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885 The Vast Unknown
(read on an iPhone!)
a book review


iPhone with The Vast Unknown cover on the screen

Last winter (2013) I finally started using an iPhone. It was not the newest model, instead it was the once removed 4s version, but still way more advanced than my ancient candy bar Nokia. I had been an Apple user since 1985, but had held off on converting to a smart phone for what seemed to be logical thinking or at least at the time.

After finally, giving into the electronic clutches of the smart phone, I slowly started using the device for different functions including: photographs, navigation, note taking, etc.

On our annual, extended, summer trip, historically, I have carried many books with me. Instead of a paper book, this year I was determined to carry an e-book that could be read on my iPhone. On the iPhone I found slight differences in the formatting of books as I tried one e-book reader and then another. The iBook app seemed to work best, naturally (it is the Apple app), even though the book prices were a bit higher.

As the departure date for the summer trip drew near, I finally chose a book to read. After browsing through many pages of titles, I finally decided on "The Vast Unknown" by Broughton Coburn - 'America's First Ascent of Everest.' The book was a new title, celebrating the 50 year anniversary on the 1963 climb. I had read several books about the historical expedition and was intrigued by the new work. Yes, I am a self confessed armchair mountaineer.

The 1963 American Expedition to Mount Everest successfully put the first American on Everest, Jim Whittaker, and the expedition also pioneered the West Ridge Route of Everest. Looking back at the significance of the routes, the South Col Route (that Hillary and Tenzing also climbed) is now the trade route of the mountain. Every ascent of Everest is a remarkable achievement, but the South Col Route is now seen as a tourist route. Whereas, the West Ridge has seen few ascents through the years and still today is seen as a challenging mountaineering route. The Vast Unknown tells the story of the expedition and the competition to climb the two routes.

The 1963 Expedition was large, but they still had a limited amount of supplies and man power. Attempting two routes put a strain on the supplies and climbers. Was it more important to just climb the mountain by the easiest route or was it more important to establish a new route? Or to do both?

"The Vast Unknown" tells how the expedition finally achieved both goals. It is an amazing story.

A few "The Vast Unknown" notes ...

On the iPhone, the book formatted to a 1990 page tome. The actual hard cover book has 320 pages. Of course each page was very short.

The book has 26 chapters. The short chapters give easy break spots.

Though I knew the history of the expedition, it still was an interesting read.

After starting the book, I had to ration my reading habits. I could have finished the book in a couple of nights, but instead spread it out over a month.

After setbacks (including death) the team focused on just getting someone to the top. The first American ascent made the expedition successful, but that was not the 'vast unknown'.

After the ascent, many of the climbers who had focused on the South Col Route were ready to go home.

Climbers of the West Ridge Route insisted they still needed an opportunity. Unlikely expedition teammates helped the cause by carrying loads to help supply the camps established on the ridge.

The "Vast Unknown" is a new style story. The trend these days seems to be divulging dirty laundry that would have been left out of older books. On this expedition, the story did not have much dirty, but the book still offered unusual insights into team members personal lives.

The West Ridge climbers were skilled, bold, and lucky climbers. They stepped into the "Vast Unknown" and returned.

The Vast Unknown was a very good book and fun to read on the iPhone. We hope that many more mountaineering and outdoor adventure titles will also be made into ebook titles.

Happy Vast Unknown trails


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