The ‘Summit’ of adventure
By Dottie Ashley
I must admit to being slightly shocked when, shortly after entering my living room, gracious, well-spoken author Harry Farthing suddenly extracted from his sports carry-on bag a large ice axe bearing the faint image of a swastika engraved on its handle.
However, the Englishman, an avid mountain-climber for many years, quickly explained that the ice axe —which he discovered in an antique shop in Italy — served as a type of objective correlative for his debut novel, The Summit. The novel, an interweaving of two fictionalized stories, was published in June by Blackstone Publishing of New Haven, Connecticut. In truth, the object, with its reminder of a horrific era in world history, made such a striking impression on the writer that he utilized it as a pivotal tie connecting his book’s two stories which, though set in different eras, both deal with the inherent danger and beauty of mountain climbing.
One takes place in 1938, the eve of the Second World War, when Josef Becker — a renegade member of the Gebirgsjager, or German mountain infantry — is caught guiding a group of Austrian Jews over the mountains to escape to freedom in Switzerland. When arrested by the SS, Beck is given the choice of whether to embark on a clandestine, SS-sponsored expedition up Mount Everest to bring glory to the Reich by planting the Nazi flag at the summit, or have his mother and sisters face execution. Thus, Becker is compelled to secretly climb Everest.
The other story, set in the present, involves Englishman Neil Quinn, who makes his living as a guide for expeditions up Everest. However, Quinn’s life is upended when tragedy strikes one expedition member, the 16-year-old son of a wealthy man who wants the boy to conquer Everest so that he himself can capitalize on the publicity. During their descent, Quinn happens upon an old ice axe that helps save his life on the mountain, but then, upon arriving below, puts him in grave danger, as his possession of the axe causes him to be pursued by members of a resurging neo-Nazi underworld.
Throughout the more than 400-page book, Farthing displays an impressive knowledge of history. It’s a quite revelation about his own life. Although he was born in 1964 in a sleepy fishing village in North Devon in England’s West Country, his parents determined he receive a first-rate education and sent him to boarding school when only age eight.
“Since I was so young, I was rather shy at the school and so would spend a lot of time in the library reading National Geographic and history books, which I found fascinating,” Farthing explained. He also read about the experiences of early mountain climbers such as Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and his Sherpa, (an experienced person hired to assist mountain climbers) Tenzing Norgay of Tibet, who were the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.
After earning a degree in business from the University of West England, Farthing was hired by Cushman and Wakefield in London, one of the world’s largest commercial real estate consultancies. After several years of training, Farthing was assigned to manage an office in Lisbon, Portugal at a particularly challenging time.
“It was 1992 when modern technology actually came to Europe,” he recalled, “and it was our job to bring companies up to a certain level of sophistication.” Farthing’s subsequent post was in Milan, where he became managing director of the company’s Italian operations. Also, this was a time when he began seriously immersed in the intricacies of mountain climbing, rapidly succeeding in reaching the tops of the Matterhorn in the Alps, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Denali in Alaska, among others.
In 2009, Farthing married Farrah Follmann, who had worked in his Milan office for a number of years. In 2010, following Farthing’s early retirement, the couple moved to Mount Pleasant, Follmann’s hometown, where they now have two daughters — Eden, six, and Isla, four.
It was in 2013 that Farthing began writing a novel, influenced to a degree, by his coming close to fulfilling his dream of reaching the summit of Mt. Everest, in 2006, only to be forced to turn back by unusually brutal weather when less than a mile away from his goal.
After self-publishing The Summit in 2014, Farthing showed it to his former American supervisor in London, John Coppedge, an Atlanta native, who coincidentally had retired to Wadmalaw. Reached by email, Coppedge said, “When I read The Summit, I could not put it down and knew I had to introduce Harry to my friend John Huey, formerly head of Time, Inc., in hopes he would connect Harry to a well-known publisher.”
Having retired as editor-in-chief of Time Inc., Huey, also an Atlanta native, who agreed (reluctantly) to meet with Farthing, explained in an email: “I told Harry I would try to read his book, but if I couldn’t, or didn’t like it, I wasn’t going to struggle to finish it and he probably wouldn’t hear back from me. (Therefore), although skeptical, I sat down to read it and it sucked me right in. Soon, I was almost as obsessed as Harry about getting it published. It’s a terrific story and I hope it finds its audience.”
Now that the book has been published nationally and is available to a major audience, I asked him what he considered the overall impact of The Summit, other than as an adventure thriller. Farthing said, “When you consider I wrote the book in 2013-2014, it’s amazing that recent incidents, especially in Europe, have reinforced my major point, which was to caution about the re-emergence of Neo-Fascism.”
Referring to the personal fulfillment he experienced upon the recent national publication of the book, Farthing remarked, “Failing to reach the summit of Everest was, at first, a daily reminder of a huge disappointment; however, today, I enjoy the mountain’s continued presence in my memories and my dreams and know it will stay with me forever.”