THE ENDLESS KNOT — K2 MOUNTAIN OF DREAMS AND DESTINY. Kurt Diemberger. Pp. 308, Illustrations, 1991 (Grafton Books, London, £25).
This is a powerful book. The author, who has had the unique experience of having made first ascents of two 8000 m mountains, writes with the advantage of half a lifetime spent climbing at high altitudes; and he has had a few years to reflect objectively upon the events that he describes. Three-quarters of the book contains a detailed account of the tragic summer of 1986 on K2, when Kurt Diemberger as photographer to an Italian expedition came close to losing his life, and his colleague Julie Tullis lost hers. It seems to me that there are two separate aspects to the book. One is its quality as mountain literature. I think that Geoffrey Winthrop Young who many years ago tried to define 'Courage and Mountain Writing' would have approved of the openness, the self-criticism and the inner revelations, even if he might perhaps have raised an eyebrow over a tendency to melodrama. But that is inherent in the author's style which, it might be argued, adds to its appeal. In this respect, then, the book must be rated a winner. But there is another more worrying aspect. Is it acceptable to push a venture beyond all reasonable limits of safety in order to satisfy an ambition? The answer must be a purely subjective one. One does not need to go further than page 2 of the book to receive one from the author. 'It made sense for us at the time, representing the fulfilment of a lifetime.'
Consider the situation. Eleven expeditions comprising 97 climbers from 9 countries were camped at the foot of K2 in the summer of 1986, each with a burning ambition to achieve personal success. 'The image of a jungle leaps vividly to mind, lianas fighting their way up a jungle tree, clinging to the trunk and to each other, obliviously' (p. 87). A recipe for serious breakdowns, in a crisis, of principles and of sound organisational practice — e.g. disposition of tents, food, equipment, fixed rope, etc. The experienced Diemberger, fully aware of the dangers of a prolonged stay above 7500 m, as the chapter between pages 96-99 lucidly illustrates, adds 'An 8000 m peak is only yours once you are safely down from it — before that you belong to the mountain'. Thirteen climbers died on K2 during July and August 1986, nine of them after having reached the summit. What were the causes of such a series of disasters ? Overcrowding, the challenge of K2, personal ambition, a race for the summit, prolonged storms ? All those factors were present, and apparently accepted: and some serious mistakes were made.
Kurt Diemberger and Julie Tullis having temporarily abandoned their photographic role in favour of an assent of the mountain, the story is told of how they took 10½ hours to climb 600 m to the summit from their top camp at 8000 m on 4 August, and of their 16-hour descent to that camp after having survived a fall and an open bivouac at 8400 m. During the 5-day storm that followed, only two survived out of the seven climbers immobilised inside two overcrowded tents at 8000 m without fuel or food. On 10/11 August only Diemberger and the Austrian Bauer, at the limit of their endurance, survived a harrowing 35-hour descent of 2700 m to the glacier.
The book, which is amply illustrated with black and white and colour photographs, originally appeared in German in 1989 under the title TRAUM UND SCHICKSAL. It seems to have lost none of its dramatic flavour owing to an excellent translation by Audrey Salkeld. There are 5 appendices, including one each on K2 expedition history, summit climbers, and deaths, also a useful bibliography and an index.
This book is an account of the author's ambitions and attempts on K2, the world's second highest, and to many the most challenging mountain. The climax is 1986, when he succeeded at last, only to be caught in a horrific storm on the descent. He, and six other climbers of assorted nationalities, were trapped for five days at the top camp at over 8000 m. Only Diemberger and Willi Bauer survived to tell the tale.
The incident attracted much ill-informed and speculative publicity at the time. Having been on K2 with one of the victims, Allan Rouse, just before the tragedy, 1 was, even more than most, keen to read Kurt's first-hand account of the matter. So, on picking up a copy of the book, I rapidly flipped on to the important chapter and read that. But I found the writing so attractive, that I then turned back to the beginning and read the book from cover to cover at a single sitting.
