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Thin Air: Encounters in the Himalayas

By Greg Child


Originally published by Patrick Stephens, UK, 1988;
USA - Peregrine Smith Books, Layton, Utah, 1990; hardback

“Greg Child's first book, Thin Air: Encounters in the Himalayas, is much more than just another expedition yarn. Long—time readers of Climbing will be familiar with the climbs he recounts, which were subjects of articles, but, freed of the constraints of journalism, Child can explore more hilly the kaleidoscope of personality, culture, scenery, and emotion that makes Himalayan climbing an otherworldly experience. Along the way, he describes his own coming of age as a mountaineer and a person.
Child, a young but accomplished Australian rock climber who also had several hard Yosemite walls to his credit, made his Himalayan debut in India in 1981 under the tutelage of Doug Scott of England, a preeminent Himalayan climber. There Child got his first taste of success, when with Scott, Georges Bettembourg of France and Rick White of Australia, he made the 13-day first ascent of the very technical and committing East Pillar of Shivling. Child and White slipped and fell 700 feet on the descent; they were uninjured, but two young Indian climbers they'd met earlier in the trip died in a similar fall. Later, Don Whillans, another legendary British climber who had tried Shivling as well, aptly summed up the significance of their efforts: Well done, lads. You made it back. It is a theme that Child follows throughout the book. (…)
As Doug Scott says in his forward, Child ... has expressed what he has seen rather than sought to impress us with that which he has not.  We're fortunate to have Child's eyes to see through.”
Michael Kennedy, “Climbing” 1991, February/March, No. 124, p. 132

Thin Air is the story of three separate Himalayan expeditions: to Shivling in Garwhal, as part of an Anglo-Indian mountaineering seminar in 1981; to Lobsang Spire and Broad Peak in the Karakoram in 1983 with another large team of disparate individualists brought together by convenience rather than friendship; and to Gasherbrum IV in 1986 with a much smaller, carefully-chosen group of Americans and Australians. The expeditions represent a progression from Himalayan novice to seasoned campaigner, accompanied by a growing realisation that 'The challenge to us was not only the mountains we planned to climb but the way we would come to terms with one another's very different views on climbing and living.'
It is a remarkable book, full of thoughts and reflection yet never indulging in excessive introspection, full of strong feeling yet never sentimental. There are some fascinating portraits of contemporary climbers. There is no malice, no barbed comment or implied criticism, only astute, humorous and often affectionate observation of his companions, people like Doug Scott, Georges Bettembourg, Roger Baxter-Jones and Alan Rouse, not to mention a wealth of new material to add to the Whillans legend.
(…) like all the best books, Thin  Air offers no ready made answers  or easy solutions to 'the questions which have no answers'; only much to ponder.”
Rob Collister, “Mountain” 1989, July/August, No. 128, p. 44


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