KANGCHENJUNGA, THE UNTRODDEN PEAK. ' By Charles Evans. Pp. 187. Illus. Hodder & Stoughton, London. 1956. Price 25s.
This is a book essentially by a mountaineer for mountaineers. As the official account of one of the greatest mountaineering achievements in the history of climbing, it is not only a very important document, but also faultless in its preparation and well illustrated. The impression is of high-altitude technique brought to perfection and unerringly applied.
To appreciate from the leader's (Dr. Evans) modest account the magnitude of the achievement, and the sheer skill and determination which made success possible, it is necessary to read between the lines, with some knowledge of climbing as a sport, as well as of the hardships and dangers of climbing at great heights. For, to the lay-reader, the climb must appear uneventful, even easy. The' whole undertaking was too expertly planned and executed to be productive of adventures and desperate situations. Kangchenjunga has been essayed many times in the past fifty years, so the double ascent in 1955 at the first attempt, by an almost entirely new approach, is a classic achievement. On all sides for the first 6,000 to 7,000 ft., between soaring rock faces, the mountain is festooned with ice-falls, steep neve and avalanche slopes, which form a belt of truly enormous defences set at a formidable altitude and protect the upper snow slopes and steep rocks near the top. It is the successful penetration of this dangerous belt of defences, in limited time, which must always call for great mountain craft and is the special problem of the climbing of Kangchenjunga. Above this belt, there remain all the problems of high climbing and a final test of difficult rock to the summit cone.
Before the days of high-altitude mountaineering, it was once suggested by an early writer that Kangchenjunga appeared to be climbable from its west side, but that it might be advisable to take a wrap in case of a night out! Ideas have changed since then and the mountain has come to be recognized as one of the most difficult in the world and one of the most dangerous. In fact, £ Kanch' has acquired an almost fiendish reputation for bombardment with stones and avalanches of those who have dared its defences. This reputation has grown to the point where more than one expedition after considering it carefully has decided against attempting it and gone elsewhere. The summit was almost regarded as impregnable, but Evans and his colleagues have dispelled that idea at one master-stroke; they surmounted all the difficulties and left only the final white cone of snow untrodden.
The climbing of Kangchenjunga was in a sense the culmination of the joint efforts of the Alpine Club and the Royal Geographical Society over a span of thirty years in the Mount Everest region. One tended to say 'at last Everest has been climbed—but there is still Kangchenjunga'. Technically more difficult and comparable in height, it required all the experience accumulated on Mount Everest for an ascent to be a possibility. Thus, it is a fortunate outcome that the enterprise of its organizers instigated by Sir John Hunt, financed from the Everest Foundation and sent out under the patronage of Prince Philip, should have completed the task. The primary purpose of the expedition was to find a solution to the problem of climbing Kangchenjunga, but while it was equipped to take advantage of the opportunity for a ‘go' at the summit, a successful ascent first time was scarcely expected, and the Kangchenjunga committee had it in mind to send a further expedition in the following year.
There was a happy compromise in the decision to leave the actual summit cone untouched, in deference to the feelings of the Maharajah of Sikkim and his people. May it always remain so. Much credit is due to H.H. The Maharajah and his advisers in their acceptance of the parole given by Charles Evans and allowing the expedition to proceed. To the Sikkimese, Kangchenjunga is more than a mountain. It dominates the entire country. Its name, 'The Five Treasures of Great Snow', symbolizes much of the mystic attitude to the snowy mountains which look down on their own monastic way of life. Doubtless their request that the final peak must be left unclimbed will, in their minds, have pacified the demons of Kangchenjunga and saved the party from destruction.
The book, with its vivid account, and detailed descriptions and diagrams of the route, gives us a valuable record of how the job was done. The route, based on observations made by Kempe from Kabru, was almost entirely virgin ground and Evans in his account unfolds it stage by stage in fifteen chapters. Like the manner in which he attacked the task itself, there are no digressions—each chapter concentrates on and spotlights in detail the upward progress of the expedition from one stage to the next.
The style is brief, very readable and modest to a fault. On the rare occasions when our author pauses to paint a picture in its true colours, he shows considerable talent as a writer and one's only regret is that, being a factual account, he firmly excludes most of the personal and aesthetic side of his experiences.
Perhaps the most thrilling part of the story is the account of the discovery by Hardie and Band of the snow gully which affords the only practicable route off the western buttress on to the top of the lower ice-fall. This gully seems to be the key to the whole route up the south-west face. There is a good description of the delicate climbing from Kempe's buttress into the broken and heavily crevassed upper reaches of the lower ice-fall. This fine piece of reconnaissance disclosed the existence of the snow gully, and Evans showed judgment and leadership in forming his decision at once to concentrate the whole energies of the expedition on reaching this gully from the other side of the West Buttress. From this moment, the building of the route and line of camps up to the Great Shelf and beyond was conducted with great skill and determination.
The book is illustrated with some excellent photographs. The colour pictures are so realistic that it is a pity that all the photographs could not be in colour. In spite of the fact that photographs taken during the serious business of a climb can seldom give adequate impressions of scale and gradients, the pictures are very impressive, and show that the ice obstacles, seracs- and crevasses, are on a very large scale indeed, calling for experience and judgment to allow for the movement of such huge masses of snow and ice The aerial photographs by the Indian Air Force are magnificent and must have helped considerably in working out the route, even if they appal in showing what a terrific mountain Kangchenjunga is.
Of interest are the notes and appendices on the use of oxygen and details of the latest type of equipment.
Altogether, Charles Evans has produced a most readable and important contribution to the literature of climbing.
C. R. Cooke
MAKALU. By Jean Franco. Pp. 215, Illus. B. Arthaud, Paris. 1956.
Gino Watkins once said that the well-conducted expedition should have no adventures. Yet the national Himalayan expedition must both for prestige and financial reasons, have its expedition book and the lay public demands adventure and 'derring- do'. It must, therefore, have been particularly difficult for M. Franco to write his account of the successful French expedition to Makalu. For the Makalu expedition was, in fact, so well conducted that it had no adventures. As M. Franco puts it: 'A 8,000 comme au sommet du Mont Blanc, au sommet nous £tions neuf. Trois ascensions en trois jours, ce n'est pas une conquete. Et nous n'avions meme pas eu froid aux pieds.'