There were some aspects of the book I disliked. He seemed to my sceptical western mind too enthusiastic about eastern mysticism, his daughter's life in a remote Himalayan village, Julie's passion for martial arts. He obviously had deep respect and feeling for his companion, Julie Tullis. But I soon lost patience with his constant flow of praise for her. As a mountaineer, she had scant experience before Kurt took her in hand. I His admiration of her personal qualities is not shared by all who knew her.
But these are uncharitable and casting criticisms. In spite of them, I thought the book was one of the best I have ever read.
His writing breathes the spirit of the mountains. As I read it I thought Yes, this man is different from me, but he climbs mountains for the same reasons'. His love of the mountains is evident, also his sympathy for fellow men, their strengths and weaknesses.
Who was to blame for the tragedy? He does point a finger, but with compassion. 1 was left feeling that in different circumstances, he might have been equally culpable, or I.
The pictures are excellent. Audrey Salkeld's translation, most of the time I forgot that the original was not in my own language.
COMING THROUGH by Andy Fanshawe. Pp. 217, 17 Colour illustrations, 4 maps, 1990. (Hodder and Stoughton, London, £ 14.95).
Here is a book by a hard climber that begins in the white heat of ambition and closes with him turning his back voluntarily on an expedition to Makalu. In between the fantastic traverse of Conway's Great White Roof in the Karakoram in 1986 to a climb of Pt. 6720 m (one of Makalu's many satellite peaks) in 1989 is recorded the Pilgrim's Progress — the maturing, the 'coming through' — of a climber in the crucible of the highest peaks on earth.
Except for a prelude and an epilogue set in the Alps, the bulk of the book concentrates on the climber's trips to Chogolisa and Menlugtse, more on the latter than on the former. Opening with the by now familiar Westerner's first reactions to the culture shock of the Third World: observations on drinking water and the famous Delhi Belly; the heat, the humidity and the crowds of Karachi; the bumbling bureaucracy and the joys of the K2 Motel in Skardu — all of which is quite weary reading for a reviewer actually living on the subcontinent — the real excitement follows in the first ever traverse of Chogolisa. The 5-bivvy, alpine style traverse of the Great White Roof is disposed off in Just one chapter. One has to look behind the bald statements to see just how great was the achievement: a climb up a 1500 m high face to the higher summit at 7665 m, followed by a traverse of a kilometre to reach Bridge Peak (7654 m), and descend down the other side: luck, no doubt, was with them, but then fortune does favour the brave!
The real meat of the book lies in the account of the first ascent of the west face of Menlungtse to its west summit (7023 m) with the legendary Bonington's second expedition to the mountain. This is in the big Bonington tradition: press conferences, media appearances, a TV film crew in tow hoping to film the elusive Yeti, diplomatic intrigue with the Chinese Mountaineering Association, etc. In spite of all this, the chapters come through as very personal and readable, the other actors in the game coming alive vividly.
In style, the book is precise and well written, with a few well chosen photographs to illustrate the climbs. Sometimes, the words themselves paint a vivid picture: 'Against the backcloth of an uncompromising headwall the climbers above me, inching their way across the flawless ice, made a memorable sight. Their boots, like eagles claws, projected perpendicularly from the slope; each held in place by two tiny picks of steel'. This during the Menlungtse climb. And again, describing the K2 base camp in the disastrous year of 1986,
'... each collection of tents represented an expedition ... in functional robes.'
Somewhere, he says, 'Climbing is much more than physical effort. It is about judgement and mental drive'. Though this may sound cliched, he must fall back on it at the end — 'Makalu ... was shaded dark, inert and brooding. Symbolically so, for I viewed it with no more enthusiasm now than when I had arrived at camp two weeks before. It suddenly became very clear to me that I should give it up.' But feeling is added to judgement.
This is an impressive first book and one hopes that the author does not' give up writing about his future adventures.
(Andy Fanshawe was killed in a climbing accident in March 1992. — Ed.)
ONE STEP IN THE CLOUDS. Compiled by Audrey Salkeld and Rosie Smith. Pp. 1056, 1990. (Diadem Book, London, £ 16.95).
