters from the North Col despite probably recking the chances of the expedition, was done naturally without a seconds thought. As Edward Shebbeare said it "may have cost us the mountain".

 The iconic image of Norton heading into the eponymous couloir.

When you have stared into the couloir that is named after Norton, from a distance in time, you can only but admire his fortitude, and strength. That his altitude record lasted until 1978 when Habeler and Messner climber Everest without Oxygen is amazing. Norton was alone, he made his own tracks, he had primitive equipment and he didn't have sherpas, and oxygen cylinders lying around, and by Jove he nearly pulled it off!

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this map shows the long route through India and the Tibet, its long miles at altitude are one of the reasons Norton got so high.

Norton was an accomplished artist (there are fine illustrations of his in the book) he was a naturalist, a loving family man, but ultimately at his heart, he was a soldier. This last was the crux that I didn't want to explore, having a natural antipathy to the military, and indeed to the Alpine Club, and the whole of society that this epoc is historically about. So what a pleasant surprise to find him, Teddy Norton mentioned in dispatches 3 times, Military Cross, appointed DSO, and given every medal for gallantry, and bravery, except for the Victoria Cross. He survived Everest, the rarefied air that made Messener millions, he was the man who traversed the "Death Zone" before that particular over the top bit of marketing was invented. But for him to survive the Death Zone, he of course had to survive a much worse death zone, the real meat grinder of the first World War. The Marne, Yres, Loos, Arras! Norton finally ended up slowly being edged out of his dream position which would have been active duty in one of the more important conflagrations of the second World War. He was appointed Governor of Hong Kong, where his most important achievement was excavating tunnels, that people say saved many lives during the bombing by the Japanese. In short this tall man of 6 foot four, led a long, large life, it was for me a great life, well lived, and honourably so. When I looked into the Norton Couloir on Everest from a distance, I was hoping to walk in his footsteps. Norton certainly was close to my grandfather who lost a leg in the first World War , and now that I read this book I was assured that he would not have looked down on him.
If you buy this book, and read it, you will not only share in Everest, and some of those people like Mallory, but you will see a side of  history too. The part on his life subsequent to Everest may seem long, but for Norton it was his life, the couloir, and summit of Everest were pleasant interludes in a life well lived.