Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Misery on a Taranaki mountainside

Hiroki and Nicole
Nicole Sutton and Hiroki Ogawa died tragically in a snow cave on Mt Taranaki over the weekend.
Taranaki Alpine Cliff Rescue member Mike Johns
ROBERT CHARLES/Taranaki Daily News
TOUGH DECISION: Taranaki Alpine Cliff Rescue member Mike Johns was part of the search and rescue mission on Mt Taranaki last weekend.
I want to put this article on my blog in the hope that climbers and trampers of the future will learn from this and not repeat the mistakes made here. I have worked in mountain rescue teams in Otago and at Aoraki/ Mount Cook and have seen too many climbers die or badly injured due to either poor decisions and or not learning from others.
Here is an excellent summary of events written by Helen Harvey
 In the early hours of Sunday morning Taranaki Alpine Cliff Rescue member Mike Johns got to within 200 metres of two climbers stuck on Mt Taranaki - only to be forced back by the weather.
Yesterday morning he was winched down onto the mountain, from an air force helicopter, and helped recover the bodies of Nicole Sutton, 29, and Hiroki Ogawa, 31, who died after they spent two nights in a snow cave. The recovery operation took place in near perfect conditions.
It was "a beautiful morning up there, not a breath of wind", Johns said.
But it was a different situation when he and his team started out just after 1am on Sunday - into driving wind, horizontal sleet and rain.
Massive gusts made walking difficult, he said. They got to nearly 2200 metres. The climbers were at about 2400 metres.
"We were the next valley over, but getting close to that altitude. They had given us a rough coordinate that was pretty close."
The rescue team was getting pounded by sleet, he said.
"So one side of your face was going numb. By that stage we were so covered in ice everything was starting to freeze up. It wasn't particularly pleasant conditions."
It got so bad that just after 3.30am they made the gut-wrenching decision to turn around and go back down.
"It weighed on everyone's mind. We discussed it as a team, but our safety came first and we all agreed we were at the point it was starting to get dangerous."
The team, who were carrying 20kg packs, were hoping the two climbers had dug in and were well secured in their spot, Johns said.
"They were probably in a better position than we were when we turned around.
"We discussed digging a snow cave as well and staying up there, but we thought, ‘What are we going to achieve?' We are going to be cold and wet and miserable and no good to anybody. We'd be better off coming back and regrouping and trying again."
There was a wind chill factor of -15 so it was "pretty cold".
Johns got back to the base at 6am. Teams were still assembling and the fourth team to go up made it to the climbers who were dug in just below the rim of the crater.
Normally it is possible to get right inside a snow cave and get out of the weather, he said.
"But they had just managed to dig a slot in the snow and get into it.

Johns spent Monday with the crew of an air force helicopter trying to get on the mountain, but it was too windy. The wind was still howling when the rescue team found the missing climbers about 7.30am Monday.
"Considering how hard it would have been up there - the ice gets really hard especially that high - it would have been a big effort for them to do what they did. So they did really well."
"That's why they made the decision to leave them behind and get out of there."
The search teams will be "going through a bit of victim support, especially the guys who found [the climbers]."
The police also provide support and there will be a formal debrief, he said.
"The guys don't like talking about it. But it was a big operation, especially with people getting so close and having to turn back. There are some people out there with mixed emotions - if they'd managed to get on a bit further . . .
"But at the end of the day all the teams made the right decision. No searchers got lost or injured."
The search involved more than 30 volunteers and Mr Johns estimated they would have spent 2000 hours during the rescue attempt.
"The incident management team ran all the time. We don't usually do that. Often we shut down overnight, but because teams were still going up at all hours, we had to man it the whole time.
"If there were no volunteers there would be no search and rescue in New Zealand."
Taranaki police Senior Sergeant Thomas McIntyre, who was part of the incident management team, said the volunteers had given up their Labour Weekend to help.
The 20 search and rescue people from the Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation had driven over from National Park.
"Without [the volunteers] we don't have a search and rescue capability. We rely on them to get the job done."
LandSAR helped with administration and was following the tracks of the climbers who walked out around noon on Sunday.
"Arec [Amateur Radio Emergency Communications] came in and operated all our search and rescue radio. And the Taranaki rescue chopper provided invaluable support."
The air force and the police were also involved in the rescue, McIntyre said.
"It was a big operation. There was a lot of people to manage and mitigate the risk to them, as well as rescue the people who are in trouble."
The tragic deaths of two climbers on Mt Taranaki last weekend has left experienced mountaineers with lots of questions.
How did two people who were well-prepared, well-briefed, with good skills die on the mountain, outdoor specialist Rob Needs was asking.
"Why did they choose to stay the night when the weather forecast was for the weather to deteriorate? Eight people went up there, six got back. Why did two choose to stay? That's what's perplexing those who know the mountain."
Every 100 metres down the mountain the conditions ease a little bit, said Needs, who owns the New Plymouth Kiwi Outdoors shop.
"If they had got down to 2200 metres or 2100 metres the rescue teams would have got to them or they would have got to better conditions and made it lower."
At the moment there are so many more questions, he said.
"They'd done a huge day. They took 12 hours on a trip that should have taken five. Why did it take so long?"
And why did they choose to stay up there?
The couple sheltered in a snow cave, but it wouldn't have been something cosy like the one climbers Mark Inglis and Philip Doole spent 13 days in on Aoraki/Mt Cook in 1982.
There is no snow up on Mt Taranaki at the moment, just ice, he said.
Taranaki Mt Egmont: A Guide for Climbers author and mountain guide Ross Eden agrees.
It would have been like trying to dig a hole in soft rock, Eden said.
"It'll be enough to sit in and keep your head out of the wind if you hunker down."
But they would have needed something to insulate themselves from the weather and they wouldn't have taken a sleeping bag.
"I'm trying to understand why two people could walk down on Sunday morning. Why the other two didn't walk down? Why didn't they attempt to walk down?"
Eden, who has climbed Mt Taranaki more than 350 times, said he wouldn't spend a night on the mountain.
"It's just not an option in my view."
The eight Auckland trampers had taken the East Ridge, which is the hardest way to climb the mountain.
"It's not a place that you take novices and you certainly wouldn't want to be exposed out there in bad weather. It's the least hospitable place on mountain."
The climbers made really slow progress to get to the summit at 7pm, which is too late to get there, he said. He usually calls time about 3pm.
"But it's not that easy to back off East Ridge, to be fair. And if you're unfamiliar with it and haven't got visibility, there doesn't look like there's an option to go back down.
"So I can understand why you would persevere with heading upward. There is easier ground on other side once you get there. The travel time coming down from the summit by the normal descent route is three times faster than coming down east ridge."
The clear message is know the limitations of the climbing party and watch the weather.
"Juggle those two things together and make decisions based on that."
He always tells his clients: "The mountain is not going anywhere. You can always come back."
New Zealand Alpine Club general manager Sam Newton said climbers were making decisions all the time based on an extraordinary variety of circumstances, some of which could be quite individual around what equipment or what injuries they had, how much food or what clothing they had.
Then there was the individual interpretation of the weather and the varying type of terrain.
"It's very hard to second-guess decision making. There is such a wide variety of circumstances that are individual to everyone." 
Thanks to Fairfax NZ News for permission to run this article.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