Although legends about gods, saints and many mythological creatures have often had mountains as prime locations, none of the tales can be considered as mountaineering fiction as they don't involve climbing as it is known to be done these days, nor describe the hardships of survival and existence upon the heights. Mountaineering fiction, as has been the case with science fiction and war-stories, has been an offshoot of the recent activities of mankind. When all lands had been explored, came the turn of the mountains, the oceans and the skies and beyond. The thirst for adventure could not be quenched. Turning true life experiences into best-sellers had its limitations and creative mides turned towards fiction. Mountaineering fiction can be compared with the categories mentioned above because all three need to be based on facts or at least credible theories. They give the writer tremendous scope to stretch the imagination and the reader a thrill that any mystery story- would. For some inexplicable reason, mountaineering fiction has lagged behind the other two in spite of the vast possibilities it offers.
Good quality fiction almost always evokes an interest in the reader about the subject involved. Now that mountaineering is considered to be far more than a hobby or a passing fancy, the time is ripe to collect and present mountain literature. Not moving accounts of true incidents, not exceptionally good prose describing expeditions but stories about characters and happenings and even mountains that are born in a mind. Stories which involve climbs, the love of peaks and slopes, and the spirit that makes a human go back repeatedly to get that 'top of the world' feeling.
In the book One Step In The Clouds, an admirable attempt has been made to present a select collection of enjoyable mountaineering stories and novels. The choice is good, though one wonders why so many of the stories concern themselves with death. 'Meltwater', 'B Tower West Wall', 'La Fourche', 'Summertime', 'Children Like Climbers Often Fall', Scenery For A Murder', 'Cannibals', 'No Gentlemen in the Himalayas', 'In Another Tongue' — all these have a death theme, making the first part of the book rather morbid. There are some stories interspersed in between the above-mentioned ones that break the sadness, though. Like 'October Day' which describes the falling in love of a fourteen-year-old boy with climbing. 'In The Crevasse' is a nicely written tale about a rescue. 'The Way Of The White Serpent' holds one's attention well. It is a tale about the magnetic lure of the mountains, so difficult to resist. '2084' is fascinating because it weaves science fiction into mountaineering in the distant future, when the very survival of mountains on earth might be at stake and artificial ones maybe the only outlet for those in search of climbs. It also shows the social degradation of our species. 'Bright Fire Bright Ice' brings in science fiction as well. 'Night Out' is a story about companionship in a tent, on a slope. The Old Man's Pigeon Loft' falls a bit flat amongst the others.
'The Bronx Plumber', like two or three other tales, involves the supernatural experience. It is a gripping tale based in a New York home, has little to do with mountaineering, strictly speaking, but would hold any mountain-loving reader's interest through its unusual plot concerning two famous mountain-climbers who died under mysterious circumstances.
Of the novels, 'One Green Bottle' and Vortex' stand out distinctly, although the others were of a high quality, too. 'One Green Bottle' is the story of a young woman from a very poor and troubled home who goes climbing in the Welsh mountains and in the process discovers other horizons and the love of mountains.
'Vortex', which was nominated for the Boardman-Tasker Prize (1990), is indeed a fitting finale to, at times unputdownable book. 'Vortex' is about two mountaineers, close acquiantance, who accidentally stumble upon a plane crash. The sole survivor of the crash turns out to be one of the biggest drug-dealers on the American-Canadian scene. The two get involved in the racket. The mountains help and hinder their subsequent activities, leading to credible adventures.
The artwork of the book could have been better, though the cover is attractive enough.
The compilers of One Step in the Clouds. Audrey Salkeld and Rosie Smith have done a commendable jobs of presenting a varied collection of mountaineering fiction and a long bibliography for the interested reader. Certainly, as they have hoped, it might lead to the publication of others of the kind.
EVEREST. By Walt Unsworth. Pp. 704, 18 colour and 52 b/w illustrations, 4 sketches, 5 maps, 1989. (The Oxford Illustrated Press, Somorset. U.K., £ 19.95).
