Himalayan Journal vol.14
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

H. W. Tobin
    (J. O. M. ROBERTS)
  4. NANDA GHUNTI, 1945
    (P. L. WOOD)
    (L. CHICKEN)
    (R. V. VERNEDE)
    (C.G. Wylie)
  10. NOTES



Cambridge University Press. 15s.

Tilman's pre-war mountain past is familiar to every reader of this Journal, but many of us encounter Tilman the soldier for the first time in When Men and Mountains Meet. In the opening part of the book we find him in his familiar Himalayan setting, in the second half at war. Some readers may differ from the reviewer's opinion that the latter is the more enthralling story, but there will be general agreement that by comparison each story heightens the interest of the other. For most men the war brought complete change, not only in their normal setting but also in their outlook. Tilman passed from peace to war as easily and with as great success as in earlier years he had moved along the kaleidoscopic setting of his living in Africa, Europe, and the Himalaya.

Tilman takes us first to Assam and then to Zemu gap. In 1939 he declined Eric Ship ton's invitation for a lengthy Karakoram expedition, feeling himself, as an officer on the Reserve, unjustified in spending so long away from Europe when he believed war to be inevitable. So he went alone to Assam for a briefer visit. He experienced one difficulty in organization-that of scientific work. Scientists, whether armed with photo-theodolites, plane-tables, or glacier-drills, had hitherto been the frequent objects of his dry humour. They had been excellent butts. Now their absence left no alternative but to admit their importance and, in his own words, T decided, therefore, to modify my high principles and attempt a modest survey with one of Mummery's abominations, a plane- table.' And but for ill luck-malaria-which largely wrecked the expedition, he would no doubt have returned to India with a map that would have evoked the admiration of the 'theodoliters'. Most men would have had enough for the season, but Tilman is a glutton for mountains, and he set ofT again, first failing, then finally succeeding, in reaching Zemu gap. Apart from the adventure itself, the most notable product of the journey was, perhaps, an 'Abominable Snowman' in boots. Homo Tilmanensis surely!

Then came war. One hundred and fifty pages tell a story which one could happily read in three times that length. He dismisses the first phase of the war in Europe in four words, 'After returning from Dunkirk', and carries us quickly to Iraq with some light happy campaigning, a few climbs, and perhaps the happiest reminiscing of past enjoyment that has ever come from his pen.

Then the Western Desert where he notes regretfully 'there are no mountains'. He entered the North African campaign in the black days in front of Mersa Matruh and carried on, almost always in action, until his personal, though not entirely private, victory celebration with coloured Very lights at Zaghouan.

The independent life of a Battery Commander suited Tilman ideally. But good officers find themselves translated to higher places, and if he were to avoid a more senior and less mobile appointment active steps were necessary. He took them and all that had gone before was reduced to the level of a prologue as he parachuted into Albania. No review can give an adequate picture of his experience among the partisans, first in Albania and then in northern Italy, or of the vividness with which he tells the story. Never has his persistent understatement defied its purpose so completely-the modest recounting of arduous exploits carefully planned and executed is more telling than chapters of fine writing could have been. And there is humour too, much of it, though sometimes grim.

One's mind goes back to the pre-war Tilman, who, as some thought, carried light travel beyond all logical bounds. Northern Italy, where the R.A.F. kept him waiting four winter months in hostile territory for his equipment, leaves us feeling how perfectly his pre-war activities had fitted him for this important mission.

In his final chapter Tilman allows himself a brief interlude of seriousness. He writes with sympathy yet detachment of the partisans, praising not only the greatness of their courage but also the greatness of their contribution to the Allied victory. These final pages show other things too. Unconsciously Tilman reveals the extent of his own contribution to the partisan success and the extent to which he was actuated by motives similar to theirs.

We put the book down wishing that it had been considerably longer and wishing also that the publisher's contribution had been of the same standard as the author's. Even present difficulties do not excuse either the poor reproduction of the photographs or the inferior layout. The wrapper too is completely unworthy of the book, being ugly in colour and sticky to the hands.