First descent of the Chobar Gorge, Kathmandu Nepal, 1975.

I spent nine months in Nepal in 1975, working with the Nepal Red Cross to build its capacity. One of the areas we identified for training and strengthening, was water safety. People were frequently drowning crossing rivers and streams, and volunteers reluctant to travel to remote district during the monsoon. We looked at ways of developing tradition methods of crossing rivers and I also got an inflatable rubber raft from the Swedish Red Cross as I felt that this was a very safe method of getting 5 or so people across a flooded river.
Looking across the Chobar Gorge early in the morning. The Kathmandu valley under cloud and mist.
 I found 2 or 3 young volunteers in the Nepal Red Cross who were strong swimmers and during the first ever national disaster preparedness training course in Kathmandu, we did many sessions on water safety. I remember well that the most outstanding swimmer who adapted well to rafting was Hari Krishna Lovely.

In August 1975, Limbo (Keith) Thompson, the first member of the 1975 New Zealand Jannu expedition arrived and stayed with me to do the initial organisation for the main expedition which arrived a month later. Like me, Limbo had done some rafting in New Zealand. We learned that no one had descended the Chobar gorge, a long and fast flowing section of the Bagmati River. We spent 3 days checking the gorge, the river which is situated just southeast of Chobar village in Nepal, where the Bagmati River cuts through a section of the Chobar hill, the picturesque Chobar Gorge is spanned by a narrow suspension bridge, which was imported from a manufacturer in Aberdeen  in Scotland in 1903. The bridge was transported to Nepal in pieces across the mountains via India and then put together at the Chobar Gorge. This was seen as a huge technical accomplishment at the time and visitors agree that the view of the Chobar Gorge and surroundings from this historic suspension bridge is breath-taking. See photo below. The river was at a very low level when this was taken.

Chobar village is located on a high ridge overlooking the Chobar Gorge and can only be accessed on foot. The rocky cliffs of Chobar Gorge are riddled with caves which are popular as meditation retreats. It is believed by many that an underground passage runs from one of these caves to the Adinath Lokeshwar Temple in the village of Chobar. No-one seems to know where this secret passage begins, however, which adds to the mysterious myths and legends surrounding Chobar Gorge.

We asked many of the local people if anyone had been through the Chobar Gorge by raft or boat, and the response we got was no, but they reminded us that it was a popular place for cremating the dead. The banks of the Bagmati River on the south side of Chobar Gorge has been paved with steps down to the river. These are used for ritual cleansing and cremations in the Bagmati River as well as for the laundering of clothes, and serves as a daily gathering place for the local people.