Like Mallory's first view of the mountain from Rongbuk, Walt Unsworth's Everest is 'prodigious'. It is all of 704 pages with 550 pages of the amazing story of so many who have pitted themselves against the mountain since 1921 — latterly a flood of humanity from all continents except Africa; lists of excellent plates in black and white and colour, lists of maps; further background information on earlier expeditions; some pages on the height of Everest and its name, a summary of expeditions from 1921 to 1989 with sketches of routes; an appendix of ascents with 244 summitters, with nationality, data, routes, expeditions and leaders; an appendix of Everest repetitions; the ascents of 'Old Men of Everest' beginning with Tenzing at 39 and ending with Bass at 55; the extreme dates of the ascents in each season (ceasing to be a two-season affair now); a list, locations, and causes of 103 fatalities (a success to death ratio of 2.44:1.03!), deaths below base camp and subsequently; with the last 85 pages of bibliography, notes, references, an index, and helpfully for non-climbing readers, a glossary of words and terms only familiar to mountaineers from abseil to white-out. Tremendous value for a book for the price. At the price it is an unmatched encyclopaedia and history on Everest in English.
Naturally, a historical record of this kind will have a character different from the formal record of an expedition, or the personal record of a climber. It combines encyclopaedia, history, and good stories. It is the last which makes for good reading. And the story of Everest is as absorbing as that of any adventure on this planet. When it covers four or five generations of climbers in such a changing world of the last 70 years, the story of Everest acquires an evolutionary character. It begins, as all mountaineering has begun, with 'terra incognita' in the early days of half-knowledge, crude equipment, inadequate technology, and the easiest routes; in Everest's case, the days of the romantic climbers and explorers, the Mallorys, the Shiptons. Then organisation, technology, knowledge, not least the climbing on the shoulders of the pioneers, culminates in Hunt's semi-'raj', semi-military expedition. Unsworth wrote of it as 'The Last Innocent Adventure'; a rather inapt title. It was the first of the new, hard, well-organised expeditions. New technology, new routes, new skills, new seasons, and a new spirit mark the next phase of chauvinism combined with individualism, and great daring.
Then, in the last phase, it becomes a mass adventure with Alpine techniques up many routes, ridges and faces. Everest is treated as 'the highest grade V in the world'; oxygen is dispensed with, there are multiple ascents by the same persons, mid-night ascents, winter ascents; and, finally, after Messner's terrific solo ascent from the North, after Loretan and Troillet did it in 39 hours; the French guide, Marc Batard does it from bottom to top in one phenomenal push in 22½ hours. We have come from the pace of the Yak caravans and camps to the human express train; and finally to electronic man, the Japanese and French with live telecasts from the summit of Everest!
Like a mountain, Unsworth's book has pitches; some excellent and very readable; some flimsy and not so readable especially in the last phase when the traffic on Everest from South and North becomes too hectic to write about as good stories, as in the days before 1975. To those accustomed to the formal accounts of the early expeditions, Unsworth's book takes the lid off many a climber and situation. Not least, Ruttledge, the leader of the '30's, on whom 'greatness was thrust'. The human side of the early Everest Committees emerges from formal history; the bumbling, the amateurishness, the scheming. It does not come out well, especially in the way Shipton's leadership was mishandled, evaded, and then dispensed with for the '53 expedition. Amateurism, democracy, and internationalism don't seem to go too well on the highest mountains, which are more demanding. The true international expedition seems to be reflected in biology; in which a host cell is attacked by pathogens, and the immune system of the body of the expedition then breaks down.
Hunt earlier, then the Yugoslavs (1979), and the Japanese and Russian expeditions of the '80's showed the best organisation and leadership in coherent groups. The Russian debut surprised all. (Sadly, over 30 years, the Indians did not seem to wish to get off the 'Yak' route.) Perhaps the best balance of group organisation, permissible democracy, and good decision-making was that of Bonington in 1975.
Tucked into this large book are some fascinating chapters. 'The Pegasus Factor' gives an account of the Clydes-Dale flight over Everest in 1933. It makes a good story of aircraft, aviation technology, fliers, and the patrons of that time. In the 'Outsiders', the messianic Wilson; Denman with determination and a bank balance of £ 650; the big, blonde handsome Dane, Klavs Becker-Larsen who approached Everest from the south and attempted it from the north: all such have a place in our hearts, even though we may shake our heads at their audacity. In Wilson's case, even death and a later burial could not hold him down. His body was resurrected by a glacier and found again after forty years!