R. Scott Russell.

MOUNTAIN PROSPECT. By R. Scott Russell, Foreword by Geoffrey Winthrop Young. London: Chatto & Windus, 1946. Pp. xvi and 248; 46 illustrations and 7 sketch-maps. i&y.

Scott Russell was with Eric Ship ton's party in the Karakoram when the late war broke out. Despite prompt and continued efforts he was unable to join up till 1941. He was taken prisoner at Singapore and spent three and a half years in captivity. Owing to his botanical knowledge he was placed in charge of the gardens where prisoners grew vegetables to supplement their scanty rations. He persuaded the Japanese that this supervision required much writing. Retrieving some pads of discarded army forms he wrote this book. A brother officer copied each section as it was completed, so that a second copy could be hidden, in case of search. He had neither his diaries, nor maps, nor other books to refer to. Surely this book must be a literary tour de force. Great books have been written in prisons, but to write of complicated travel in four continents in stealth and under such restrictions must be a unique achievement.

The first two parts are concerned with his boyhood and adolescence in the space and sunshine and recurrent storms of the Southern Alps of New Zealand. He early turned to botany to add to his enjoyment of mountain travel; and this thread of botanical interest runs all through the book, adding no less pleasure for the reader. For without descriptions of the trees and plants the mountain scene must ever be incomplete.

At Nelson and Dunedin there was untrodden ground at his doorstep, and over this he wandered. This led on to serious climbing, beginning with N.Z.A.G. camps under the aegis of A. P. Harper. To me, the first two parts of the book together give a more intimate picture of the southern ranges of New Zealand, low and high, than I have met in any other book. The climate on the two sides of the range is explained, together with the consequent contrasts of glacia- tion and vegetation.

When Scott Russell comes to the 'Old Mountains' of Europe he already knows the allure of unknown ranges, and the payment they demand in hard physical labour. He immediately recognizes and appreciates the humanistic atmosphere of the Alps, and acknowledges the freedom from anxiety and greater mobility arising from easy access, available supplies, and quarters. In New Zealand the author had made first-class expeditions with only one amateur companion. The same followed in the Alps. The author does not emphasize this point. The reviewer does.

In England Scott Russell continued his botanical training at the Imperial College of Science. One of the lecturers, Alexander King, organized a summer expedition to Jan Mayen. There was a very carefully selected scheme of scientific objectives and the author joined as second botanist, though the glaciers of Beerenberg and the exploration of the unknown northern flanks of that great extinct volcano which dominates the island occupy the principal place in the story. It is a good picture of the Arctic, with the daily merging into one of sunset and sunrise at midnight.

In Parts V, VI, and VII we join Eric Shipton's second expedition to the Karakoram. The main objective was topography and map- making. After a new survey of the Hispar-Biafo complex it was intended to make a winter survey from Shimshal on the northern flank of the main range to connect up with Mason's work on the upper Shaksgam, returning by the Karakoram pass to Leh. But news of the outbreak of war reached them before the first part of their programme was completed and this fascinating second problem remains to be accomplished.

Here I must enter my only caveat. On page 155 the author writes of'old-fashioned cumbersome expeditions'. He should have written ‘new-fangled'. The climbers and mountain explorers of the last century and the first decade of this travelled light and with great economy of expenditure compared to the Everest expeditions and international excursions which followed between the two wars. The light expedition of which Shipton and Tilman, with our author, are such strong protagonists, is only a reversion to the earlier and better type. The author had no books of reference to hand, and it appears on page 162 that he thinks Conway was involved in the Workmans' mistake over 'Snow Lake'. Conway neither thought this had no outlet nor that it was a sort of arctic ice cap.

The enormous extent and the vast scale of the individual peaks and glaciers of the Karakoram is well brought out. It is far more evident to a band of explorers than to a party intent on the ascent of one particular peak. Not that they did not do a lot of climbing. The passage of the Nushik La, crossed only twice previously, during Conway's expedition in 1892, is a first-class expedition. Almost on their last day the author rediscovered the traditional Khurdopin pass leading direct from Baltistan to Shimshal. Thus he linked up with the Vissers' map.

