Review by Ian Keogh
The summit of the gods is Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, straddling Nepal and Tibet, 29,000 feet forming a formidable challenge to the even the greatest mountaineers, yet the South West route is the most extreme of all. As disclosed in The Summit of the Gods 3, Jouji Habu intends to be the first to reach Everest’s peak by that route without oxygen. It’s utter madness, even for a force of nature striving for redemption.
More so than any other volume so far, climbing dominates here. There have been plenty of recollections of earlier expeditions, and indeed an early sequence revisits George Mallory’s 1924 attempt, but 90% of The Summit of the Gods 4 is occupied with the climb upwards. While Habu may be overly confident about his route, he’s still a master mountaineer, so Yumemakura Baku and Jirô Taniguchi’s narrative focuses on Makoto Fukamachi. He’s a photographer by trade, but a talented enough climber to have accompanied a previous Everest expedition. However, there’s a massive difference between being part of a team with oxygen tanks and facing the appalling conditions and an impossible climb alone without oxygen.
Fukamachi isn’t deluded enough to consider he can accompany Habu, but intends to follow him as far as he can. More so than in earlier volumes Baku and Taniguchi bring home the sheer endurance and willpower it takes to withstand, never mind overcome, what Everest can throw at mere men. A revelation made at base camp is that even without oxygen the minimum baggage a climber must still be fit enough to carry is 25 kilos above their bodyweight in the most treacherous conditions. Fukamachi is followed step by agonising step as he follows Habu at an ever greater distance, aware of how far he’s pushing himself, and aware that if he reaches the point of exhaustion he’ll die, as he won’t have the strength to climb back down again. Is it strength of will or stupidity?
Because they spend time together before the real difficulties begin, there is finally a long conversation between Habu and Fukamachi, with full disclosure as to where Mallory’s camera was found, and Habu’s intensity again transmits.
The journey isn’t complete by the end, with the concluding chapters found in The Summit of the Gods 5.