By the end of the book one could not help feeling sorry for Everest. With his overwhelming numbers, with his overweening ambitions and vanities, with incredible high tech, man was getting a bit too much for the great mountain. Though Everest was being literally submerged with stampeding humanity and its artifacts, its power to hunt, to destray, to wipe out, no mountaineer can minimise. Antics like hang-gliding apart, one looks forward to the grand traverse of Nuptse, Lhotse and Everest. That will be the crowning achievement of climbers. That, not as Hunt thought his expedition might be, would be the end of the 'Epic of Everest'.
Till then, Walt Unsworth does the reader and the student of Everest proud in a good book and a great record of earth's highest mountain, and its gad-fly, man.
A. D. Moddie
MOUNTAIN GODDESS: GENDER AND POLITICS IN A HIMALAYAN PILGRIMAGE. By William Sax. 1991 (Oxford University Press, New York, Rs. 295).
No one expects a Ph.D. thesis to wax lyrical and Sax's anthropological study on the Nanda Devi cult literature and pilgrimage is predictably academic. Just as Willi Unsoeld had been bowled over by the beauty of the goddess of Garhwal it seems the researcher for a Chicago doctorate had been smitten by the Nanda Devi bug. According to local reports he had been initiated into the cult of the goddess and now went by the name of 'Badri Dutt Nautiyal'. If this is true, Dr. Sax keeps it under his pahari topi. (Possibly such an admission of enthusiasm might have clouded his chances in the eyes of his orthodox examiners?) I chanced upon him while researching in Nauti the natal village of Nanda Devi. My arrival caused consternation since rumours of CIA involvement in the planting of a nuclear spying device on Nanda Devi had recently been confirmed and it followed that any American presence in the area had to have a CIA connexion. The arrival of an Anglo-Indo-Scot could only mean the 'firm' had cunningly employed a neutral courier to deliver the Nauti agent his illgotten dollar notes. If politics in Garhwal villages accessible to roads and radio can give rise to such hilarious imaginings, this book shows that the further the Royal Pilgrimage proceeded into the interior, the more bizarre and ugly local politics turned. One is inclined to feel sorry for the author who had rush over from America to take part in the 'Bara Nanda Jat' (the twelve-yearly procession of the goddess that wends it way past Rupkund to 4800 m involving a traverse of snowfields and the Silli Samuder glacier in bare feet.) The whole journey was marred by political infighting and the greatest irony of this uniquely Garhwali pilgrimage was that it could never have been accomplished without the visible presence of those figures totally alien to the interior — the uniformed policeman. On the other hand you could argue that by suppressing his 'true' name for the baubles of academia the anthropologist had denied his benefactress and the ensuing rough passage, with Sax caught in the middle of feuding parties, was his karmic comeuppance. The book happily is dedicated to Dev Ram Nautiyal the indefatigable sponsor of the Devi's perambulations. His cloth shop in the upper bazaar at Karnaprayag is well worth a visit to any interested in the lore of Nanda Devi. Overcoming every obstacle Dev Ram got the 1987 pilgrimage on the road and managed to allay on the one hand accusations from the 'hillbillies' of the interior that he had embezzled the government loan, and on the other doubts expressed by officials that the procession would not be allowed to host either women or low caste pilgrims, on whose participation any government funding was — as a constitutional necessity-dependent. Sax does not mention the ecological cost of modern pilgrimage but I have been told a way was mercilessly hacked through the dense birch and bamboo jungle above Sutol on the return from Homkund. If true this indicates that numbers in future will have to be controlled. The last circuit had been undertaken in 1968 and on that occasion Dev Ram had fought a heroic rearguard action to try and prevent the 'interior' lobby from performing the animal sacrifice that traditionally marked the climax of the mystical ascent. The four horned ram would 'offer' its head to the goddess and then run off into the snows with presents for Nanda Devi in its saddle bags. The 1987 yatra was apparently more successful and no reports have come in that the traditionalist party had done the animal to death, as happened ultimately in 1968 by the simple expedient of letting the government documentary film maker return down the Nandakini valley and then perform the gruesome last rites according to the goddess rather than Caesar. In fact the interior faction cried off before Rupkund, predicting dire consequences. In spite of the warring pettiness and the absence of any abiding mountain glory this work on the Nanda Devi cult remains an invaluable source book and we have to thank 'Badri Datt Nautiyal's' cunning for getting past the restrictions normally placed on foreigners who wish to observe such unappetising cult mysteries. He was told his application to join in the holy round would be put up to Latu, the irrascible 'herald' of Nanda Devi. When Sax approached the village where the oracle of this xenophobic godling resided, he neatly bypassed the temple to avoid the admission test; but overlooks the fact that such aplomb could be interpreted as the hallmark of an undercover agent. Mountain Goddess tells you more about the bloody mindedness of Nanda Devi's village devotees than the rapturous effect the peak has on mountain lovers. Sax's findings on a poetic level confirm that the goddess has every right to lose her teniper, and on occasion punishes those who betray her. (The CIA had better watch out!)