Inevitably, therefore, in reviewing this book, one reviews the expedition and tries to discover what useful lessons can be drawn from it. One' s overall impression is one of orthodoxy. All ingredients for success were thoroughly appreciated beforehand, and this mixing was carefully carried out according to what is now a well defined recipe. Their equipment and so on had no particular novelties, they had their autumn reconnaissance and their acclimatization period, the mountain was not rushed, the ratio of Sherpas to climbers (about 3 to 1) was typical, they took open- circuit oxygen whose performance seems to have been similar to the 1955 British sets. One expects nowadays that an expedition that follows all this should, given average luck with the greatest imponderable, the weather, have success. The French had exceptional luck with the weather (unbroken fine weather during the assault period) and so, having followed all these rules meticulously, were enabled to reap a complete harvest. Hence the impression one gets in the book is of the easy inevitability of success. But this conceals the importance and perfection of the final factor: leadership. In the book this is extremely unobtrusive, as it probably was on the expedition. And yet Franco managed to weld a group of seven highly individualistic climbers into a team that followed these rules, and yet kept the concepts of 'team', 'plan', which are anathema to most climbers, in the background! As a result it was clearly a very happy party who enjoyed them- selves and climbed their mountain. And it seems clear that because of this they would still have climbed their mountain even if they had had worse than average luck with the weather.
Makalu also illustrates well another interesting subject: oxygen. It is not technically a very difficult mountain, and it could obviously have been climbed without oxygen. And equally obviously, if it had been climbed without using it, probably only one cordee would have reached the summit. But the use of it kept all eight climbers sufficiently fresh for them all to partake of the success. This, to my mind, is the most important argument for its use. For there is a great difference in the satisfaction of actually getting to the summit and the less tangible satisfaction of knowing that by one's 'support' of a summit pair (in conducting Sherpa convoys on the lower reaches) one has enabled the pair to reach the' summit. The other two points in favour of oxygen are well illustrated too. That of enjoyment, what one might call tactical enjoyment, i.e. actually enjoying one's high-altitude climbing, is already well known and the chapter on the assault emphasizes this once more. The other point is one of logistics. To revert to the classic analogy of the pyramid—the large base of men and equipment enabling the capstone of one pair of climbers to be built —by using oxygen one can build one's pyramid much more quickly and therefore have a much smaller base in terms of men, equipment and time. This possibility of speeding up of operations is graphically shown by (and is perhaps a portent of the future) the third assault pair who on their first day climbed using oxygen nearly 5 000 ft from the advanced base (Camp III) to Camp IV and on the second day, after going up to the summit (more than 2,000 ft.), returned to Camp III. (It also shows how fantastically fit they must have been.)
Lacking as it is in doubt and drama, the book is remarkably readable 'Preparations' hardly occupy any space, the 'approach march' is as brief as one can expect, the members of the party are never formally introduced but develop naturally as personalities each with his own particular foibles, during the course of the book Franco presents the actual ascent as a being almost carefree without any overbearing sense of a deep mission (apart from one revealing little sentence when the summit has been reached 'Devies sera content nontenant'). The whole atmosphere is best summed up by Couzy's remark to Franco after he and Terray have returned from the summit. 'C'est comme dans les Alpes, la course de la matinee.' Inevitably one begins to draw a comparison with its predecessor Annapurna—both the expedition and the book. Anyone who has read both can draw his own conclusions To those that haven't, Gino Watkins' remark and Armand Chariot s misquote 'C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas 1'alpimsme used in another context, make perhaps fair comments It is an irony of historv to think that in fifty years' time the Makalu expedition will have sunk into almost complete oblivion when contrasted with Annapurna. One cannot help remembering Scott and Amundsen.
Lucien Devies, who seemed to occupy a sort of eminence grise position in relation to the expedition, contributes a useful summary in the form of a foreword, of Himalayan expeditions to the eight-thousanders. His concluding remark that Makalu is probably at the time of writing the most difficult one climbed is perhaps arguable, but it is fair to point out that the time of writing seems to have been before Kangchenjunga, for it is only mentioned afterwards almost by way of an addendum. There are thirty illustrations of which seven are in particularly glossy colour. Some of these latter would undoubtedly have been more restful in black and white. The black and whites are of normal competence and, rare for a French production, they are from half-tone blocks.
R. R. E. Chorley
THE SIEGE OF NANGA PARBAT, 1856-1953. By Paul Bauer. Pp. 211. Illus. Rupert Hart-Davis, London. 1956. Translated by R. W. Rickmers.
There is always a certain financial relief attached to the climbing of a big mountain after repeated endeavours. No longer will we have to buy an expensive new book every two years in the foredoomed knowledge that it will soon be out of date. The whole thing can now be summed up and purchased in one nutshell.
This is the function of Dr. Bauer's book, which bears the same relation to the story of Nanga Parbat as Mr. Murray's book did to Everest.
Here is the entire story of muddling, vainglory, sentimentalism, waste, cowardice, determination and courage: those who saved their skins and those who were faithful unto death, those who never got a chance and those who had a demon under their skins, those to whom luck was very good and those to whom it was cruelly bad. All climbers know the whole story already.0It is repellent and fascinating. We can all be thankful that it is now over and that we had nothing to do with it.
A book to sum it all up was certainly needed, and Dr. Bauer was probably best qualified to write it. He makes no attempt to cover up unsavoury details and does not hesitate to apportion praise or blame according to his own point of view; indeed there is almost a lack of historical objectivity. He rightly spares us those approach-march chapters that pad out so many weedy Himalayan tales into the semblance of books, and sticks mainly to the details of action. Indeed at the end he leaves us sitting at Camp V rather wondering how we are going to get down. It is curious that in spite of this the book reads a bit flat (as books do about other men's adventures) except where the writer was involved. Bech- told's section on the 1933 expedition, already well known and re-printed here, has never seemed to the reviewer entirely clean of treacle. The photographic plates are not good. But it is a necessary book for any mountain library with any pretence to completeness.
It is interesting how attractively the character of Rand Herron comes through. Bauer is objective about nationalities.
Mummery, Welzenbach and Buhl were the ones with the devils, the unpredictable ones. The fate of any one of them might have overtaken either of the other two. Buhl's fantastic run of luck had to run out sometime for all his superb will and control but, although never more tightly-stretched, it held out for Nanga Parbat. And let nobody be deceived, it was luck. It is easy to sympathize with the much-maligned Dr. Herligkoffer, despite all the oddities of his expedition, for anyone knowing something of the inside story of its aftermath. Luck might just as well have helped one of the other two or killed Buhl. It is a pity that the only well-organized and properly-led expedition to the mountain, Dr Bauer's in 1938, never had a chance with the weather, for in any other terms but those of altitude it was by far the most successful; Is any peak worth all those lives? Only to the devil under the skin.
'Too great a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart'.
G. J. Sutton
NANGA PARBAT PILGRIMAGE. By Hermann Buhl. Pp. 360. Illus. Hodder and Stoughton, London. 1956. Translated by Hugh Merrick. 25s.
