"I am very discouraged by the way mountaineering is going nowadays," said 89-year-old Dr. Charles Houston, co-author of "K2: The Savage Mountain," a classic account of Americans' 1953 attempt on one of the world's most difficult mountains.
Houston is a grand old man of the mountains and a pioneer medical researcher into altitude sickness. Sixty-six years ago, as a "snotty-nosed Harvard kid," he organized what was to be for 14 years the highest successful ascent of a Himalayan peak.
"I hate the modern books. They capitalize on saying nasty things," Houston opined.
"I've been on four major expeditions and they all ended up happy. The motivation today is quite different. There is a commercial aspect. We went for fun. There was no fame or fortune to be gained by us."
Golden ages spaced themselves a century apart in the world's mountaineering history.
Between 1850 and 1880, great peaks in the Alps saw first ascents, often by British climbers weaned on the hills of Scotland and Wales.
A century later, after World War II, came the golden age of the Himalayas. It began in 1950, when a French expedition under Maurice Herzog climbed 26,545-foot Annapurna in Nepal, first of the world's 14 8,000-meter peaks to be scaled.
In the same year, in Houston's words, he and British climber Bill Tillman "went on a picnic" and found the route by which the world's tallest peak, 29,035-foot Mount Everest, was first climbed three years later.
A half-century later, guiding companies charge clients $60,000 to climb Everest via the South Col route. So many trekkers hike to Everest base camp that guide Jack Turner christened the route "Interstate E."
Charles Houston on web: