DIE ROTE RAKETE AM NANGA PARBAT. By Reinhold Messner. Nymphenburger, Munich, 1971, lllus. DM 24.
Before this book appeared in June 1971 efforts had been made in Germany to ban its publication, or at least to delay it until a reconciliation had been brought about between the leader of the 1970 German Expedition and the author. This is a graphic and provocative book containing the first full-length account of the ascent of the south face of Nanga Parbat.
Prof. Dr. Karl Herrligkoffer, stepbrother of Willy Merkl who was one of the pioneers (in 1932) and early victims (in 1934) of Nanga Parbat, has probably had a wider acquaintance with that mountain than any other man. He entered the scene as leader of the 1953 expedition when Hermann Buhl's brilliant solo ascent via the Rakhiot flank was followed by controversy and bitterness. Since then Herrligkoffer, with an exceptional organizing and financial ability and though not himself a climber has organized and led six expeditions to Nanga Parbat. These have resulted m the ascents in 1962 of the Diamir (west) face—Mummery's 1895 route; and in 1970 of the Rupal (south) face. Disaster accompanied both successes. Siegfried Low of the 1962 party died of exhaustion on descending from the summit; and in 1970 Reinhold Messner's brother, Gunther, was engulfed by an avalanche on the descent after reaching the summit.
The Messner brothers from South Tyrol, Reinhold (26) and Gunther (24) had acquired brilliant mountaineering reputations having made a series of impressive climbs together and individually. Reinhold has been regarded as one of Europe's leading climbers with 20 first ascents to his credit including many in winter and several solo ascents in the V and VI Grades. How did these brothers come to join the large heterogeneous party of 18 in 1970? The ambition to come to grips with a major Himalayan mountain is a compelling force. Young climbers from t Germany and Austria often find the obstacles financial and other- wise almost insuperable; they are unable to turn for assistance to any organization comparable to the Mount Everest Foundation in England. Dr. Herrligkoffer's private enterprise Deutschland Institut fur Auslandforschung seems, for many ambitious and talented climbers, a means whereby the achievement of this supreme object is possible. After Hermann Buhl had been invited to join the 1953 expedition to Nanga Parbat he wrote: 'I had stopped asking who Dr. Herrligkoffer might be or what his qualities were. For me now, he was simply the man who had given me my chance of going to the Himalayas and the chance perhaps of proving myself there.
'Two unsuccessful attempts, prior to 1970, had been organized by Dr. Herrligkoffer to ascend the Rupal flank of Nanga Parbat. It is 15,000 feet high and probably the tallest precipice in the world. Reinhold Messner acknowledges that although most members of the party were practically unknown to one another before the expedition, they had developed into a good team by the time the upper camps were reached. Camp V at 23,200 feet was the highest; and when it was occupied by Gerhard Baur and the Messner brothers on the evening of 26 June the latter had already spent 40 days on the face.
It is here that the story reaches its climax. Dr. Herrligkoffer at Base Camp made radio contact each evening with the upper camps in order to relay the special weather reports which he was receiving. At midday on 26 June Reinhold Messner spoke to Herrligkoffer on the radio link, and a plan was agreed whereby m the event of an unfavourable weather forecast that evening, Reinhold was to start at once from Camp V alone to make a quick dash for the summit and back ; but if the forecast was for good weather the Camp V party would prepare a route for a party of four to attempt the summit during the following two days. Since Camp V was not linked to Base Camp by radio it was arranged that a red rocket would be fired from Base that night to indicate bad weather and a blue rocket for good weather The author states that Herrligkoffer interrupted their conversation for a few moments in order to make sure that he had got rockets of both colours available. Baur and the Messner brothers then set out for Camp V. At 6 p.m. that evening those in Camp IV received a good weather report from Dr. Herrligkoffer on the radio. That night one red rocket was fired.
At 02.30 hours on 27 June Reinhold set out from Camp V alone; the summit was over 3,400 feet above. Five hours later after overcoming some very difficult sections, he looked down and saw his brother Gunther on the rocks below. He waited for him and they continued together to the summit which was reached at 5 p.m. Here Gunther who became unwell felt unable to descend the difficult sections of the route especially as neither of them had brought a rope. The night they had a cold bivouac at 26,000 feet on the South Shoulder of the mountain with Rein- hold's ‘space blankets' as their only protection. The following morning, Kuen and Scholz, who later reached the summit, passed no more than 100 yards away, but assistance seemed clearly impossible ; and Reinhold decided that an easier descent route could be found on the Diamir side. Moving very fast down this steep face, they had a second bivouac at midnight at about 21,300 feet on 'Mummery's rib'. Gunther seemed better now. After 3 hours' rest they started again and near the foot of the ice icefall their tracks diverged; Gunther followed the glacier edge under the west flank of the mountain and Reinhold went out towards the glacier centre. Gunther was never seen again. Reinhold searched the glacier for the remainder of the day, bivouacked there and continued his search the next day but found only freshly avalanched ice. Reinhold limped into Base Camp later, with all his toes frostbitten.
The mystery of the red rocket has never been explained, But it would be a travesty to attribute Gunther's death to this. Reinhold had not expected that his brother would follow him; and Gunther should at least have equipped himself with a rope. Had he done so, and had he not suffered any physical deterioration before the descent, the subsequent tragedy need never have occured.
In a brief Foreword Prof. G. O. Dyhrenfurth rightly places emphasis on the achievement—the traverse of Nanga Parbat by two of its most difficult faces-a truly astonishing feat. The book suffers from lack of an adequate map of the Nanga Parbat massif and from the poor quality and inadequacy of the illustrations. Messner's climbing skill commands admiration; and his style as an author carries conviction. The narrative is unfolded simply and it is strikingly forthright. One hopes that an English edition will follow, so that the book can reach a much wider public.
T. H. Braham
GIVE ME THE HILLS. By Miriam Underhill. The Chatham Press Inc., in association with the Appalachian Mountain Club, 1971. $6.95.
The original publication was brought out by Methuen & Co. I id London, in 1956. This American reprint has been enlarged by inclusion of more photographs and anecdotal material—good for all of us.
Reading this book would call to mind a female Frank Smythe— her ability to climb is most perfectly matched by her ability to write and she is a most skilful raconteur, the photographs are good and the whole reading is guaranteed to delight.
The reviewer's knowledge of the Alps is sketchy at most, but he had considerable difficulty in putting the book down; so cleverly does the author hold the interest.
This is more or less an autobiography-of early climbs, marrying a climbing partner and then climbing more both in the Alps and in America, latterly with the children.
Throughout the book (and presumably her life) her sense of humour does not desert her and the mild understatements of difficulties (there were plenty), her tough climbs (plenty of that also) and discomforts are described almost jovially. Only when reading between the lines does one realize the tremendous energy, drive and craze for climbing that this lady has.
A most welcome addition to the Himalayan Club Library, made doubly so by it being a gift from the Appalachian Mountain Club.
Soli S. Mehta
KUMAON HIMALAYAS. By M. S. Randhawa. Oxford and IBH Publishing Co. (May 1970). Price Rs.25.
The Kumaon Himalayas, has for its author, Dr. M. S. Randhawa, a retired I.C.S, Officer and its entire presentation is coloured by the civil service outlook. The language is simple, direct and colourless, like that of an office file. Descriptions of Kumaon villages and dak bungalows follow each other in tired succession, like an old fashioned magic lantern show, lacking the depth and beauty of our modern three dimensional coloured Kodachromes, with the attendant excitement and wonder that mountain scenery generates. The photographs, while fairly informative, tend to abet this effect. An attempt at wry humour occasionally enlivens the proceedings of this magisterial ramble' to the Pmdari glacier. All the heavy and ponderous machinery of the 'Raj', m the hills tends to trickle into his writing He writes of the flora and fauna of the region with great erudition but very little feeling. The sketches of birds are delightful, and I wish the same could have been done of mountain flowers An attempt has been made to understand the people and their culture, and the mythological background of various legends are well presented. However, the attitude is always that of a father confessor, always above the motley band, and never mucking in with them. Thus about the Tibetans...‘the absurdity of a praying life, which has kept them steeped in ignorance, and disease.’ Like the discovery of a rare 'gentian' on a mountain meadow, one finds flashing beauty, in his translation of Bhotia love songs. 'In between the big and small rocks is the central rock, Love is born like fresh, fragrant milk inside the cow's udder, like honey inside the bee hive.'