Hermann Buhl was killed in the Karakoram in June 1957. When one has read this book, the English translation of his autobiography ' 8,000 meter Druber und Drunter', one cannot be surprised Buhl devoted himself to mountaineering in all its forms with an intensity equalled by few, an intensity which can only be regarded as fanatical. I suppose many people who climb do so, amongst other reasons, to test themselves: how far they can push their skill, their endurance, their will-power. But the degree which they are prepared to push themselves depends on their personal safety margin and Buhl seems to have reduced his beyond most people's. But no doubt the intensity of his pleasure and living was greater than most people's If, for instance, one frequently indulges in the solo climbing of difficult rocks then the potentialities resulting from mistakes—which, being human, we all make—are much greater. And the more frequently we do it, the shorter the odds. The Buhls of this world would I am sure agree with this; the question is really an ethical one of the extent to which one's own actions should be governed by responsibility to others.
To the ordinary mountaineer, Buhl's brinkmanship may be disconcerting but it certainly results in a book with never a dull moment: there is scarcely a chapter in which pegs don't come out, holds break, storms rage, people fall off—every textbook danger that we seek to avoid. And mixed up with all these alarums and excursions, Buhl's enthusiasm for a climbing life bursts through. In particular, his descriptions of the pleasures and penalties of solo climbing are very vivid and true. Anyone who has climbed solo will live with him intensely in his accounts of such climbs as the N.E. face of the Piz Badile—a route which is as difficult for its free climbing as for its artificial—and the silence of a moonlit winter's night ascent of the east face of the Watzmann, the longest face in the Eastern Alps. One would also single out his account of a stormy ascent of the Eigerwand at the head of a party which eventually totalled nine. It is instructive to compare his account with Rebuffat's, who was also one of the nine, and incidentally Rebuffat's approach to mountains and the big north faces, as exemplified by his Starlight and Storm, with this book.
Buhl's extraordinary performance on Nanga Parbat in 1953 forms only a short part of the book—two chapters. The first, 'Below 26,000 feet', gives a good impression of the tedium and the way trivialities loom so large in a Himalayan expedition—in this case a particularly unhappy one. The details of Buhl's extra- ordinary 41-hour performance, 'Above 26,000 feet', will be known to most readers. Here they have an epic vividness that I haven't come across since Herzog's Annapuma.
The enthusiasm of this book is conveyed by a simple style, at times somewhat naive with gaucheries and cliches that make it all the more effective. Also touches of self-conceit and outspokenness over difficulties encountered and overcome which are a refreshing change from overstatement by way of understatement that is so common. All this, Hugh Merrick has caught well. But where technicalities, in particular of artificial climbing, are involved, the result is confusing and one senses that the translator has not understood the original. This is not helped by the use of several different words to translate such words as karabiner and mauerhaken. Perhaps a glossary would have helped.
R. R. E. Chorley
EAST OF EVEREST. By Sir Edmund Hillary and George Lowe. Pp. 70. Illustrations 48. Hodder and Stoughton, London. 1956. 215.
This book tells of the 1954 New Zealand expedition to the valleys of the Barun and Hongn south-east of Everest. It was a sizeable expedition, and, apart from much survey work, it collected a bag of nineteen peaks over 20,000 feet, and explored the southern approach to Makalu. But the Hew Zealanders have determined that it shall not be long-winded; the whole is squeezed into 70 pages of text, illustrated by 48 pages of excellent photographs.
This arrangement has its advantages. The possible tediosities of plans, preparations and build-ups are avoided, and the story moves swiftly forward, with the help of good maps which seem to appear just when they are needed. The disadvantage is that the reader becomes afflicted with rather the same breathlessness as afflicts many who climb with Hillary and Lowe. There is not much time to stop and look around before—hey presto! and he is whisked off to the next 22,000-ft. summit. Peaks climbed with that rapidity have a way of all looking very much like one another.
For the non-geographer the highlights of the book are the chapter of accidents recounted by Hillary, and the ascent of Baruntse (23,570 ft.) in Lowe's section. Hillary describes vividly the accident in a crevasse to Macfarlane, frostbite and its later complications, and cracked ribs for the leader. Then came his illness on Makalu, which compelled the party to give up its route and make the difficult journey down.
It is of interest that the writing styles of these two come curiously close to one another: rather like their climbing styles, the long stride, the long ice-axe and the fast pace. It would be difficult to tell which was which from the writing. Lowe's most exciting passages concern the upper part of Baruntse. The breakthrough of the cornice is a dramatic moment, and the corner above must have been a fine lead by Todd. He ends in an atmosphere of delightful jollity at the five-day festival of Dumji in Sola Khumbu.
A book attractive to handle and to look at. Straight and engagingly honest as an account, with a pleasing openness about it. Important in the story of Himalayan exploration for the filling in of gaps, and possessing some impressive pictures.
IN HIGHEST NEPAL. By Norman Hardie. George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London. 1957. 21s.
Norman Hardie will be remembered as a member of Sir Edmund Hillary's expedition to the Barun in 1954 and of Charles Evans' Kangchenjunga expedition.
This book recounts his travels in E. Nepal after the Kangchenjunga climb of May 26th, 1955, when Tony Streather and he reached the near-summit. With three Sherpas he walked over to Khumjung and spent the monsoon months living with the Sherpas in Sola Khumbu. In the autumn he was joined by his wife and another New Zealander A. J. Macdonald who helped him to complete the photo-theodolite survey work in the region of Chamlang (24,012 ft.) which was begun in 1954. On their way out towards Katmandu they met Dawa Tenzing and Changjup returning from their trip to England.
One of Hardie's ambitions had been to take up residence in a Sherpa village, and so the book is of particular interest in that Sherpa life, festivals and customs are described in much greater detail than is possible in books recording mere mountaineering adventures. At last we are able to discover the real difference between yaks, nacks, dzums and dzubjocks and we learn what a female yeti does before she looks into a tent.
He mentions an unexplored valley two miles from Chamlang with a 'fine array of climbable peaks in the 21,000-22,000 ft. class'. Chamlang itself is still unclimbed and perhaps the book may serve to point the way.
G. C. Band
TENTS IN THE CLOUDS. By M. Jackson and E. Stark. Pp. 255. Illus. Collins, London. 1956. 18s.
This is an account of a journey to the Jugal Himal in eastern Nepal which was highly successful and—more to the point— keenly enjoyed. In about a month the party traversed two glaciers, climbed to a col on the frontier ridge, and bagged a peak; which is more than this reviewer did in the four months spent in the Langtang before ever setting eyes on the Jugal Himal. As with many other Himalayan peaks the only difficulty of this one lay in the approach up the icefall. Its height is elastic, the figure on one page of 22,000 ft. is later cut to 21,000 ft. But to go to the hitherto unvisited Jugal Himal was bold and enterprising and they had their reward in recapturing the freshness of bygone days, treading new ground and unravelling topographical puzzles.
