Former Focus magazine editor Nick Smith reviews Mark Mackenzie’s ‘Wildest Dream’ for BBC Focus

The Wildest Dream: in the footsteps of Mallory and Irvine

By Mark Mackenzie, £20, John Murray, hb, 248pp, ISBN 978-0-7195-2482-0

One of the greatest mysteries in mountaineering is that surrounding whether George Mallory and his colleague Andrew Irvine got to the top of Mount Everest during their fatal ascent in 1924.

The evidence has been debated for decades, and yet the puzzle has remained steadfastly unsolved. Not until 1999, when the legendary Conrad Anker led a team that found Mallory’s remains, was there sufficient new data to allow more informed opinions. But even these divided the mountaineering community.

Plagued by the desire to know what really happened, Anker decided to reconstruct his predecessors’ expedition to see if the fearsome Second Step that leads to the summit could be ‘free climbed’ in original gear. This at least would pave the way for the possibility that Mallory and Irvine might, just might have done what Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay indisputably achieved in 1953.

And so the 2007 Altitude Everest expedition was born, the experienced Anker in charge with young ‘rock star’ prodigy Leo Houlding part of the final assault team.

The Wildest Dream is the story of all three expeditions published as a precursor to a film of the same name that goes on release this summer. It’s good solid stuff and Mackenzie – an experienced journalist who accompanied the Altitude Everest expedition as far as Base Camp – has done a terrific job in conveying the misery, danger and exhilaration of life on the world’s tallest mountain.

I’m not going to steal Mackenzie’s thunder by blowing the end, but you can be sure that The Wildest Dream is a superb yarn of high adventure. As Mackenzie says towards the end: ‘whether or not they had reached the summit, they had climbed higher on the mountain than anyone before them, with none of the benefits, unreliable oxygen excepted, enjoyed by their modern counterparts.’

Nick Smith is UK editor of the Explorers Journal and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society

‘Wildest Dream’ book review for BBC Focus magazine, by Nick Smith, April 2009]

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