The author gives a helping hand to all of us, in the little details regarding travel in the Pindari area. Weather, terrain, equipment, food, fuel, porterage,' etc., are carefully explained. Extensive quotations are made from the log book kept at the Phurkia Dak Bungalow. Many of the remarks of the visitors are highly diverting. However, it's much like knowing the end of a ‘Who Done It' before the start. Log books are best enjoyed on location.
In conclusion I can only say that it is a sincere attempt to help us know the Kumaon Himalaya intimately.
Meheru S. Mehta
SUMMITS AND SECRETS. By Kurt Diemberger. George
Allan & Unwin Ltd. (October 1971). £5.50.
Mountain autobiography can be an immense bore if handled by lesser men than the Smythes, Shiptons, Tilmans and Terrays (to name a few greats). From time to time our faith in good mountaineer-authors is restored by a masterpiece such as the present book under review.
Kurt Diemberger is not only classed among the best mountaineers of the fifties and sixties—he is a poet in the bargain. Only a poet at heart could describe his innermost thoughts with such clarity and freshness. The spirit of which mountaineers are made of is distilled over and over again till only the purest is offered for the readers' pleasure.
He reveals in new discoveries—this is what childhood is like always enquiring, always discovering—the process continues throughout his life, past the stage when it has stopped in other lesser mortals.
His climbs with Wolfgang Stefan, and Hermann Buhl match those of the Terray-Lachenal combination. His experiences on the classical Alpine routes and North Faces are beautifully described as are the Himalayan and Hindu Kush expeditions. But the prize essay is on the direttissima of the Konigswand— wonderful to have done a climb, a first direttissima, and to know that it can never be repeated since the crux has since collapsed into the abyss! And what of the description of an electric storm on the Aiguille Noire—six carefree climbers suddenly transported on to 4 an electric chair of gigantic proportions'—an experience which leaves you shaking every time it comes to memory. There are many such episodes and all of them in poetic prose.
Kurt Diemberger promises us another book—this time entirely confined to the Hindu Kush. No doubt he will be assisted partly by his father Dr. A. Diemberger who is one of the foremost authority and chronicler of mountaineering in that range— a hundred copies for the reviewer please!
If you value literature, you cannot be without Summits and Secrets—whether you climb or not.
Soli. S. Mehta
DOCTOR ON EVEREST. By Peter Steele. Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. (1972). £2.50.
Peter Steele, one of the two doctors of the I.H.E. 1971, writes of his experience on the expedition.
Readers of this issue of the Journal will have already read by now the leader s account and an exhaustive review on the subject. Now arrives a highly personalized account, seen through the eyes and mind of a member best suited to gain the confidence of all the others. A happier selection of the author could not have been made. Peter Steele is one of the rare breed who sees the better side of all who come in contact with him—ignoring or playing down the baser instincts of his companions. This he not only does in his writing but also in his day-to-day approach and behaviour with them. The result is, naturally, that he is at peace with all and retains their friendship. Quite apart from being an ideal member for any mountaineering expedition, his story gains in stature for objectivity and fairness.
Being a personal account, there is of course some introspection and soul searching—especially in the beginning, during the days he was asked to make up his mind. Luckily for the reader, all the questioning of self and of others is not allowed to degenerate into slush and nonsensical philosophizing.
The early chapters describe the trek to Base Camp. With each little anecdote the author takes the opportunity of introducing to the reader a personality, be it a climber, a Sherpa, porter or just a passerby. The effect is magical—we seem to gradually know everybody and can appreciate the events that follow with a mature understanding.