Too much, perhaps, is made of the inaccuracy of the map, a matter of little interest to the general reader who will not understand it without a look at the map in question. Maps of the Nepal Himalaya do not pretend to accuracy (except for the major peaks) above glacier level, and although it would help hardy explorers who visit unknown regions to have a proper map, it is unusual unless the region happens to have been surveyed from the air. We meet with one or two 'perpendicular' ice couloirs, which is not quite the same thing as steep or even very steep; and on p. 143 a new doctrine of only 'roping up on all climbs when a fall would have proved fatal' is enunciated. Surely if one of their Sherpas had fallen and broken every bone in his body, they would hardly expect to be exonerated from blame on the grounds that the unfortunate man had not succumbed to his injuries ?
Although Mrs. Jackson disclaims having considered the 'first- ever' aspect, her publishers do not—'their modest expedition made head-line news' runs their blurb. Must we now look for an endless repetition of Himalayan ascents by parties 'composed only of women'? And the bold conjecture in the book that 'the first woman to climb Everest will be small-boned and petite' seems to promise that we must.
The book, which is good value at 18s., is divided into two unequally written parts, but I found it all interesting and enjoyable. One part is in the run of the mill style of Himalayan climbing books, the other is fresh, racy, and has, what I thought, some charmingly written descriptive passages. There is a little too much about 'retiring behind boulders' and a strong Gaelic flavour pervades the whole. Brose is brewed daily at 5 a.m., while howffs and lochans abound. The Sherpas are well and amusingly drawn. They seem to have run the party with their usual efficiency, and to have got rather out of hand on the way back—which also is customary.
Some of the pictures are very fine, but it should always be remembered that mountains are more beautiful than those who climb them. 'Human interest' is all very well in mountain scenes, but the less intelligent readers who want a lot of it turn to the National Geographical Magazine which likes to decorate its mountain pictures with bevies of beauties in bikinis. The top picture facing p. 160 surely deserved a full plate, while that facing p. 176 should have been burnt. It reminded me of the 'Ascent of F6 ' and what the man saw when he reached the summit and died.
H. W. Tilman
WHITE FURY By Raymond Lambert and Claude Kogan. Translated from the French by Showell Styles Pp. 176 47 photos, I map. Hurst and Blackett, London. 1956. Price 18-9.
In the autumn of 1954, Lambert reconnoitred Gaurisankar with a Franco-Swiss team of five. He approached eastwards from Katmandu, north by the Bhote Kosi, and so to Beding m the Rol- waling Khola, whence he crossed an 18,000-ft. pass to the Menlung Chu In late September, two long-distance reconnaissances were made of Gaurisankar's South, East, and North ridges. These were seen to be either long thin blades bearing double cornices, or, where broader cleft by enormous gaps and studded with ice-towers. The faces between were reckoned unclimbable. Decision was therefore taken to attempt Cho Oyu, despite the known presence there of Dr. Tichy's Austrian party. To this end, Lambert crossed the Menlung La and the Nangpa La. His attempt on Cho Oyu went by the West face, the easiest on any eight-thousander He and Mme. Kogan were stopped at 26,500 ft. by bad weather—hence the book's title. Since they had carried with them from Katmandu no less than thirty-five quarts of whisky the storm must have been terrible indeed—or the whisky not Scotch ?
The book as a literary work reveals a most successful experiment in padding. The authors lack material for a book-length work for they are not in possession of the creative imagination or perception to draw out and develop the boundless possibilities latent within their brief adventure. Instead, they write two or three chapters turn and turn about, overlapping the narratjve, so that each tells again part of the preceding writers story. Since each succeeds in presenting different aspects of the joint enterprise, the repetition, far from palling, adds to our interest. The transfer of pen from one to another is done with a dexterity well worthy of study by authors likely to find themselves in a similar predicament.
Several features of the story call for adverse comment, first and foremost the deliberate gate-crashing of Cho Oyubythe very face on which Dr. Tichy was climbing. Lambert's defeat does not (m the reviewer's opinion) mitigate his offence to human relation ships. The intervention drew from Pasang Dawa Lama—Tichy s sirdar—one of the most remarkable physical feats ever recorded in the Himalaya—the ascent of Cho Oyu (26,750 ft.) in three days from Namche Bazar. He was powered by anger. Had the intervention occurred in 1952, perhaps the mountain's history might have been different.
Mme. Kogan claims for herself the second crossing of the Menlung La. The second crossing was in fact made by the reviewer with Tom Bourdillon in 1951, and further crossings followed in 1952. For this and other errors, Mme. Kogan makes recompense by offering, on p. 84, a most excellent thumb-nail sketch of true love in action.
The writing is marred by inconsistencies of thought and feeling. In Chapters 22 and 23, when Lambert denigrates his companions, his uncharitable feelings compare ill with his generous words in Chapter 1: 'We were one entity, a team, and from the date of our starting out our individualities were merged to form a collective soul—the soul of the expedition.' Denigration may be viewed by some as commendable openness, but in light of it the collective- soul declaration appears too gross an insincerity. Likewise, Mme. Kogan on Cho Oyu quotes, 'Keep me, 0 Lord, from happiness too easily attained.' But when the Lord a week later takes her at her word, she is resentful. They go down, she says, bruised in pride, and, referring to the lost summit, speaks of the 'bitterness of our failure to conquer it'. On the next page she declares, 'We have lived as intensely as man can live'. That is a very great claim indeed—cause surely for deep and abiding satisfaction. But almost in the next breath she says with more truth than perspicacity, 'The best and most valuable gift this attempt had brought us was the feeling of dissatisfaction, the desire for revenge. .
The translation is well done, but is sometimes too literal for ease of understanding. One sentence reads, ' Our eyes were so much bigger than our stomachs that we sometimes mistook the latter for marmots!'
Our ears seem to catch, from that distant valley, the bark of a shaggy dog.
W. H. Murray
ON CLIMBING. By Charles Evans. Pp. 191. Illus. Museum Press, London. 1956. Price 30s.
There are three kinds of books on mountaineering technique: the straight textbook; the book which is a mixture of technique and personal descriptions of climbs to illustrate and provide backgrounds to the techniques; and mountaincraft. The last is concerned more with the psychological approach and in so far as it deals with this it is never likely to be dated. The first, which is done so well by the French and Americans with their wealth of technical jargon, is suited to the enthusiast, but as techniques change they become dated. The middle category is concerned in the main with the approach to mountains and mountaineering and therefore the techniques involved are the basic techniques. Such books carry a great responsibility because their greatest influence is on the beginner and it is fundamentally important that his approach should be correct, with a clear appreciation of the dangers and the techniques used to minimize them. Nor should they lose sight of the pleasures of climbing—and of good technique. An excellent example of such a book is Colin Kirkus's Let's Go Climbing, and Charles Evans' new book is a worthy successor.