To revert to natural history. An uncompromising photograph of a footmark in the snow quite definitely reveals the 'Abominable Snowman' as a bear. Snowmen are about as authentic as the Alaskan bears round Mt. McKinley, whose near legs are said to be longer than their off legs because they always traverse the slopes clockwise with the sun.

The book is copiously illustrated with good photographs from a number of contributors. The seven sketch-maps are clear and adequate. There is a good index. I can only find a single misprint!- 'Svarlbad' for 'Svalbard'.

Mountain Prospect is a good book, true to its title. It is full of mountain feeling and appreciation of the scenes described. To me it has been of absorbing interest.

T. G. Longstaff.

ON SCOTTISH HILLS. By B. H. Humble. London: Chapman & Hall, 1946. 9 ¾ X 7 ¼ inches; 128 pages; 75 photographs by the author; sketch-maps. 185.

Mr. Humble tells a plain tale of the interesting and varied expeditions undertaken mainly at week-ends from the Glasgow district by his group of friends. It is the sort of story that could be told, with the necessary changes in geography, by many similar groups in the bigger cities of the north, and in that lies much of its appeal. There is a good deal of sound winter mountaineering described as well as summer climbs and bivouacs.

Mr. Humble's photographs are in the main the pleasant casual stuff that we all like to see in our own albums of holiday recollections. They blend with the text particularly well, though I did find the tendency to break into italics whenever an illustration was signalled rather disturbing at first. This was possibly due to an overdose of detective fiction where a similar change in typography often denotes discovery of the body.

In his preface the author says he has produced the book as a mild protest against all picture books on Scotland from Abraham to Poucher being written by Englishmen. A proper sentiment in a Scot and one which could be made effective. His writing goes part of the way. He knows his line of country ('1937 on Ben Nevis was a vintage year') and, if he reaches no great literary heights, it is because he does not attempt to do so, whilst at least he saves himself the descent of any corresponding depths. He has avoided the two main blemishes of English work-the 'mirth feeble and inane' on the subjects of the whisky, the kilt, and the Gaelic- and the tendency to write a comprehensive guide-book to this ancient and unconquered kingdom, or any part of it, after a month's acquaintance. But with a few exceptions (Plates 35, 60, and 66, for instance, would stand in any company) Mr. Humble's photographs, as reproduced, do not in my opinion attain the standard shown in the picture books to which he refers. In photography, as in other affairs, it seems that patriotism is not enough.

C. D. Milner.

MONT EVEREST. By Joseph Peyr£. Paris: Bernard Grasset, 1942. 304 pages. 105 firs.

It is unusual to find a novel with so exact a background of reality. In this country, where the story of successive Everest expeditions is something of a national epic, it is difficult to imagine such a subject being chosen for a novel; but in France the book will have performed a service, for the author is well acquainted with the written records of past expeditions, and at times indeed his narrative is a farrago of gleanings from them. For a writer who has not accompanied an expedition, how could it be else and yet give a true rendering of the atmosphere? For instance, his description, on page 63, of getting the yaks and mules on the move is quite excellently done.

The novel deals with a party of three who set out to climb Everest. The leader is one Jewar Singh, just down from Cambridge; he brings with him young Jos-Mari Tannenwalder, a Swiss guide whom he met and admired on Alpine climbs, and MacPherson, a caricature of a Scotsman who has left the I.C.S. to live in native seclusion at Gwaldam, and a veteran of two Everest expeditions. Their Sirdar is Nima, a Sherpa who has carried to Camp VI, and the Number One porter is Pasang, the 'Old Soldier' who had been with MacPherson in 1933 and who is as ready for his marwa in the bazaar as for a fight after it.

