O'Dowd's book is about the first South African expedition to Everest. This was organised in 1996 and the team of climbers originally contained 5 men, who were invited, and 1 woman, who had to audition. Susbequently, two women were added to the team:
Ian finally informed us one by one of his choice. All the while we were being filmed. By now I felt like a piece of putty that had been stretched out way too thin. He rambled on about how difficult the selection had been, and how sorry he was he could not take everyone. My heart sank. Then he invited me to join the team to Nepal. Initially I just felt overwhelming relief. Then the excitement welled up.
The other selection was Deshun. That came as something of a surprise on the face of it, but made sense on reflection. Jackie was simply incompatible with Ian. Anneli wanted Everest for the wrong reasons. Nandi’s heart was not in it. Cynthia, although determined and game, was physically tiny. Ian did not think she had the bodily strength. That left Deshun and me.
I had found Deshun quiet, friendly, efficient, determined. I thought we would get on well. Ian’s rationale for taking two women was that the woman on the team would be under intense media scrutiny. He wanted a back up. He felt that, in exchange for three months of free travel in Nepal, we could put up with some tensions of being still ‘on selection’.
We returned to South Africa and went our separate ways. I would only be needed back in Johannesburg at the end of February. There would be six long weeks of waiting. I was trying my best to finish my thesis before I left. However, the topic of ‘the selection and presentation of photographs of political violence in South African newspapers’ was difficult to get excited about when Everest was looming so large on my horizon.
Sitting in front of my computer in my Grahamstown flat, the whole Everest application experience seemed unreal. It was almost impossible for me to grasp the reality of it all. In a few weeks I would be on my way to the Himalaya, to the slopes of the highest mountain in the world. I was revelling in the anticipation of it all.
However, disturbing rumours were reaching me about the other members of the team. I heard through the grapevine of the climbing community that one of the others, Ed February, was commenting that they, the other members, would ‘throw the baggage off the mountain’. Deshun and I were the ‘baggage’.
They also ended up with a dodgy doctor, more interested in getting high (in any way but altitude) than her duties on the trip, and a questionable journalist to report back to the newspaper that sponsored the expedition.
If we thought that other expeditions were fraught with discord and ill-will, this one seemed to have exceeded it.
For various reasons that became apparent very early on in this book, this will be the only one of O'Dowd'd books I'll ever read, but there is some interesting content in this.