We learned that geological studies have shown that the Kathmandu Valley was previously a huge lake that drained southward through the Chobar Gorge, opening up the valley. Buddhist legend asserts that the lake, which was known as Nag Hirat (tank of serpents), contained magical snake-like beings that were guarding treasure lying at the bottom of the lake. Bodhisattva Manjushri sliced through the circle of mountains with a single stroke of his Sword of Wisdom, thereby draining the lake and creating the Kathmandu Valley. Countless snakes were said to have been washed out with the departing waters, but the king of the snakes, Kartotak, is believed to have remained behind at the request of Manjushri and now resides in the Taudaha Lake. The Hindu belief, however, is that Krishna created the Chobar Gorge by throwing a thunderbolt that split the mountain.

                              Another view of the Chobar Gorge, Nepal.

 At the bottom of the two hills is the three-tiered Bagh Bhairab Temple  with the ferocious deity Bhairab in the form of a Tiger. Alongside, there is a temple to the left of the entrance with Lord Vishnu riding Garuda. The triple – roofed Uma Maheshwor temple can be approached by climbing the stone stairway by the saddle. The main deities in the temple are the standing Shiva and Parvati. From the temple there are excellent views of the surrounding area. The Chilanchu Vihara is on top of the southern hill.

After carefully exploring the gorge from the steep cliffs we decided it would be wise to pick a day when the river was flowing high as we would be less likely to get snagged on various man-made projections that were on the river side.

The day finally came when everything looked good. Limbo and Hari Khrishna Lovely plus 2 Nepal Red Cross volunteers made up a strong team of five. This was real exploration and as leader, I wondered if this was wise to attempt a first descent of an unknown stretch of water. But at 27 years of age, fear is not so well developed, and Hari and Limbo were eager to do it. We gingerly put the raft in at the top of the gorge and paddled in a calm spot to build confidence. Next we slowly paddled towards the start of the river where it picks up speed and we appeared to be sucked downwards into the wild gorge. We had chosen a high water level which covered logs, branches and snags, but had made the river much swifter. We were now totally committed and there was no turning back. We were paddling well as a team and while concentrating on picking the safest course in the swirling river, I had glimpses of people with startled looks on their faces at the top of the gorge and some eagles hovering on the updrafts, and diving into the eddies for fish. We were buffeted by huge waves throwing us against enormous rocks, as we slithered through the gorge. After about 15 to 20 minutes we were spewed out of the gorge and landed right next to the temple river platform. The Priests and Monks were astounded as they thought some supernatural event was happening. Hari explained we were indeed from this realm and had come down the gorge on the river from Kathmandu. Limbo and I recalled being showered with praise and hospitality mixed with a high degree of disbelief as we were told no one had ever been down this gorge in a boat or raft.
A months or so later I did another descent of the Chobar Gorge with Graeme Dingle, a member of the NZ Jannu mountaineering expedition. Somehow it seemed easier, and less exciting but I had time to take in the scenery; very beautiful scenery.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Stalin, the tyrant as editor with his blue pencil.

I have long been fascinated by Joseph Stalin, but never knew he was a reasonable editor and an had a solid  understanding of history. Stalin always carried an editor's blue pencil and frequently revised history, but as Holly Case wrote, " He who lives by the blue pencil must know that history is subject to revision."
Thanks to Weston DeWalt for bringing this article to my notice.
The Tyrant as Editor
By Holly Case OCTOBER 07, 2013