The layout of the book follows the normal pattern: beginnings, equipment, rock climbing, snow, ice and glaciers, and illustrative chapters on climbs in Wales, the Alps and the Himalayas. There is a separate chapter on the rope. It is an excellent chapter, not so much for the simple techniques which are clearly described but because of the way in which it emphasizes the fundamental importance of the rope and of good rope technique. (But I was rather alarmed to notice the author in one of the illustrations using a duralumin karabiner as a waist attachment.) Artificial climbing is only mentioned in a general way, as is proper in a book of this nature. The few words he has to say are wise, although I would insert the word 'should', for accuracy's sake, in his last sentence that artificial climbing only starts when the hardest of free climbing has failed to force a way!
The chapter on rock climbing is straightforward and starts the beginner off on the correct lines.
The first of the chapters on snow and ice begins with crampons and not the axe. This is unusual but, with modern rubber-soled boots, I think, correct, for it is most important to emphasize that the good snow and ice climber does very little step-cutting today and that while the axe and crampons are both essential, the former is the accessory. But as he says, crampons demand a special skill and their use must be thoroughly mastered. I wonder how many beginners spend a morning or two practising crampon technique on a glacier snout, and, indeed, there are many otherwise competent mountaineers who would gain considerably by a few hours of thoughtful practice. There is a tendency in textbooks for the reader to get the impression that an ice step is fashioned as a work of art, clean and regular and sloping in; in the Himalayas, where steps are to be used several times, or in the Alps where slopes are very steep, this is correct, but for normal purposes this kind of step is far too time-consuming to produce; all that one should aim to do is to produce a rough gouge which one can stand in comfortably in crampons. But the author does emphasize one small but important point: ‘cut as if you meant it'.
In the last three chapters on Climbs and Walks in Wales, a traverse of the Taschhorn-Dom, and some Himalayan travel, Evans is at his best. These accounts, whether of small or big mountains, transmit his enthusiasm, and the pleasures, drudgeries and trivia of a trip in the hills which in total gives a fine impression of what climbing is really like and which is therefore of much value to the beginner. This, indeed, is how I would summarize the book: it will set the beginner off with the right techniques and attitudes. Where one disagrees it is mainly on small points of technique (e.g. figure 64 shows a climber belaying with his axe in snow, with the axe several feet to one side of him); and contrarily, there are many points that I found myself underlying with complete agreement. If the book has a weak patch it is in relation to the Alps. I would have liked to have seen a chapter devoted to the special problems the Alps presents to the guideless novice (in the Alps) who is already experienced in Britain; on the importance of speed in the Alps and how to attain it (something in which British climbers tend to be deficient in mixed routes), and on route-finding, perhaps like the famous chapter on the Beis- pielspitz in Badminton. For in some ways, the jump from Britain to the Alps is bigger and more serious than that of either starting to climb or on going to the Himalayas. The Alpine discipline and dangers are in many ways quite different from those of British climbing and the differences are not always obvious.
Charles Evans' sketches are for the most part clear and concise, supplemented by some thirty-two photographs in which Douglas Milner's hand is unmistakable. The blocks are good, the illustrative ones are illustrative and some of the general ones are very fine—many even combine both qualities. On Climbing costs thirty shillings : this is unfortunate because it will tend to put it out of the reach of the people who will gain most from it, but even at this price they should try to acquire it, because it will start them off climbing with the right approach.
R. R. E. Chorley
THE MOUNTAIN WORLD, 1956-57. English Version edited by Malcolm Barnes. Published by Allen and Unwin Ltd. for The Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research. Pp. 200. Illus. 25s.
It is a truism to say that this annual is now established as incomparably the leading mountaineering review in the world. This issue is well up to the superlative standard set by its predecessors in quality both of production (the plates are first-class) and of subject matter. Indeed one feels, setting the book down, that it renders a great many other climbing annuals unnecessary.
The fare is varied. Everest, Makalu, Lhotse and Kangchenjunga jostle Mount McKinley and the African Yirungas in its pages. Sporting accounts follow scientific records of the greatest interest and most varied kind, all readily comprehensible to the profane: Othmar Gurtner's paper on glacier ice is a masterpiece of clarity and concision. Nor are the Alps forgotten—we read of high- standard climbing there both on ice and on rock, written with that admirably sane balance which seems widespread among Swiss mountaineers.
It would be presumptuous in the reviewer to praise the great expeditions, French, Swiss and British, described in this volume, for all were models of what high-altitude expeditions should be. But one is struck by their smoothness and assurance even in the face of initial setbacks. The formula evolved in 1953 by Sir John Hunt has now been perfected, and the ascent of 8,000 m. mountains is quickly becoming technically as commonplace (though vastly more costly) as the climbing of classic 4,000 m. peaks in the Alps.
The editorial states the position with perspicuity. The golden age of Himalayan climbing will soon be over; indeed Herr Gurtner suggests that it is over already, although that seems to be going rather far. But certainly with the 'Big Five' climbed the dreams of future boyhood can never be quite the same. Let us hope that our children may still be reading in The Mountain World of climbing on the deserted summits of the moon, though by then it may be appropriate to change its title.
G. J. SUTT0N
A CENTURY OF MOUNTAINEERING. By Sir Arnold Lunn. Pp. 263. Illus. Allen and Unwin, London. 1957. 30s.
This is a superbly produced book, commissioned by the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research as a tribute to the Alpine Club on the occasion of its Centenary. Othmar Gurtner, in dedicating the book to 'the doyen of the mountain brotherhood', expresses gracefully and sincerely the strong feelings of friendship that have long existed between Swiss and British mountaineers.
The author, chosen by the Swiss with characteristic insight, deals ably with his subject both as an historian and as an essayist, analysing the personalities and philosophies of great mountaineers of the past. During Sir Arnold Lunn's lifetime, the sport of mountaineering has undergone fundamental and revolutionary changes, and his personal reminiscences, interwoven throughout the latter part of this history, span a period from Whymper and Freshfield to Joe Brown and leading exponents of modern artificial techniques.
The history opens with the earliest recorded attitudes towards the mountains, and the gradual changes that led to man's appreciation of their beauty. There follows a brief survey of the British Pioneers in the Alps, which is succeeded by the founding of the Alpine Club and the birth of 'The Golden Age of Mountaineering'. Edward Whymper and Leslie Stephen are given a chapter on their own, also some of the great guides of this period, notably Michel Croz, Christian Aimer and J. A. Carrel. The 'Silver Age' follows, and with it the beginnings of guideless climbing. Mummery and Coolidge are rightfully given pride of place in this section, which, however, is slightly marred by the unnecessary revival of personal rivalries and quarrels amongst Alpine Club members of this period. The Age of Exploration beyond the Alps had arrived and special mention is made of Fresh- field, Conway, the Duke of Abruzzi and that greatest of all mountain photographers, Vittorio Sella. Alpine development during the period 1882-1914, with records of the leading climbers of the day, brings mention of Geoffrey Winthrop Young and V. J. E. Ryan. Ski and winter mountaineering, with the author traversing familiar ground, are given special treatment.
