He had battled serious illness so was eager to suck out all the marrow of life. Up to page 120 or so, this is a fairly conventional account of preparing for the adventure and veering between excitement and trepidation on the lower slopes. The highlight in these early stages comes when a guide tells Mountain and his party to ‘shut up’ when the singing of Beatles’ songs becomes too irritating.
Then everything changes. Mountain provides a candid, harrowing account of the devastating events of April 2015, when an earthquake provoked avalanches on the world’s most famous mountain. In the thick of all the fear and panic, Mountain behaved with admirable fortitude: taking a lead in caring for the injured, ploughing on for hours through the sweat, smells and screams. What comes next is harder to assess. Mountain and many of his colleagues were keen to complete their expedition and some exploratory missions suggested that at least the first stages of their ascent were still possible. Those with the final say were having none of it, and Mountain makes no secret of his annoyance. You might emerge from these later pages with a profound sense of ambivalence. The hopeful climbers worked hard to behave responsibly: promising not to cajole any Sherpas into making the trip and making clear that they expected no rescue to be launched should things go awry. But could continuing with the climb ever have been a good idea at that moment? There was always a chance to return, which is precisely what Mountain did, triumphantly reaching the roof of the world on May 13, 2016.