Joseph Djugashvili was a student in a theological seminary when he came across the writings of Vladimir Lenin and decided to become a Bolshevik revolutionary. Thereafter, in addition to blowing things up, robbing banks, and organizing strikes, he became an editor, working at two papers in Baku and then as editor of the first Bolshevik daily, Pravda. Lenin admired Djugashvili's editing; Djugashvili admired Lenin, and rejected 47 articles he submitted to Pravda.
Djugashvili (later Stalin) was a ruthless person, and a serious editor. The Soviet historian Mikhail Gefter has written about coming across a manuscript on the German statesman Otto von Bismarck edited by Stalin's own hand. The marked-up copy dated from 1940, when the Soviet Union was allied with Nazi Germany. Knowing that Stalin had been responsible for so much death and suffering, Gefter searched "for traces of those horrible things in the book." He found none. What he saw instead was "reasonable editing, pointing to quite a good taste and an understanding of history."
Stalin had also made a surprising change in the manuscript. In the conclusion, the author closed with a warning to the Germans lest they renege on the alliance and attack Russia. Stalin cut it. When the author objected, pleading that the warning was the whole point of the book, Stalin replied, "But why are you scaring them? Let them try. ..." And indeed they did, costing more than 30 million lives—most of them Soviet. But the glory was Stalin's in the end.
The editor is the unseen hand with the power to change meaning and message, even the course of history. Back when copy-proofs were still manually cut, pasted, and photographed before printing, a blue pencil was the instrument of choice for editors because blue was not visible when photographed. The editorial intervention was invisible by design.
Stalin always seemed to have a blue pencil on hand, and many of the ways he used it stand in direct contrast to common assumptions about his person and thoughts. He edited ideology out or played it down, cut references to himself and his achievements, and even exhibited flexibility of mind, reversing some of his own prior edits.
So while Stalin's voice rang in every ear, his portrait hung in every office and factory, and bobbed in every choreographed parade, the Stalin behind the blue pencil remained invisible. What's more, he allowed very few details of his private life to become public knowledge, leading the Stalin biographer Robert Service to comment on the remarkable "austerity" of the "Stalin cult."
But we should not confuse Stalin's self-effacement with modesty. Though we tend to associate invisibility with the meek, there is a flip side that the graffiti artist Banksy understands better than most: "invisibility is a superpower."
For Stalin, editing was a passion that extended well beyond the realm of published texts. Traces of his blue pencil can be seen on memoranda and speeches of high-ranking party officials ("against whom is this thesis directed?") and on comic caricatures sketched by members of his inner circle during their endless nocturnal meetings ("Correct!" or "Show all members of the Politburo"). During the German siege of Stalingrad (1942-43), he encircled the city from the west with his blue pencil on a large wall map in the Kremlin, and, in the summer of 1944, he redrew the borders of Poland in blue. At a meeting with Winston Churchill a few months later, the British prime minister watched as Stalin "took his blue pencil and made a large tick" indicating his approval of the "percentages agreement" for the division of Europe into Western and Soviet spheres of influence after the war.
The few who visited the Soviet leader in his Kremlin study mention the blue pencil in their memoirs. Georgy Zhukov, commander of the Soviet military during World War II, observed that "Stalin usually made notes in blue pencil and he wrote very fast, in a bold hand, and legibly." The Yugoslav Communist Milovan Ðilas was surprised to find that Stalin was not the calm, self-assured man he knew from photographs and newsreels:
He was not quiet a moment. He toyed with his pipe ... or drew circles with a blue pencil around words indicating the main subjects for discussion, which he then crossed out with slanting lines as each part of the discussion was nearing an end, and he kept turning his head this way and that while he fidgeted in his seat.
The Stanford historian Norman Naimark describes the marks left by Stalin's pencil as "greasy" and "thick and pasty." He notes that Stalin edited "virtually every internal document of importance," and the scope of what he considered internal and important was very broad. Editing a biologist's speech for an international conference in 1948, Stalin used an array of colored pencils—red, green, blue—to strip the talk of references to "Soviet" science and "bourgeois" philosophy. He also crossed out an entire page on how science is "class-oriented by its very nature" and wrote in the margin "Ha-ha-ha!!! And what about mathematics? And what about Darwinism?"
Stalin excised people—indeed whole peoples—out of the manuscript of worldly existence.
Even when not wielding his blue pencil, Stalin's editorial zeal was all-consuming. He excised people—indeed whole peoples—out of the manuscript of worldly existence, had them vanished from photographs and lexicons, changed their words and the meanings of their words, edited conversations as they happened, backing his interlocutors into more desirable (to him) formulations. "The Poles have been visiting here," he told the former Comintern chief Georgi Dimitrov in 1948. "I ask them: What do you think of Dimitrov's statement? They say: A good thing. And I tell them that it isn't a good thing. Then they reply that they, too, think it isn't a good thing."
All editors, wrote the cultural historian Jacques Barzun, "show a common bias: ... what the editor would prefer is preferable." Being an author is well and good, and Stalin wrote several books—the word "author" does after all share a root with the word "authority"—but he knew that editing was a higher power. Naimark argues that editing is as much a part of Stalinist ideology as anything he said or wrote. This insight warrants amplification. Under Stalinism, anyone could speak or write, but since Stalin was the supreme gatekeeper of the censorship hierarchy and the gulag system, the power to edit was power itself.
