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Tales from the Crypt: Gusts from the Abode of Snow

Posted on: February 22nd, 2011 by Luke Bauer

An unguided tour through the Himalayan Library—

John M. Boyle

The Himalyan Region stretches 1,500 miles across Asia, containing 15,000 glaciers, the source of many of the world’s major rivers, and is the home of the 14 8,000 meter peaks—as well as hundreds of peaks above 5,000 meters—many as yet unclimbed. With stats like these, it is little wonder that the Himalaya always has been the Greatest of the Greater Ranges.

Longtime AAC member and 1983 Everest Expedition Team Member John M. Boyle is fascinated by mountains, the men and women who devote themselves to scaling them, and the significant literary contributions they have made. He has spent years collecting books, autographs, maps, photographs, and ephemera related to the mountaineering history of the range.

Boyle generously donated his collection to the AAC Library. Known as the John M. Boyle Himalayan Library, the collection contains over 3,000 books detailing every significant—and many not-so-significant—expedition to the region from the 1880s to the present. The majority of the books have been autographed by the author and other expedition members. Where multiple editions or translations exist, Boyle has endeavored to collect these and have them autographed as well. This is the only mountaineering collection in the world to have such extensive personal writings from the expedition members.

What follows is one of the many short articles researched and composed by Boyle in an attempt to catalog and highlight the humorous, tragic, quirky, or downright bizarre aspects of the Himalaya revealed in this impressive collection. The AAC Library will be posting excerpts of Boyle’s articles throughout the upcoming months.

Everest Grand Circle: A Climbing and Skiing Adventure Through Nepal and Tibet

In the winter of 1981-82, Edward “Ned” Gillette, Jan Reynolds, Steve McKinney, and Cucol Calonica made a ski circumnavigation of the Everest Massif. They began with the first winter ascent of Pumon—a sub-peak of Everest—then proceeded to live for four months at altitude. Their ski-trek necessitated scaling five passes over 20,000’, as well as contending with scarce food and occasional dwelling in caves. An autographed account of their journey, authored by Gillette and Reynolds and published by the Mountaineers in 1985, is in the Himalayan Library’s collection and is available for check out from the AAC Library. The obvious difficulties of the circumnavigation—still discussed in many Ski and Alpine Clubs across the world—have prevented anyone from repeating the men’s feat.

Like many of the books in the John M. Boyle Himalayan Library, there is something tucked inside. In this case it is a clipping from a 1986 San Francisco Chronicle that discusses Reynolds’ hot-air balloon ride past Everest.  One-time holder of a high-altitude skiing record, she talks about dangling her feet over the edge of the basket taking photographs.

Sadly, in 1998, the book’s co-author Ned Gillete—AAC member since 1979, a member of the 1968 Olympic Cross Country Ski Team, Dartmouth College graduate, and frequent contributor to National Geographic—was murdered in his tent during a botched robbery attempt. Gillete and his wife were in Pakistan’s Haramosh Valley.

Among Gillette’s numerous accomplishments were the 300-mile ski circumnavigation of Everest, a ski descent of Muztagh Ata in Tibet, a ski traverse of Ellesmere Island, and a 600-mile rowboat trip across the Drake Passage, from Tierra Del Fuego to Antarctica in a self-designed and personally built craft.

About the AAC Library

The Henry S. Hall, Jr. American Alpine Club Library has a circulating collection of 20,000+ climbing books, guidebooks, and videos. As an AAC benefit, the Club will ship members up to 10 books/guidebooks/videos at a time for free. Search for and check out books at (Email the library for access to our new and improved online catalog.)

To enjoy this benefit, unite with your fellow climbers by joining the AAC. Established in 1916, the library is one of the oldest alpine research facilities in the United States, and the largest outside of Europe.

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