We come, inevitably, to the 'Iron Age', with notes on some great climbers, Swiss, French, Italian, German, British; and descriptions of some unique modern feats such as W. Bonatti's solitary first ascent of the S.W. buttress of the Dru from August 17th-22nd, 1955. Exploration in the Himalayas between the wars calls forth the familiar names of Smythe, Shipton, Tilman. Everest is accorded a full chapter, culminating in Hillary and Tenzing's ascent in 1953; whilst 1946-1956, described as The Great Decade, covers all the important achievements in the Himalaya,
In the closing chapters, Sir Arnold Lunn discusses mountaineering literature and the tendency of modern climbers to record their climbs in prose which reads like an engineer's report and to condemn any writing which deviates from the purely technical and impersonal. Lunn's explanation for this is that it is either a curious shyness to express mystical thoughts, the impact of which every true mountain-lover has felt at some time; or that the high standards of the classical mountain writers are beyond the literary powers of the technically more efficient moderns. His own views on this theme, which has been beautifully developed by Geoffrey Winthrop Young in his Preface to The Mountain World, 1955, are well known. With the evolution of mountain techniques, new approaches and instincts have developed. Thoughts cannot be expressed unless aroused; and it can be argued that fundamentally it would seem to be the attitude to the mountains that has changed.
Sir Arnold Lunn has given us a valuable book; he has taken together and fitted into shape virtually the major part of the whole recorded history of mountain climbing. And he has shown us, besides, the gradual evolution of the relationship between men and mountains. He has given full recognition to the position the Alpine Club has represented in preserving traditional standards which have influenced leading mountaineers throughout the past century.
Apart from a fine collection of photographs immaculately reproduced, there are reproductions of eight paintings of outstanding quality. Although it would seem invidious to single out any particular one for special praise, the Gepatsch Glacier by E. T. Oompton seems to have captured the beauty, character and grandeur of the mountain scene better than the most expertly exposed Kodachrome aided by a Sonnar 1-5 lens with or without a wide-angle extension.
T. H. Braham
WHERE MOUNTAINS ARE GODS. By Rene von Nebesky-Wojkowitz. Pp. 254. Illus. Eidenfeld and Nicolson, London. 21s.
The object of the author, a distinguished Austrian anthropologist, in visiting Sikkim was to investigate the religious ideas and ceremonies of those 'ancient Tibetan sects whose holy places lie in the secrecy of the Himalaya'. During his three years in and about that State, not only did the revolution in Nepal take place but Tibet was over-run by Red China. And while in Kalimpong, he saw something of the exodus from Lhasa. In Gangtok, the Durbar granted him exceptional facilities to study the form of Buddhism which obtains in Sikkim. Perhaps the most interesting chapter is that entitled 'Brothers of the Bamboo' which deals with the Lepchas, one-time rulers of Sikkim. As he observes, this 'little Himalayan people is doomed, despite recent measures to preserve it and its way of life, to perish in the not distant future'. He has written of Bhutan, but it is not clear how or whether he actually got there. The publishers say he did, but permission to enter the State is very seldom given to Europeans. He had three teachers, Tibetan saints,—reincarnations of great figures of Lamaism. From them he acquired much wisdom, and from his many friends he learnt about oracles, demons, magicians, bards and weather-makers. Of the last named he tells the tale of an unlucky slip in ritual which brought torrential rain instead of the promised sunshine at a royal wedding. This intriguing book has been ably translated by Michael Bullock.
H. W. Tobin
MEDICINE, MY PASSPORT. By Dr. Donald Stafford Matthews. Harrap, London. 1957. 18s.
Although this book contains but a single chapter on the Himalayas, it is the autobiography of a former member of the Club and therefore earns mention.
Don Matthews was no ordinary person. After one meeting, someone said: 'He's the biggest line-shooter I've ever met in my life'. His companion replied: 'Yes, but even so, I'm going back for more'.
As I learnt during our expedition to Peru in 1956, Don was a most wonderful companion and friend—one of the most likeable and unforgettable characters I have ever met. It was a severe shock to 4fs when he died suddenly from a heart attack in Lima at the end of the trip. So he never saw his book. He had completed the draft manuscript in England before leaving for South America. This has now been edited and Jack Tucker—his closest expedition friend-has contributed a delightful epilogue covering the last six months in London and Peru.
Although he was only 39 when he died, Don had packed more into those years than most people would in five times as long. He was an extrovert and loved life with a capital L. He had to go everywhere, know everybody, and do everything. He was born in New Zealand, took his medical degree in Edinburgh, and after serving in the Navy during the War in the Mediterranean and Pacific he returned to England to study gynaecology. Medicine brought him into contact with the flesh and blood realities of everyday life. It became his passport to world travel—to Nigeria, India, Nepal, Assam, Kangchenjunga and South America.
It is not possible to distinguish, of course, exactly what came from Don's pen and what from his editor's, but the book reads easily enough. It has the piquant quality of a William Hickey column giving that continual impression of rubbing-shoulders- with-the-great. As a keen lifeman myself, I can only bow to a superior technique. Where I might have been forced to deplore my ignorance of botany, the author can write: 41 always regret that Kingdon-Ward or some accomplished naturalist had not been with us to describe the flora'.
When we were sorting out our Peruvian pictures, those containing full portraits of Don in various poses were usually his own. The photographs in this book display the same characteristic.
G. C. Band
THE LONG WALK. By Slavomir Rawicz. Pp. 240. Maps. Constable and Co., London. 1956. 15s.
This book tells the story of an escape on foot across Central Asia from a prison camp in Siberia as far as India. Almost all its value lies in its claim to be a true account of great endurance and extreme hardship. That claim has been questioned on several counts. It appears there is no record of the party ever having been in India. That is a valid objection. Control over foreigners entering and leaving India during the war was strict and there should be several officers, both British and Indian, from a number of branches and departments of the Indian Services who could testify to the arrival of the author and his companions if it actually occurred.
Doubts have been expressed whether the party could have gone for periods up to twelve days without water. Whatever the scientists may have to say about that and whatever may be thought of the veracity of detail by persons acquainted with Siberia, Mongolia and the Gobi, no one who has lived in Tibet is likely to find the picture of that country either familiar or convincing.