Published in 1938, The Short Course on the History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) is one of the most famous ideological works of the last century. As the historian Walter Laqueur writes in his memoirs, "Every Communist had to read it at the time; it was quoted in every article, translated into every language; the total circulation was in the tens of millions." The story of how it came into being reveals much about the power of writers and editors, and about Stalin's otherwise inscrutable editorial persona.
A new edition of the Short Course edited by the historians David Brandenberger and Mikhail Zelenov is forthcoming from Yale University Press under the title Stalin's Catechism: A Critical Edition of the Short Course on the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It shows many of the revisions Stalin made to the work along with a detailed production and reception history. The book promises to be a revelation, for it will make Stalin the editor starkly visible.
The Soviet Union was in existence for almost 20 years before its ruling party had an official history. While entire brigades of historians (and they were called brigades) had been at work since the 1917 revolution, Stalin did not approve of their efforts. In 1931 he dissed them in a speech as "archive rats" who had failed to pull together a compelling narrative of the party's achievements.
That was before the purge.
In 1934 a high-ranking member of the Communist Party, Sergei Kirov, was assassinated. His death, likely orchestrated by Stalin himself, was used to initiate a mass persecution that would result in over a million imprisoned and hundreds of thousands killed. Among the targets were members of the party's bureaucratic elite. They were interrogated, tortured, and forced to give public confessions before being shot in the back of the head.
It's difficult to write a compelling history without a stable cast of characters. No author could keep up with all the deletions. ("The editor's secret weapon," writes the author and book editor Harriet Rubin, "is the delete button.") In spite of all this, or perhaps because of it, Stalin was assured by Kirov's replacement in the party hierarchy that "a whole collective farm" of historians was at work on an official history. Two men—Yemelyan Yaroslavsky and Pyotr Pospelov—led the team. Together they produced an 800-page typescript, which they presented to Stalin late in 1937. His initial response will be familiar to anyone who has worked with an editor: "Make it twice as short." They did: with great difficulty, in record time, and without complaint.
When Stalin received the pared-down manuscript, he still was not pleased: "No 'collective farm' will ever be able to get this right," he fumed, and began to rewrite it himself. All this took place during the Third Moscow Trial, in which Nikolai Bukharin, a high-ranking Bolshevik and Stalin's former supporter, was accused of participating in a broad conspiracy to take down the Soviet regime. The trial ended with Bukharin's "final plea"—the confession that inspired Arthur Koestler's 1940 novel Darkness at Noon—and execution. In extensive marginal notes on the draft Short Course, Stalin instructed the authors to ratchet up the aura of conspiracy threatening both party and state from inside and out. The purge was history in the making.
Revise, resubmit.
But Stalin was still not satisfied. In the next round of substantial edits, he used his blue pencil to mute the conspiracy he had previously pushed the authors to amplify (italics indicate an insertion):
The Soviet people
unanimously approved the
court's verdict—the verdict of the peopleannihilation of the Bukharin-Trotsky gang and passed on to next business.
The Soviet land was thus purged of a dangerous gang of heinous and insidious enemies of the people, whose monstrous villainies surpassed all of the darkest crimes and most vile treason of all times and all peoples.
The reversal makes sense in light of Stalin's other changes in the manuscript, mostly deletions. (Yaroslavsky: "Never in my life have I seen such editing.") He cut the cast of characters by half, diminishing the significance of both heroes and villains: "What do exemplary individuals really give us?" he wondered. "It's ideas that really matter, not individuals." As if to offer the ultimate confirmation of this claim, he cut most references to himself.
These colossal achievements were attained ... thanks to the bold, revolutionary and wise policy of
Comrade Stalin the Party and the Government.
Yaroslavsky protested Stalin's self-excisions. "This is of course an illustration of your great modesty," he wrote to the general secretary, "which is a wonderful trait for any Bolshevik to have. But you belong to history and your participation in the party's construction must be fully depicted." Stalin didn't budge.
Stalin's blue pencil was an instrument he used to transform himself into an idea and, ultimately, an ideology. Of Marx had come Marxism, out of Lenin Leninism; such was the mise-en-scène within which Stalin—through his tireless revisions—was becoming Stalinism. Writing about Soviet memoirs of the Stalinist period and after, Irina Paperno, a Slavicist at the University of California at Berkeley, notes that the editor "is not a real person or persons, but a function, or persona." In his biography of Stalin from 1936, Henri Barbusse wrote: "Stalin is the Lenin of today." He meant that Stalin had effectively become a persona, an idea that transcended the person. It was a compliment. And others felt its force. Before meeting him in 1943, Ðilas imagined the Soviet leader as a "pure idea, ... something infallible and sinless."
Stalin's victims in the Great Purge were called "revisionists." No one may edit the editor.
Of the 12 chapters of the Short Course, Stalin wrote to its authors after receiving the manuscript, "it turned out to be necessary to fundamentally revise 11 of them." His was a near total revision. Marxism-Leninism—and therefore also Stalinism as presented by theShort Course—was born of what Hannah Arendt called "the refusal to view or accept anything 'as it is' and ... the consistent interpretation of everything as being only a stage of some further development." It represented a shift toward seeing the world with the eye of an editor. Literally. As Jonathan Sperber notes in his recent book, Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life, Marx's career as an editor was "always one of his chief forms of political activism."
