Category Archives: Story behind ITLS

THE MYSTERY OF THE THIRD STEP

Mt. Everest, 1924

George Mallory

George Mallory

At age 37, George Mallory believed his third attempt to climb Everest would be his last. He joined the British 1924 Everest Expedition led by General Charles Bruce to finally accomplish his dream. Moving up the mountain in pairs, the team took on the quest without the aid of modern climbing gear or equipment. If you look at photos from the time period, it’s laughable to see how they are dressed. They look like English gentlemen out for a stroll on the moor. Maybe that’s one of the reasons so many modern climbers hold Mallory in such high esteem. They had so little, tried so hard, and just may have succeeded in realizing their dream. With high altitude climbing in its infancy, Mallory chose the 22 year old, Andrew Irvine to make the push for the summit owing to Irvine’s ability to keep the temperamental oxygen machines working.

Andrew Irvine

Andrew Irvine

From Advanced Base Camp (21,330 ft.), Mallory and Irvine set off on June 4, 1924. They made good time pushing up the mountain in good weather. On June 8th, they were spotted by Noel Odell at a location many believe to be the third step. A cloud moved in blocking any further view, and from that point on, Mallory and Irvine disappeared into history. They did not return to camp and were presumed dead after a time. Since then, there has been much speculation as to whether or not Mallory and Irvine summited Everest and beat out Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzin Norgay by several decades.

Mount Everest, north side Photo & graphics by Luca Galuzzi

Mount Everest, north side
Photo & graphics by Luca Galuzzi

Green line: Mallory’s 1924 route
3rd- is Third Step
t1- location of Mallory’s body, discovered 1999.

And they very well may have. Mallory’s body was discovered in 1999 by a team looking to solve this mystery. The location of the body, far below the steps, indicates to some that Mallory had to be descending after summiting when he took a fatal fall. With his sun goggles tucked into a pocket, it is likely that the fall happened at night and not during the afternoon when Odell last saw them. In addition, Mallory was known to have carried a photo of his wife in his wallet with plans to leave it at the top of Everest when he summited. Although the wallet was found, the photo was not, leading many to believe he and Irvine reached the top and most likely fell on the way down. Irvine’s body has not been located but may hold some of the most fascinating of physical evidence. Andrew Irvine borrowed a camera with the intention of taking photos on the summit. Should his body rest with the camera intact, Kodak officials have said that the film is likely to be recoverable. And so mountain climbing’s most enduring mystery may someday be solved.

This mystery was so fascinating; I used it as a basis for the adventure I wrote about in INTO THE LAND OF SNOWS. What happens if the camera just surfaces one day? What would your average American teen do if he suddenly held the solution to this mystery? What would you do?

 

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THE LINE BETWEEN FACT & FICTION

tantra

Since the release of INTO THE LAND OF SNOWS, there have been some questions concerning what’s real and not real in the book. From the perspective of this being a book whose main theme concerns defining that very line, it’s a somewhat amusing question. I concern myself with it because I’ve heard some people dismiss the book as fantasy. But that’s not the whole story.

The book is set in the magical Himalayas surrounded by a rich cultural tradition. In such a place, my job as author was relatively easy. I chose concepts and ideas already present there to create a story around an American teenager. I made up very little.

Now as to the facts.

1. Locations- The map at the beginning of the book accurately depicts the placement of real locations Blake would visit along his route, had Blake actually gone there. But the careful reader will notice that about half way through the book, Blake continues his journey, but the map stops. This is because Blake has left the material reality of our world. An alternate reality opens up for him to fully experience the magic and potential for enlightenment.

2. Mallory& Irvine- The story of these climbers disappearing into legend while on the Third Step is true. The camera Mallory carried that day is still missing. We don’t know (for sure) who summited Everest first, although Hillary is officially credited with it.

3. Yetis- These animals/beings remain a mystery. Sherpa culture recognizes different kinds of yetis. I took great liberty with the Tantric yidam concept.

4. Baian-Kara-Ula Mountains- There are legends of star people and an origination story. As late as the 1950s, stories of the Chinese gathering evidence in the region exist.

5. Chakra points- There are many different systems. Tibetans usually depict 5 while Indian schools generally have 7. Research by Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama revealed the heart chakra produced measurable physical light.

6. Singing Bowls- Are used for healing.

7. Lung-gom-pa/Tumo/Yidam- Are Tantric practices.

8. Birds- The sneaky placement of rare birds in the region was my invention and homage to HH. The 16th Karmapa, who loved birds.

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How This Book Came Into the World

Several years ago I had a particularly bad year. My father died, my son was hospitalized, and I came face to face with my own health crisis. All in one year. My illness effectively took me out of the world and focused my attention inward. I returned to basics and found my interest in Buddhism waiting for me. Silent, I think, since at least my teenage years.