A good amount of mountaineering medicine is spread out through the book. Chapter 5 on acclimatization is already reprinted in this issue, but there are a lot of things to learn in the way of unusual and rare illnesses with which the expedition was battered—one might be excused for coming to the conclusion that the Everest Base Camp is a perfectly unhealthy place, abounding in viruses of all kinds ready to infect the itinerant climber, trekker or even an inquisitive hippie wishing to scrounge a little food, fame and companionship from a five-star Expedition!
The story moves on and we come to the accident. The incident is most movingly described, hiding nothing from the reader so that conclusions can be drawn on one's own. I must admit that knowing Harsh Bahuguna intimately and having been extremely upset at the time, particularly on reading conflicting and lurid accounts in the popular Press, Peter Steele's chapter has done much to soothe my spirit and though I am not sure even now that with a little more luck with the weather and perhaps an earlier realization of one's physical limitation, Harsh would have still been with us today, the turn of events as they occurred seemed to have all the inevitability of a Greek tragedy.
So also had the ‘affair of the Latins' (pardon the title). After reading the review (reprinted in this issue from the Mountain magazine) I realized that the popular Press had a lot to answer for in its vulgar and hysterical coverage of the sad episode. Peter Steele puts the whole thing in even more clear perspective and one comes away with a feeling that it could all have been avoided and that in any case it most definitely was not (repeat not) a failure of international compatibility—the differences were such as would occur on any large expedition (they have occurred in several recently and nobody has ventured to accuse the members of encouraging national disintegration!). A mistimed statement or an unguarded expression can ignite a situation where nerves are on edge—it is sad that unselfishness and tact were drowned in flood of rhetoric. One feels sorry for Dyhrenfurth and Roberts who had a fantastic burden of responsibility to bear—one also feels sorry (but in a different sort of way) for the Vauchers, Mauri and Mazeaud (the last named in spite of his ridiculous remark that reverberated throughout the printing presses of the world).
Finally, illness combines with weather (the worst in the region for years) to be the real villains of the piece. But before the end the author describes beautifully the tension at the possibility of success—then the anticlimax in good of Lancashire idiom of Don Whillatis which somehow makes the disappointment more easy to bear.
A welcome addition to Everest and mountain medicine lore ; an absolute necessity to keep the record straight and within bounds of equity ; Peter Steele is welcome to write again and even more welcome to join me in my mountain travels—I will provide the tapes of classical music!
Soli S, Mehta
THE HIMALAYA BORDER LAND. By Ram Rahul. Vikas Publications. Rs.20.
Mr. Ram Rahul, who heads the Department of Central Asian Studies at the Indian School of International Studies, has already put us in his debt by an earlier publication 'The Government and Politics of Tibet'—a treatise which no scholar of Tibetology can possibly ignore.
Now comes its companion volume dealing in the same detailed way the lands lying south of the Great Himalayan watershed, comprising NEFA, Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal and the territories of Kumaon, Kinnaur, Spiti, Lahul and Ladakh.
The earlier book on Tibet dwelt mainly on the administrative complex of the country and the treatment was chronologically arranged. Here, the book studies four major aspects of the Himalayan lands—their geography, their people, their history and their administration and development.
Each area is treated under these four heads and the connection between them becomes more obvious as one progresses through the book.
Mr. Rahul's observations are extremely pertinent and the lessons he has drawn from past history can be ignored by our present-day policy-makers only at their peril.
The book is entirely readable without falling into the trap of dull scholarship—one can churn out one interesting fact after another and yet send the poor reader to sleep! Mr. Rahul weaves his information so as to present a well designed tapestry that holds interest to the end.
The reader doesn't miss as much the photographs, of which there are none, as he misses the maps which the book could well have included, particularly when dealing with natural wealth (forests, ores, vegetation) or the ethnic distribution of the people.
A useful bibliography is attached for further reading—oh, that the older references were available today!
Soli S. Mehta