We are asked to imagine that the Dalai Lama has granted special but unhesitating permission to Jewar Singh; that the Dzongpen of Kampa Dzong has returned specially from Lhasa to facilitate the collection of a baggage-train; that the coveted lull between the west wind and the monsoon allows the climbing to go ahead almost undisturbed; and that Wolf, the dog from Zermatt, beats the record of Policey by climbing beyond Camp VI. At the grave of Dr. Kellas, we are reminded of Smythe's Camp Six, for an almost identical ceremony is performed there, and the 121st Psalm read by MacPherson in place of E. O. Shebbeare; on the crossing of the Tibetan plateau, the same hill near Kampa is climbed as a test of acclimatization; but we are surprised to find them pitching camp to leeward of the village. At the Rongbuk Monastery the Chief Lama addresses the Sherpas in these words: 'You are accompanying spiritually-minded men, the first to revere and to understand the Sanctuary'-a little hard on the 1922 party, whose leaders were very similarly extolled at Rongbuk. Thus is the story dovetailed into the recorded accounts, from which it is also partly adapted.

The psychological interest lies in the relations of the three climbers, and in the final selection of pairs for the assault, whereby Jos-Mari is to climb with Nima as the support party. On the 17th May 19.., the first pair take Mallory's route along the ridge, are unable to get beyond the second step, descend to the 'yellow band', but are there driven back by oncoming darkness. Jewar Singh had been aiming at spiritual enlightenment, and the study of Hindu writings had led him to believe he would find it on the ridge; MacPherson had sought to conquer the mountain in a spirit of adventure, and had held to his sola topi and his whiskies as far as Camp VI, which is pitched on the snow patch beyond the 1933 site. The second pair take the rroute to the couloir, but in increasing wind Nima, proud but a litttle mystified by his elevation from porter to climber, is smitten withi snow-blindness and turns back. Jos-Mari, after a psychological sttruggle, carries on alone but weakening, and we see him no more. But Nima has been told by an old beggar at Shekar Dzong that Joss-Mari is an incarnation of 'the future Buddha', and believes that ass he went on alone towards the top of Everest he was about to achieve the Paradise that had been predicted for him.

P. E. Thompson.

MOUNTAINS AND MEN. By Wilfrid Noyce. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1947.- 9 ½ X 6 inches; 100 pages; 17 photographs and 3 maps. 18 s.

Wilfrid Noyce, who is in the van of our younger climbers, had already made at fine contribution to mountaineering literature in his able editing of Ilast year's Himalayan Journal. So this is not quite his maiden effort. The title of the book seems apt, conveying as it does the author's de::sire to deal with the individual personalities of the mountaineers cconcerned, as well as with their performance. As he puts it in a rathi.er diffident preface: 'to cast a spotlight more directly on the person aas he lives and moves, and is changed by mountain and by friend.'

His initiationi was in Wales on Tryfan, with his cousins Guy and the late Colin IKirkus, and in Cumberland. Later quest for experience and advemture in the Alps brought contacts with distinguished climbers, and Inis close friendship with Armand Charlet began in 1938. During tkie period between leaving school and the war, he had had two seriouss accidents, one on Scafell, the other, a broken leg, on Ben Nevis. The Army bore him to India where, in 1943, he seized the oppoortunity of visiting Garhwal and the approaches to Trisul, and in tthe following year made a first ascent of Simsaga. A chapter on 'Aurscrew Mountain Centre' is full of interest. Noyce's mountaineering? in the Himalaya came to a satisfactory end with success on Paulhunri, a fortnight after leaving Delhi, and he concludes this phasse with a very pleasant pen-picture of Angtharkay and his Sherpass. The epilogue which took shape as the author was scrambling across the scree of Great Hell Gates on Great Gable, just before his third serious accident (another broken leg), is typical of the unusual and introspective trend of a most interesting book.



Editions Denoel, 19 rue Amelie, Paris VII/0, 1945. 408 pages.

130 frs.

This book is the account of a journey performed in 1936-7; the writer's purpose in undertaking it is stated on page 41, when he tells some Hindus in a swadeshi shop in southern India: T had come such a distance with the one desire to see their Master, to seek his teaching and to offer him my service.' He spends indeed several months at Wardha, and perhaps the best parts of the book are his telling of the way in which a professing Christian is welcomed there, and his account of the disinterested concern for the welfare of India that is shown by those of the Wardha community.