I began taking classes offered in faraway Dharamsala, India.  Thanks to the internet, I was able to study with a master who had fled Chinese-occupied Tibet to follow His Holiness, the Dalai Lama into exile in 1959. Listening to Geshe Sonam Rinchen’s patient lectures aided my understanding of Tibetan Buddhism. That along with my friendship with a young monk in India helped me to process and write, Into the Land of Snows.   The novel explores many of the themes I was exposed to as I learned Eastern concepts.

The process of the inward journey continues for me. Living in the material world is not easy. I know the majority of readers will read the book as an adventure in a foreign land, but I hope the book finds a few fellow spiritual travelers.

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THE LINE BETWEEN FACT & FICTION

Since the release of INTO THE LAND OF SNOWS, there have been some questions concerning what’s real and not real in the book.  From the perspective of this being a book whose main theme concerns defining that very line, it’s a somewhat amusing question.  I concern myself with it because I’ve heard some people dismiss the book as fantasy.  But that’s not the whole story.

The book is set in the magical Himalayas surrounded by a rich cultural tradition.  In such a place, my job as author was relatively easy.  I chose concepts and ideas already present there to create a story around an American teenager.  I made up very little.

 Now as to the facts.

  1. Locations- The map at the beginning of the book accurately depicts the placement of real locations Blake would visit along his route, had Blake actually gone there.  But the careful reader will notice that about half way through the book Blake continues his journey, but the map stops. This is because Blake has left the material reality of our world.  An alternate reality opens up for him to fully experience the magic and potential for enlightenment.
  2. Mallory& Irvine- The story of these climbers disappearing into legend while on the Third Step is true. The camera Mallory carried that day is still missing. We don’t know (for sure) who summited Everest first, although Hillary is officially credited with it.
  3. Yetis- These animals/beings remain a mystery. Sherpa culture recognizes different kinds of yetis. I took great liberty with the Tantric yidam concept.
  4. Baian-Kara-Ula Mountains- There are legends of star people and an origination story. As late as the 1950s, stories of the Chinese gathering evidence in the region exist.
  5. Chakra points- There are many different systems. Tibetans usually depict 5 while Indian schools generally have 7. Research by Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama revealed the heart chakra produced a measurable physical light.
  6. Singing Bowls- Are used for healing.
  7. Lung-gom-pa/Tumo/Yidam- Are Tantric practices.
  8. Birds- The sneaky placement of rare birds in the region was my invention and homage to His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, who loved birds.    

 

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Filed under Story behind ITLS

How This Book Came Into the World

Several years ago I had a particularly bad year. My father died, my son was hospitalized, and I came face to face with my own health crisis. All in one year. My illness effectively took me out of the world and focused my attention inward. I returned to basics and found my interest in Buddhism waiting for me. Silent, I think, since at least my teenage years.

I began taking classes offered in faraway Dharamsala, India. Thanks to the internet, I was able to study with a master who had fled Chinese-occupied Tibet to follow His Holiness, the Dalai Lama into exile in 1959. Listening to Geshe Sonam Rinchen’s patient lectures aided my understanding of Tibetan Buddhism. That along with my friendship with a young monk in India helped me to process and write, Into the Land of Snows. The novel explores many of the themes I was exposed to as I learned Eastern concepts.

The process of the inward journey continues for me. Living in the material world is not easy. I know the majority of readers will read the book as an adventure in a foreign land, but I hope the book finds a few fellow travelers. No one has to go anywhere to go within.

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Location, Location, Location- Why Nepal and Not Tibet?

Location. It’s important in real estate and it can be crucial in a story. Some readers might ask since I used the term ‘Land of Snows’ in my title, why didn’t I set the novel in Tibet. It’s a good question. Why Nepal and not Tibet?

From the perspective of a climbing story, either location would have worked. We’re still talking Mt. Everest and the Himalayas. It would have been possible to send Blake to the north side to be around fewer climbers who would assault the mountain in a more technically difficult ascent. North, and from The Land of Snows (Tibet) was not impossible, but fairly improbable.

But the heart of the story concerns a teenager whose whole perception of reality was about to be challenged. I would have loved taking him into Tibet to experience centuries -old monasteries and traditions. To meet its culture and be enfolded in it. Ideally, this is where Blake should encounter magic and mystery, and I considered it. However, Chinese occupation of Tibet has been in full force since 1959. Tibetans have lived under religious intolerance and persecution for fifty plus years. Monasteries have been destroyed, learned masters have fled, and every year more and more Tibetans leave their homeland. The Chinese have a strong presence in monastic communities. Merely possessing a photo of the Dalai Lama is illegal and punishable. This was not the right place to send a teenager looking for truth. I had to look for The Land of Snows somewhere else.

Nepal became that somewhere else. Placing Blake on the south side of Everest naturally plunked him down in Sherpa lands. With the Sherpas, Blake found a safe haven to explore Tibetan Buddhism without the heritage of Chinese repression ongoing in Tibet. Here Blake could freely experience magic and mystery. Into the Land of Snows recognizes the current political and religious situation inside Tibet today and at the same time, I yearn to take Blake north in the future. What might he find in the decades ahead?

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