This is the continuation of my story about rediscovering my copy of Men Against the Clouds. Gregory Crouch said he thinks that it is one of the greatest American adventure stories ever told. With warships, an unknown as big as the ocean and the possibility of a 30,000-foot unclimbed mountain, I was so captivated I sought a copy of the out-of-print book in 2001.
I obtained the The Mountaineers’ 1980-revised edition through the a Colorado library that loaned through the inter-library loan system. I liked the tale so much that I photocopied the whole book on my father’s home copier. I brought it with me when I moved to Washington, DC, and after a few local moves, I recently redisovered it packed away in a box with year books and old notebooks. Somehow it was separated from the rest of my climbing library.
The story has a bit of legend and the aspects that make the story such an outstanding adventure, in fact, take in only the first several pages when they discuss their arrival in Shanghai. The eight expedition members came from the United States where the economy was in Depression, so their journey to Asia on a slow freighter was a feat in resourcefulness in and of itself. Ashore, they began gathering supplies for the expedition and acquiring the right permissions.
Two weeks later, the Japanese military launched an offensive on Shanghai starting with shells lobbed from the battleship Idzuma. The Japanese quickly invaded and the Americans were drafted into the United States Marines, given rifles and insignia, and instructed to help protect the international settlement in Shanghai.
One expedition member, Jack Theodore Young, was born in Hawaii and was of Cantonese descent and fought with the local resistance. (He is also the same Young from Teddy Roosevelt’s giant panda hunting expedition.) After being separated for some time, Young came across fellow expedition member Terris Moore and with little introduction or explanation asked for ammo. Moore promptly emptied 10 bullets and handed them to his friend. Moore began thinking of excuses to explain what happened to the missing ammunition when he turned in his weapon.
After a few weeks of the initial attack, it became clear that the Japanese were not interested in occupying the international settlement and the climbers were released from their service.
Seven Months in China
Well, it wasn’t quite Seven Years in Tibet or even seven months, but the journey didn’t make much progress for most of the spring and summer. The war disrupted the original plans and also the outlook of obtaining permission to climb Minya Konka. Four expedition members with more invested at home with careers and family went back to the states. The four others, Richard Burdsall, Arthur Emmons, Terris Moore and Jack Theodore Young had less incentives to return to the states. Their family had also written and said things were bad and jobs were hard to come by. Not knowong whether they would climb anything, they stayed and studied Mandarin at Young’s suggestion.
They became immersed in the culture and skilled at conversational Chinese. Their time spent in education also allowed for additional attempts to gain permission for the climb. They lobbied the authorities and scientific museums. Their hopes rose and decided to split up and make a concerted push to gather supplies and get approval before the monsoons.
Of course, the adventure, and the dream of climbing a mountain higher than Everest doesn’t end here. And the idea of attempting that other sentinel from Tibet wasn’t too far from mind either. I’ll post all about that on Tuesday.
Climbing matters, even though we work nine to five.