There were those—most notably his supreme antagonist, Leon Trotsky—who claimed that Stalin was an ideological bumbler, "absolutely incapable of theoretical, that is, of abstract thought." Stalinism was nothing but a self-serving revision of both past and future, Trotsky wrote in 1930, crafted "to justify zigzags after the event, to conceal yesterday's mistakes and consequently to prepare tomorrow's." While Trotsky was right that Stalin's ideas were largely corrections, edits of an existing model, he was wrong to assume that theory is something inherently pure, a new birth as yet untainted by revision. Stalin's obsessive editing of the socialist project was his ideology, a manifestation of the idea that the final draft of history could be just one edit away.
"We still lack a satisfactory theory of Stalinism," writes Slavoj Žižek. Perhaps such a theory, when it comes, should take Stalin's editorial mania seriously, not merely as a personal tic, but as a way of seeing the world and understanding history.
Following publication of the Short Course, which gave the author as "A commission of the ACP(b) Central Committee," Stalin explained: "We were presented with ... a draft text and we fundamentally revised it." The Soviet leader's deployment of the "royal we" suggests that he suffered from what Koestler called the "shamefacedness about the first person singular which the Party had inculcated in its disciples." (Once a young department head—and Stalin's future son-in-law—dared to speak for the party "in his own name." "Ha-ha-ha!" pronounced the greasy pencil. "Nonsense!" and "Get out!")
His primary addition to the Short Course was a long section on the philosophy of dialectical materialism, which Marx (and Engels), Lenin, and Stalin all saw as the principle underlying reality. Stalin cited Lenin: "In its proper meaning ... dialectics is the study of the contradiction within the very essence of things." One such contradiction lies at the heart of Marxism­-Leninism's editorial drive, for despite its "refusal to view or accept anything 'as it is,'" Marxism-Leninism—and above all Stalinism—forever chases the objectively perfect edit, the one that bears no further revision; history's final draft. As Stalin wrote in the Short Course, "Hence Socialism is converted from a dream of a better future for humanity into a science." The desire to put an end to the otherwise interminable editorial process is perhaps why Stalin's victims in the Great Purge—the presumed worst enemies of Marxism-Leninism—were called "revisionists." No one may edit the editor.
But the revision continues, exposing a fatal flaw in the editorial spirit of the modern age that renders the almighty editor impotent in the end. Friedrich Nietzsche described it this way in his Untimely Meditations (1876):
They clap their extinguishers over the wittiest text, they smear their thick brushstrokes over the most charming drawing, all of these interventions are meant to be viewed as 'corrections.' ... But their critical pens never cease flowing, for they have lost the power over them and are being led by them rather than leading them. It is precisely in this excessiveness of their critical outpourings, in the lack of control over themselves, in what the Romans called impotentia, that the weakness of the modern personality betrays itself.
The afterlife of the Short Course confirms Nietzsche's critique, for the editorial mania unleashed by Stalin consumed his own legacy.
Once it was published, some party cadres complained that the Short Course was too obtuse. Where were the heroes, where was the Soviet motherland, indeed where was Stalin? Stalin reacted to such criticisms with irritation and launched a radical overhaul of the Soviet educational system to encourage self-study of the text rather than leaving it for underqualified instructors to discuss in classrooms and reading circles. Readers should approach the Short Course the way Luther meant the laity to approach the Bible: absent the middleman.
But it didn't work. Within little over a year, the old networks of study circles and ad hoc courses re-emerged, "complemented," Brandenberger and Zelenov write in their forthcoming edition, "by dozens of improvised auxiliary texts and readers published in the provinces," all for the purpose of illuminating the Short Course. This grass-roots revision of Stalin's plan meant the return of heroes to the story of the party's evolution, and a tenacious clinging to the Stalin personality cult.
The second, still more brazen revision came after Stalin's death. At the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in February of 1956, Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, submitted his own radical edit of Stalin's legacy. In his "Secret Speech"—perhaps the most famous, if not the only example of a head of state reflecting explicitly on editorial practice—he condemned Stalin's hubris and cruelty, taking aim at Stalin the editor: "Comrades ... it is impermissible and foreign to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism to elevate one person, to transform him into a superman possessing supernatural characteristics, akin to those of a god. Such a man supposedly knows everything, sees everything, thinks for everyone, can do anything, is infallible in his behavior," Khrushchev began. "Who did this? Stalin himself, not in his role as a strategist, but in the role of an author-editor."
There followed a bitter condemnation of the Short Course, during which Khrushchev pulled a Stalin, backing the dead leader into a position at odds with the facts:
Does this book correctly depict the party's efforts in the socialist transformation of our country? ... No—the book speaks principally about Stalin, about his speeches and about his reports. Everything is tied to his name without the smallest exception. And when Stalin himself claimed that he wrote The Short Course on the History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), this arouses nothing less than indignation. Can a Marxist­-Leninist really write about himself in such a way, praising himself to the skies?
He who lives by the blue pencil must know that history is subject to revision.
Holly Case is an associate professor of history at Cornell University.. Thanks to the Chronicle of Higher Education New York, for permission to run this article.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The keeper of the mountains of Nepal.