The party's route as indicated roughly on the sketch-map in the book took them past the western end of the Tsaidam marshes, down to the east shore of the Ziling Tso, across the Brahmaputra somewhere west of Shigatse and into north Sikkim by or about the Kongra La. The party had no maps or compasses and the estimate of the route might be astray by a considerable number of miles; nevertheless from many indications in the book the route described can hardly be placed very far away from that I have mentioned above. Apart from Lhasa—which was 'bypassed'—there are no place-names; there is also rather scanty detail of scenery, local customs, etc., and what there is is quite uncharacteristic of Tibet. For example: Tibetans do not bake barley cakes as is suggested on p 190. Houses roofed with sloping, overlapping boards (p. 192) are quite untypical. It is quite un-Tibetan to have tea-bowls washed by a third party (p. 196); each person licks his own and polishes it on the cloth in which it is carried. Roses in late October at an altitude of perhaps 16,000 ft. are improbable (p. 199). No Tibetan town or village, in my experience, has anything like a village hall used for public purposes such as a school (p. 208). The Brahmaputra, which must be the river intended on p. 213, does not freeze over in winter—at least not east of lat. 85 east, so far as I can learn. The boats described on p. 213 are of a sort totally unheard of in Tibet. The Brahmaputra is crossed m skin coracles which need no rollers to move them as they are carried on a man's back; at low water in winter, huge flat wooden barges are used also; these are not taken out of the water. Wooden benches are not found in Tibetan houses (p. 215) nor is the spinning wheel used in Tibet (p. 215).
In addition to unconvincing detail, of which the above is a selection, there is a surprising absence of the most characteristic aspects of the country. Although it is said that the party stayed in many villages, they never saw a monastery, not a Buddhist image nor yet a single monk. Mr. Rawicz mentions an inscribed stone over the doorway of a house—presumably the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum—but nothing is said of the inscriptions on stones by the roadside, on boulders and cliffs or in prayer-walls which are found wherever Tibetans live. There is no mention of chortens, or of prayer flags either on masts or fluttering abundantly from the stone cairns which mark the summit of every frequented pass in Tibet. Nothing is said about the head-dresses, ornaments and striped aprons of the women of the settled parts of Tibet; nor of the men's turquoise earrings, nor about the differences m dress and in the manner of wearing the hair between the nomadic and the settled Tibetans. The abundant wild life on the greater part of the route through Tibet is unnoticed. North Tibet is the home of the wild yak and the antelope, also of other animals which occur further south as well: gazelle, harhal, ovis poll, wolves, foxes, lynxes, hares, marmots, innumerable mouse-hares and herds of the beautiful wild ass (kyang). Of birds only the raven and magpie get a mention; but there are also lammergeiers, vultures, falcons, buzzards, clouds of choughs and many small birds such as larks and finches; and between the Ziling Tso and Brahmaputra in winter there would be many black-necked cranes, gulls, countless ruddy sheldrake, bar-headed geese and some duck.
Among the greatest hardships of winter travel in Tibet are the wind and dust. Travellers often move by night, when it is calm, to avoid the discomfort and the danger of losing their way. Mr. Rawicz and his party were headed directly into the prevailing wind and it is surprising that they never mention it.
It may be said that the book has been written fifteen years after the event and details have become hazy on account of the hardships endured and through the passage of time. But even if one ignores the points quoted above, which make the story unconvincing to one who knows something of Tibet, there remains the difficulty that the topographical characteristics of the country have been completely inverted in Mr. Rawicz's account. Assuming that the party skirted the west end of the Tsaidam (although this formidable feature is not mentioned) they would be travelling, so far as the neighbourhood of Shentsa south of the Ziling Tso, through about 500 miles of country which has been described by the few travellers from A.K. onwards who have crossed it, as uninhabited for the first half and sparsely scattered with noinadic herdsmen 'for the second. The country is high undulating land mainly over 16,000 feet, well provided with water, much of it covered in summer with fine grass but with 110 tree or shrub. The nomads live in black tents and have no regular settlements, let Mr. Rawicz describes, in this area, 'a succession of unremarkable villages and hamlets, alike in their simple architecture. . The party had no supplies, equipment or transport and for survival they had to find food and shelter; but this 'succession of villages' is entirely at odds with all previous accounts and it is hard to credit.
Within a week of leaving the area of the Tibetan outpost at Shentsa (app. 31° N. 89° E.) the region of the Brahmaputra valley and its tributaries would be reached. The contrast with the desert plateau of the north could hardly be missed. The new country is one of well-marked tracks connecting large villages set in cultivated land and surrounded by trees; there are many substantial mansions and here and there the fortress of a district governor; there are also many conspicuous monasteries. Even m January this would be a noticeable and pleasant change from what had gone before.
The party did not try to avoid habitations or the beaten track and assuming they crossed the Brahmaputra between Shigatse and Lhatse Dzong they could have followed well-used paths, for not more than 15 days at a generous estimate, through villages up to 10 or 15 miles of the Himalayan passes. From the Brahmaputra valley to the regularly used Himalayan passes, the country is by no means difficult and snow is not usually encountered except occasionally on the last 1,000 ft. or so of a high pass. Once across the pass, there might be snow for perhaps 10 to 15 miles if one was unlucky and thereafter some rough descent through scrubby birchwoods, rhododendrons, deciduous forest and finally dense rain forest. The tracks in Sikkim run through enclosed valleys with no possibility of diversion; and pass considerable villages to guarded frontier-posts between Sikkim and India. The change from Tibet is in every way striking; and these differences become more and more noticeable as one goes further south. In contrast with this, the story describes a journey of at least a month and a half from the 'last village' south of the Brahmaputra to the summit of the Himalayan pass. Most of this was' through snow and involved 'clawing' a way up a series of appalling ranges of snow and ice. The 'final effort' in crossing the range took some ten days. After crossing the mountains we are told of some 'warmer days' and 'rivers, streams and birds in trees' but there is nothing about the many changes in vegetation, climate, humidity, temperature, and general surroundings. Only one human being is said to have been encountered in a period which seems to cover some two months between the 'last village' in Tibet and the Indian foothills where an Indian army patrol was met. These conditions do not seem to be reconcilable with any part of the Himalaya, certainly not with the region of Darjeeling and Sikkim
Mr. Rawicz tells of 'a succession of villages' in the deserts of North Tibet and of great stretches of uninhabited country in South Tibet and in the Indian Himalayas which are known to be populated. That must create grave doubts. There may also be doubts whether a party of obvious foreigners, making no attempt at concealment and speaking no local language, could pass through Tibet, Sikkim (or Nepal or Bhutan) and parts of India without meeting any official, or without any official apparently having heard of them.
One thing is puzzling: whether the story is a muddled and hazy reconstruction of an actual occurrence, or mere fiction. It would have been possible, by referring to a number of authoritative works, to produce a much less unrealistic picture of Tibet and the Himalaya. But whatever the reason, a great deal more explanation and substantiation is needed before the claim that this book is true can be accepted.
THE GODS ARE ANGRY. A novel by Wilfrid Noyce. Pp. 198. Heinemann, London. 1957. 15s.
The theme of this book is an inquiry into the morality of climbing and it is on its handling of this theme that serious criticism must be based. The device of an expedition to an unclimbed peak is well chosen for an inquiry by psychology.
