The quest for Sandy Irvine

Everest, pictured in the enchanting red light, bordering pink, of what seems to be a late afternoon sun, overlaid with the portrait of a serious-looking young man, white wool sweater, scarf and all. The portrait is black and white, but his hair seems to be blond, and is swept back from his forehead. Straight eyebrows that leave the nose bridge free, but start out somewhat dark and then thin out towards the sides of his face, are set above symmetric eyes of a darkish shade, which could be brown or green. The shape of the face is rather square, with high cheekbones and a strong, broad jaw. It is on the whole very symmetric, the only slightly asymmetric feature being the mouth - the lower lip is somewhat thicker on one side - set below a straight nose with rather small nostrils. The look is serious, but one gets the impression that the young man is a very friendly person.

Fearless on Everest is the work of Julie Summers, great-niece of the Everest legend, written, as the subtitle states, as the result of "a personal quest to find out more about a young man who died in the flush of youth alongside one of mountaineering's greatest legends".

This quest was jumpstarted by the discovery of George Mallory's body by the 1999 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition, which caught the Mallory and Irvine families off guard. The Irvine family decided all material regarding their family-legend Andrew, or Sandy as he wanted to be called, should be collected and kept in one place, and placed under the care of the curator of a newly created trust, Julie Summers.

The collection grew quite rapidly, and Julie Summers wanted to share the wealth of information about Sandy with her relatives. She decided to spread it more widely, however, and to write a book. With this target in mind she set out to ferret out any and all material regarding Sandy, pestering and harassing her relatives to overturn their attics in search of said material. And wonder of wonders, a large amount of previously thought lost material turned up as a result. Now, confident that she had the full story from the perspective of Sandy and his contemporaries, Julie Summers set out to recreate the tale of his short life.

And she succeeds very well. The book has its weaknesses, here and there. As a spelling perfectionist I find the proofreaders missed far too many slip-ups. A number of times one sees too many edits gone wrong, leaving mutilated sentences in their wake that should have been spotted and rehabilitated. Especially as the copy I have is an "updated for paperback" version that, I presume, went through the process at least twice. But these are just minor grievances, that, I suspect, some won't even notice.

The tale flows. Julie Summers may not be a writer by occupation, but she manages to produce an interesting, immersing read nonetheless. I read this book in a week, and would have done it in a few days, if it weren't for the fact that my attentions were diverted by other pastimes like skiing and playing "Settlers of Catan". This book gives an insight as good as one can get into a person that died nearly eight decades ago. The sources Julie has at her disposal are priceless, letters written by Sandy and by friends and family to Sandy, and various other documents and sources. People who met or knew Sandy (or relatives of those that did) were approached and many contributed to the collage of information that became this book.

No resolution of that nagging controversy is reached, and Julie Summers even takes a rather conservative stance on Sandy's chances of having reached the summit of Everest, but this was never the intention of the book. Someday it might have to be updated to include the answer, possibly as a result of finding Sandy's body or the camera the pair took with them on that fateful climb up the mountain, but for now this book stands as a tribute to a legend of Everest, Andrew 'Sandy' Irvine. After reading this book, there can be no doubt that he deserves to be mentioned in one breath with that other legend, George Leigh Mallory.

. ..... . .

Fearless on Everest - The quest for Sandy Irvine; Julie Summers, 2000

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