This recent article on Liz Hawley reminded me of the first time I met her in Kathmandu in 1975. I don’t think she was that impressed by me or the 1975 NZ Jannu expedition. Jim Strang records in the 1976 NZAJ (p14) “Crawford writing off two push-bikes at Bob McKerrow’s place in Kathmandu.”  I invited Liz Hawley to this farewell party to the NZ Jannu expedition I hosted.  I had a small two storey house in Kathmandu in 1975 and Lynn Crawford got this bright idea that it would be fun to cycle down the stairs. Next morning I had to face the owner of the hire company and pay for the two mangled bikes and three other badly damaged ones.  For the records, members of that expedition were:Limbo Thompson, Geoff Wayatt, Jim Strang, Pete Farrell, GraemE Dingle, Lynn Crawford, Bryan Pooley, Brian Fearnley, Noel Sissions, Ian Jowett, Roger Foley, Don Cowie. 

Here is an excellent article written by Billi Bierling, 

“Isn’t Miss Hawley coming?” a disappointed Hiro Takeuchi asked me when I was debriefing him about his expedition. The Japanese climber had just come back from a successful expedition to his 14th and final 8,000-meter peak and had become the first Japanese to complete this impressive feat. It was difficult to tell the 42-year-old mountaineer, who had known Miss Hawley for over 20 years and had been “examined” by her several times, that she was busy. She and her driver, Suban, were on their way to meet another expedition and, as usual, they were stuck in the mad Kathmandu traffic in her 50-year-old baby-blue Volkswagen Beetle.
Elizabeth Hawley, who lives in a modest flat in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, has archived expeditions to so-called expedition peaks in Nepal for 50 years, and it’s difficult to escape her grilling interview technique. “It sometimes happens that we miss an expedition, but most of the time we find them—even if it is years later,” Hawley says. In order to keep up with the rising number of expeditions—this year there were more than 50 on Mount Everest alone—she has three assistants, who help her scan the streets of Kathmandu for mountaineers. 
Most climbers deem it important to get into Miss Hawley’s records, as she’s considered the last instance for them to get recognition from the mountaineering world. Hawley, however, doesn’t quite see it this way. “I am not a judge. I am a historian and all I do is collect data. And that’s what I would like you to do,” she said to me when I started working for her in 2004. Even though the 89-year-old has never climbed a mountain herself, she is very tough with her questions and has made some mountaineers sweat and wrack their brains to remember the right dates. “Come on, get your act together. You must know when you slept the first night at Camp 1,” I once heard her bark at a climber at the Yak & Yeti Hotel in Kathmandu. 
Hawley was born in Chicago. She studied politics, English and zoology. She never followed a career in any of these subjects, but became a journalist. Her first job was with Fortune magazine in New York, where she worked as a researcher. Not content to sit behind a desk day in and day out, she jumped when her employer gave her the chance to travel, enabling her to discover the world. However, wanting to spend more time in the countries she visited, the young journalist quickly got fed up with the short trips. In 1956, she quit her job and embarked on a journey around the world, which eventually took her to her future home, the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. 
She arrived in Nepal during a time when the kingdom opened up towards the West, a movement that absolutely fascinated Elizabeth Hawley. In order to properly follow this process, she decided to immigrate to Nepal in 1960. At first, she worked as a correspondent for Time Magazine, and later moved to Reuters. In 1963, when the first US expedition to Mount Everest arrived in Nepal, the young journalist was commissioned to report about it. Hawley followed this expedition closely and found her work with the mountaineers so fascinating that she decided to interview the second expedition. And the third. And fourth. Her initial interest became her vocation, eventually developing into the worldwide reference for mountaineering. 
Something she just “slipped into,” the job is something she speaks of as if she were still thinking of changing her career. “This job literally just happened to me, and I am not really progressing, which I have to change,” she says.
However, changing her career would be difficult now that she has become the Keeper of the Mountains. With more than 340 mountains on her list, she has interviewed countless expeditions for the past 50 years,  the collected data handwritten on paper, some of which has yellowed in her office’s huge drawers over the years. “I will have to stop at one point, as I am running out of space,” she observes, pulling out a file reeking of mothballs. 
Despite never having worn a pair of crampons or used an ice axe, Hawley knows each mountain’s routes like the back of her hand. “I want to sleep in a bed, eat at a table and be driven around in my beetle,” she says, regarding her lack of enthusiasm to climb a mountain, and she does not understand why people like me are attracted to high peaks. “What, you are going climbing again?” she yelled at me when I told her about another expedition in spring. “I need you in Kathmandu and not on top of some stupid mountain.” Even though a certain interest in mountaineering is necessary, Miss Hawley doesn’t like her team to be away from Kathmandu. Preferably they should be available to her 24/7, as finding and interviewing the hundreds of people going to various expedition peaks has become a huge task each season. But despite turning 90 this year, Hawley still managed to see about 40 expeditions this spring.
With an ever-increasing number of punters wanting to climb Mount Everest and other 8,000-meter peaks, it’s very unlikely that Miss Hawley’s system of meeting all the teams personally and writing the information down on paper will be sustainable. Her data has already been available on a CD-ROM, known as The Himalayan Database since 2004, and getting the information electronically will probably be the future. However, as long as Miss Hawley is the boss, we will happily continue to do it her way. And even though getting the information electronically will mean a lot less work for the team in Kathmandu, we will certainly miss meeting up with the usual suspects every season.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

When was the last time you were alone?

Having spent a year in Antarctica with three other people, I thought I knew

what being alone was. For seven nights every three weeks I would be alone 

for 8 hours on fire watch while the other three slept. This book by Felicity  Aston is

very much about alone-ness and very much a journey of attitude and determination. 

To me her most powerful realisation was something I discovered many years ago.

"The fact that I had crossed Antarctica, despite the tears and the fear 

and the alone-ness, deepened my belief that we are each far more capable

than we give ourselves credit for." 