For a psychological novel handling such a large number of characters 'interiorly', the book is very short. The result is that many of the characters can more fairly be described as characterizations, particularly the working-class ones, Mr. and Mrs Joe Herriman, Harry Hallowes and his mother, the Bonmngtons. They (like Synge's Aran islanders) are their own words taken down in shorthand and honestly, if not always convincingly, reproduced: but the blood somehow never starts to flow m them (dialogue is a trap unless we have grown up with it) as it does m the middle-class people the author has fully known. The workers are humours or types. The middle classes are by contrast well portrayed All climbers know Meryyn Hurley and Jim Cattendge (if the Catteridges of this world can ever be known: not m this case an edifying experience), and most men have met a version of the appalling Pamela. John Kennedy and Ali Mohan carry conviction, but best of all is the relationship between Bill and Brenda Simmons. Because Hallowes, one of the book's central characters, is thus a bit of a zombie, the book is only partly successful as a psychological novel. Structurally there is an economy praiseworthy except in the context discussed above, and one therefore doubts the relevancy of the flirtation with the Mystery Of The East, sympathetically as it is done, unless more were made of the clash between the devils (or gods) in the Englishmen and those of the elements.
Once the party is on the mountain the narrative of the action is, as one would expect, very good. No less true and gripping is the interplay of the elements and the men. The prolonged meanness of expedition existence is faithfully recorded.
Somme toute, one is intended to admire Catteridge. But the howling hypocrisy of his thought (see the last page of the book): Is this a record? Is it intentional? Whether or not, it is a very good portrayal of something very nasty.
‘"Is my friend hearty,
Now I am thin and pine,
And has he found to sleep in
A better bed than mine ? "
Yes, lad, I lie easy,
I lie as lads would choose;
I cheer a dead man's sweetheart,
Never ask me whose.'
If you can't leave Gwen alone, Jim Catteridge, then admit it and lay off this talk of decency.
But the main theme, the morality. The proper questions are posed. Is this venture an escape from or to reality ? Are the climbers knights in shining armour or shirkers from the day to day adventure of their jobs and family responsibilities? The author, although he can put the other point of view, is not disinterested and has made up his mind beforehand: the question is not posed impartially. Those against: up goes the hand of the most unsympathetic person in the book (at least to the author's mind) Mrs. Bonnington, plus the loam-laden Herrimans and the small-souled Pamela. Those for: and the educated, the eager, the sensitive and brave, arise in a body. Surely the question cannot be answered in such absolute terms. It is a modern disease to find interest and enchantment everywhere but in our constructive work. Why should this be commended? Hallowes 'lived but by his being's law', and one can see no reason why he should (or could) have done other than he did. Hurley and Catteridge, full- grown adolescents, likewise. Barton Melville needs no discussion: he goes for his ego's sake in an even more simple sense than the others. Kennedy: this issue is confused by the good luck of his escape from Pamela, but on the whole ga va. But Simmons, an adult of understanding, with a charming child and a wife his just complement who does not in the first instance approve: when he gives in to the temptation proffered by Catteridge he begins a series of events that reveal the falsity of his position-—and for what ? To prove himself ? To be a knight in shining armour ? To escape from the boredom of a good wife and job ? Grow up. At the top camp he is faced with the result of his muddling. If he goes summitwards with the eternally committed Hallo wes he does right to Hallowes and wrong to his family. If he does not go he does right to the family but wrong to Hallo wes. There is no such thing as mountaineering right or wrong: in climbing the morality can only be individual and related to private circumstances—to people. Between the two rights and the two wrongs only he can make the tragic decision. In the reviewer's opinion he chooses right—but he is morally responsible for Hallo wes' death: he must know it: one does not envy him. Not a comfortable situation for a knight in shining armour. His subsequent courage is irrelevant to the fact that since such a decision might have to be taken he had no right to put himself where he might have to choose between one life and another. We may violate these, as other, moral standards; but only a moral cretin has excuse from recognizing them. Certainly laziness or reluctance won't do. Had Hurley been with Hallowes (no chosen loyalties but to himself and the mountain) there would have been no conflict and there could have been no crime but cowardice. 'Settle you in what the deed has made you . . . you are the deed's creature'.
Whatever one's view of the answers, the important thing about this book is that it recognizes that there are problems. It is entirely good that they should be aired for once instead of ignored until too late. It is an intelligent book (rare therefore in climbing fiction) and merits purchase, enjoyment and serious reflection by every mountaineer.
G. J. Sutton
FAR, FAR THE MOUNTAIN PEAK. A novel by John Masters. Michael Joseph, London. 1957. 155.
The theme of Masters' latest novel has some similarities with that of Meredith's Egoist. But the setting is very different. A young man, Peter Savage, impressed by an ascent of King's College Chapel (in 1902, historically well before the first known ascent), takes up mountaineering because it appeals to that part of his nature which must drive itself to the limit, as well as seek to dominate others and even the elements around. Everybody who comes in contact with him, in the I.C.S., in his family, or on the attempt to climb Meru, an imaginary twenty-seven-thousander, is either destroyed or subdued.
It is during the 1914-18 war, when he has caused the death of his best friend and alienated his own wife, that he is made to realize what is wrong. Thence comes a spiritual progress towards service and salvation. His second expedition to Meru in 1921 is undertaken to redeem Harry Walsh, a friend who had turned enemy but who had now lost confidence in himself through an act of cowardice. Walsh finds, half-way up, that it is wrong for him personally to climb Meru; Savage and a young companion give up near the top, and the mountain remains unclimbed.
The theme is a good one: the man who subordinates friends and family, mountains and mountaineers, to his career, until the moment comes when he cracks, and realizes that career is not enough. The early scenes, in Cambridge and Wales, may sound too modern a note, but they certainly reveal the essential Savage, as they reveal something that lurks in most of us. The Indian scenes have the authentic touch of Bhowani Junction, and Emily, the wife, stands out as a real person.
It is a pity that the Himalaya have to come in as an integral part of the story. I do not mean because of technical inaccuracies or improbabilities. Some are inevitable. The author has read up his subject; but, to take just one instance, would an expedition of only four members, in 1913, be likely to try for a summit of over 27,000 ft. from a Camp II at 23,600 ft ., up a severe rock ridge necessitating pitons—and very nearly get there ? My criticism lies more, I think, in the essential unreality of the mountain, which becomes a testin_g ground for theories and ways of life rather than a great mass of snow and rock which men climb slowly, with not much thought to spare beyond the next camp and meal. Perhaps I am unduly up in arms for my mountain; and I know only too well from personal experience the difficulty of constructing an imaginary peak. But this one seems essentially artificial, a gymnasium for moral acrobatics, as it were, which force the whole problem of climbing a real giant to be drastically simplified. I do not, either, find the conduct of any of the climbers natural upon it; they are too wide awake and self-questioning. No leader, surely, could have thought so cruelly about his party in 1913; nor would the same man, in a high camp eight years later, be likely to accept his deputy's reasoned volte-face so reasonably.
If the book stands or falls by Meru, then it must fall, for all the excitement of the climb. But I think that there is no need for so sharp a verdict,