MOUNTAINS IN CHINA. The general map of mountain peaks in China. Scale: 1:5 500 000. Compiled by the Chinese Research Institute of Surveying and Mapping and the Chinese Mountaineering Association. Published and distributed by the Cartographic Publishing House. Printed in Japan.
This extremely valuable cartographic work shows on full-colour topographic basis the location and altitude of all mountain groups and single mountains not only on China's territory but also in northeastern Pakistan, Nepal, Korea, Bhutan and Vietnam. The map will be an important help to all mountaineers and visitors to that part of Asia. Unfortunately, all names on the 107 x 75 cm sheet are published in Chinese transliteration, difficult to understand for foreigners. What is worse, the names are changed continuously, e.g. the Meili or Mei Li some years ago turned into Kang Karpo and now to Moirigkawagarbo! The reverse side of the new edition should be supplemented with an appendix containing all traditional names like Xixabangma = Shisha Pangma, Qowowuyag = Cho Oyu, etc.
FREE SPIRIT. A Climber's Life. By Reinhold Messner. Translated by Jill Neate. Pp. 250, 30 colour and 23 b/w illustrations, 3 maps, 1991. (Holder and Stoughton, London, £ 16.95).
Reinhold Messner is a legend in his lifetime — a man who has climbed fourteen 8000 m summits, accomplished the first ascent of Everest without oxygen with Peter Habeler, the first solo climb of Everest and the first traverse of two 8000 m peaks Gasherbrum I and II with Hans Kammerlander. With Arved Fuchs, he also crossed the Antarctica, a 2800 km journey across a 'White Infinity'. Messner is a man who has constantly sought new adventure. A passion for the sport, an indomitable will and professional skill have led him to the outstanding and unusual achievements to his credit. He has created mountaineering history.
With a climber like Reinhold who has notched up these achievements with deceptive speed and almost a routine success, it is difficult to separate the legend from the man. His autobiography helps us do just that. His writing seems transparently honest. Hope, ambition, competitiveness, fulfilment, fear, guilt, self-doubt are all there to bring us a very real Messner — the child and the man above the legend.
Reinhold's childhood was spent in Villnos, in northern Italy — a village in a valley surrounded by mountains. At the end of the fields, the Dolomites began. Still not a student at school, Reinhold had begun to share the joys of climbing with his father who had himself climbed most of the surrounding summits. His description of his first climb to the summit of the Sass Rigais as a five year old with his mother, father and brother is a charming one. 'I was tired and after each rise of rock my eyes searched for the summit... To this day I don't know what gave the climb so much suspense that I, a five year old, kept going.' He reflects. The Sass Rigais was a day out for the grown ups, for me it was the beginning of a life long passion.'
The passion for climbing in the Dolomites and later in the Alps was fed on numerous successes and with the climbs together, a strong bond developed between Reinhold and his younger brother Gunther. Study at school and later the effort to become an engineer were never something that Reinhold gave himself to with any great enthusiasm. As he says, 'By nature, people have no profession. Perhaps a calling. For myself, 1 had become addicted to the intense experiences I enjoyed in the mountains.'