Felicity AstonWhen was the last time you were alone?
Before you answer I need to clarify - by ‘alone’, I don’t mean simply ‘by yourself’ when there might be someone in the next room, or in a building across the street. I mean the last time you were somewhere without any sign of another human being. It’s amazing how many people, when they think about it, realise that they have never, in their whole lives, been truly alone. For many sports people, however, it is a little different. Their discipline might involve regular solitary experiences – running back-country trails, hiking in the hills, climbing routes in wilderness locations – but equally any competitive sport can also be very isolating. After all, at the moment of performance there is no-where to retreat except into your own head and your own motivation.
Towards the end of November 2011 I stood on the frozen 
Ross Ice Shelf of the Antarcticcoast. The plane that had 
brought me there quickly became a tiny black blob in the sky.
 I could still hear the distinctive drone of its engines but 
with every breath the sound became fainter. I closed my
 eyes to focus my ears on the noise but it was slowly, and
 inevitably, blotted
 out by the silence. When I opened my eyes again, the plane
 had gone. I was alone.
Alone In Antarctica
I stood motionless for
a second, breathing in
 the cold air.
 Even the smallest of
movements sounded
brutally intrusive in the 
stillness: the rasp of 
brittle fabrics, the 
polystyrene squeak of
 my boots in the snow. 
I turned onthe spot, 
running my gaze slowly 
over the horizon, trying
 to take in my surroundings.
 To my right was the flat 
expanse of the Ross Ice Shelf,
 a featureless divide of
white snow and blue sky, 
while to my left were the
Transantarctic Mountains
which extended in an unbroken 
line as far as I could see in 
either direction. Each peak
appeared intimately close-by
even though I knew that I could
travel for hours towards them and still not touch stone. As I looked around me, 

one thought echoed through my brain: in all this landscape, in all this space, I was 

the only living thing. I could search every fold of rock, every block of ice and not 

find so much as a nesting bird, a minute fly or a single blade of hardy grass. The 

nearest  open water where any wildlife was to be found was more than 700

 kilometres away to the north and the nearest human habitation perhaps as 

much as 1,000 kilometres to the west. The scale of the emptiness was
 almost too much to absorb. 
Panic filled my chest like a slow rising bubble threatening to block off the air to

 my lungs. It burned in my stomach like corrosive acid and I felt choked. It wasn’t

 that I feared for my life or for my safety, it was the alone-ness itself that scared me.

 I have always been comfortable in my own company and often travel by myself to

 remote places but this was a whole new level of isolation; to be so far not just 

from other human beings and any signs of civilisation but from any form of life 

whatsoever. The sense of absolute 
loneliness was instant, overwhelming and completely crushing. Every fibre of my

body was yelling at me that something was terribly, terribly wrong.
Ahead of me was a 1700km ski journey across the entire Antarctica continent –

a journey that would eventually take me 59-days to complete, making me the first

 woman ever to do so alone. But, during those first moments of the expedition

 as I stood contemplating the challenges ahead - the cold, the 
altitude, the crevasses, the terrain – it was the alone-ness that

was most daunting.
Felicity Aston skiing pulling her sled
Every morning I would wake up filled with a deadening conviction; I couldn’t go

on. Antarctica was more than I could manage on my own. I knew that it was

 impossible for me to get out of the tent and confront  the remorseless weather 

that waited for me. I could not spend another day battling forward on my skis 
trying to ignore the clammy discomfort of the close fitting material around my

 face protecting my skin from freezing. I could not bear anymore the moment 

I would be forced to expose myself to the cold hastily refastening stubborn

 clothing with painfully numbing fingers, only to repeat the agonising process a 
few hours later. The relentless struggle just to stay safe, never mind move forward, 

was more than I could take. I understood, in that moment, categorically, that the 

distance ahead of me and the number of days to come, as well as my alone-ness, 

was more, much more, than I could face. It wasn’t that I was giving in;it was a calm 

and rational realisation that I didn’t have the physical or mental capacity for the

 challenge ahead. I had found what I had come to Antarctica for. I had found 
my limit.
Felicity Aston And yet every morning I would have

 to get myself out of that mind set and 

find a way to motivate myself. Often it 

wasn’t pretty; it  usually involved a lot of 

crying, a lot of cajoling and a lot of  

painful angst. I found that it was 

remembering those who had  been

 disparaging of me in the past, or events 

that had left m feeling angry and indignant,

 that provided the greatest incentive
. I made old wounds fresh by recalling those who had dismissed
 me, people who had been unjustly harsh in their evaluation of my
 character and my capability, in order to galvanise myself. At first
 I felt a little embarrassed at this way of going about things; but 
perhaps it is natural that the strongest feelings provoke the most
 dramatic responses and hurt so often stays with us longer and
 more vividly than praise.
I realised that the success or failure of my expedition was not going to

 be down to anything heroic; it was not about ploughing through blizzards,

 crossing crevasses or dealing with frostbite - it would come down
 to the simple, fundamental and yet very difficult challenge of getting out

of the tent each and every morning.
When I returned home, having completed my expedition, I found that this

part of my experience struck a chord with lots of people - what is it that keeps

 us going even when we know it is impossible to continue? 
The fact that I had crossed Antarctica, despite the tears and the fear

and the alone-ness, deepened my belief that we are each far more capable 

than we give ourselves credit for. 
Felicity Aston - Alone in Antarctica
Felicity's book Alone in Antarctica went on sale earlier this year - check it out and find out more
 about this incredible, record-breaking, adventurer!