But unfortunately Lanza del Vasto has a journalist's mania for rushing into affairs ill equipped, and is over-ready to pronounce opinions before he has earned the right to do so by acquiring the necessary background. For instance, though he has a limited but scholarly knowledge of Sanskrit, his acquaintance with Hindustani is patently insufficient for him to have held the conversations he recounts at length. He has a profound admiration for the teachings of Gandhi, and makes some relevant remarks concerning their application to European conditions, as on page 133, where he deplores the machine on the principle of the sanctity of work, or on page 137, where he says: Tf you find the machine useful, make good use of it; but if you find it necessary, then it is high time you cast it from you or it will surely catch you in its works and enchain you.'

Consequently we are not surprised when he decides after consultation with Gandhi to make the pilgrimage to the source of the Ganges, to find that he sets out wearing a dhoti he has woven with his own hands. It is the story of this journey that may interest readers of the Journal, though it is an indefinite kind of thing, padded with bowdlerized Oriental philosophy, and we do not learn much about the topography of his travels. He talks about being astride of India and Tibet, yet it is clear that in his journey up the valley of the Ganges he never got beyond the tree-line; on page 256 he says the police turned him back near the borders of Tibet, yet travel along this pilgrims' route has always been unhindered; and on page 245 he tells how bathing in a spring of boiling sulphurous water is bearable because of the low boiling-point of water at high altitudes; though he refrains from giving any location it is clear that the spring was less than 10,000 feet high, where water (pure water, that is) boils at 90° F., which rather spoils the intended effect of his explanation.

Yet there are some fine descriptions of the scenery of the lower valleys, and the book is worth reading for its account of a European -and a Christian-who took the trouble to assume the humble costume and way of life of the Hindu pilgrim even if he could not assume an equal intellectual humility.

P. E. Thompson.

THE DELECTABLE MOUNTAINS. By Douglas Busk. London: Hodder & Stoughton. 8 ¾ X 5 ¾ inches; xi and 274 pages; 47 photographs; 4 maps. 21s.

‘When the shepherds heard their answers, being pleased with them, they looked very lovingly upon them and said "Welcome to the Delectable Mountains".'

It is from these lines in The Pilgrim's Progress that Douglas Busk takes his apt title. And indeed, as he observes, he has had exceptional good fortune in attaining Delectable Mountains in many parts of the world, for he was given opportunities of mountaineering in the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Appalachians, the American and Canadian Rockies, Persia, the Drakensberg, and the Tyrol, and was only kept off Fujiyama at the eleventh hour by the Japanese declarations of war.

By way of introduction he ventures to compare, at some length, the respective merits of mountaineering, and sets down his own conception of the call of the hills. In both of these his trend of thought is illuminating and convincing. The reflection that 'the mountaineer goes on improving to the end of his days' is a comforting one to many of us. At his public school, one of the masters, the late V. Le Neve Foster, aroused his academic interest in mountains, and during the period between Eton and Oxford, his climbing experiences began, first at Zuoz, where he had been sent to learn German at the Lyceum Alpinum, and then in the Pyrenees, where he was by way of studying French. His ski-ing was also begun, in the Engadine, and, close on this came Oxford and the University Mountaineering Club with its summer meets in the Alps. As he says, 'There is for all of us some place in the hills which is our best beloved . . .', and he writes of his own 'Happy Valley', where, from Les Praz de Chamonix, numerous ascents and friendships were made. Fortune again favoured him, when after his three years at Oxford a scholarship to Princeton brought the chance of ski-ing in the Appalachians and climbing in the Rockies, and these experiences are described in the chapters 'The White Mountains', 'The American Rockies', and 'The Ramparts'. (The last-named group is in the Jasper region of Canada-a National Park.) Then came mountaineering and ski-ing in Persia, with one of the earlier ascents of Demavend and two unsuccessful attempts on the Takht-i-Suleiman. Under the heading 'South of the Line', the author apologizes for a 'skimpy account' of all that South Africa has to offer to the mountaineer, and the penultimate chapter, 'Spring and Summer Ski-ing', deals in enthusiastic fashion with the opening of the mountains by means of ski at all times of the year, and shows how the best can be made of bad seasons.

Douglas Busk has had golden opportunities, and he has made the most of them.