By the summer of 1969, Reinhold felt the Alps had become too small for him. He was twenty five and had already made over twenty five first ascents and twenty solo ascents. He accepted an invitation from Dr. Karl Herrligkoffer to take part in an expedition to the Rupal face of Nanga Parbat. Gunther, Reinhold's younger brother and climbing partner also joined him on this expedition. The expedition was plagued by poor weather. After ten days at C3 with daily snow and avalanches, it was decided that they should attempt the summit in a limited window of better weather. Reinhold was to go up on his own while Gunther and Gerhard Bauz stayed on at C5. Having left in darkness, Reinhold was surprised later to find his brother following. 'I did not ask him why he had followed me... For fifteen years we had climbed together as a rope. It was clear that we would go on together!' Later that day, they stood on the summit of Nanga Parbat.
Descent was providing to be difficult. Gunther did not feel up to going down the difficult sections of the Merkel couloir the way they had come up. They tried to descend by an alternative route via the Merkel Col and then call for help from C5. Their bivouac at —30uC was a night without end. At six in the morning, Reinhold called for help. Felix Kuen and Peter Scholz came up a few hours later for what Reinhold believed was an attempt to help Gunther down. They were within a 100 m but in the storm, misunderstood what was required. They carried on for their summit bid. 'After Felix and Peter had disappeared and I knew they were going to the summit. For a moment a great uneasiness arose in me. It was as if I had gone mad... I wept without knowing why..' The two continued their descent, stopped to bivouac only briefly during the night and by early next morning, had reached a steep slope at the foot of the face. They moved forward separately. The difficulty was not much but there was a threat of avalanches. And one such got Gunther. 'I searched and shouted at the fresh ice avalanche. I could not believe that my brother lay buried beneath it'.
Reinhold's description of the loss of his brother, his feelings of guilt at having allowed him to come up with him, torment at thoughts of whether he could have successfully brought him down, all add up to a very moving record of emotions. He lost six of his toes from frostbite which occurred during the descent and his tormented stay on the mountain following his brother's death. The odyssey on Nanga Parbat was a watershed in Reinhold's life. Remarkably, with training, in a year's time he was able to walk, run and climb again. He resumed his climbing in the Himalaya.
In 1977 Reinhold flew over Mount Everest at 9000 m in a small Pilatus Porter plane with three others. While others used oxygen masks, he did not. He writes, 'Fascinated, I gazed down at the highest point on earth. I had seen this flight through without an oxygen mask and I was still able to talk, to think, to sense everything. Now I was certain I would be able to climb this peak without oxygen.' In 1978, Reinhold and Peter Habeler were part of a nine man Austrian expedition to Mount Everest. For two days, having set up a camp at South Col, Reinhold had to sit out a storm with two Sherpas Ang Dorje and Mingma. There was nothing to be done but to descend at the end of the storm. However, with rest and recovery, the will returned — 'Why should I not survive the ascent I had dreamed of for six years? .... was Mount Everest created for men — or only for machine men?' And Peter Habeler and Reinhold did do it. At the summit, 'We crouched down and sobbed.... The exertion, the tension, the anxiety, the doubt were over for the time being.'
At the end of his chapter on the ascent of Mount Everest without oxygen, Reinhold provides us an insight into what has powered his exceptional climbing career. 'When I arrived in base camp, I had the feeling that something was lacking; where earlier the dream of Everest without oxygen had been, was now a hole. Luckily, I still had an idea: one man and an eight thousander... so one dream replaced another. I hoped to be capable of finding new dreams for ever!'
And the new dream was Nanga Parbat — solo. And later, Mount Everest solo. A succession of 8000 m peaks and finally a crossing of the Antarctica in a search for new challenges and the realisation of a new dream.
From the simple joys of a child who grew up with the mountains, to the challenge and professionalism of climbing in the Dolomites and the Alps in his early career, to ambition, competitiveness and achievement of what seemed impossible in the Himalaya, to the traverse through the silent infinity of the Antartica, Reinhold's life and feelings seem so real and immediate in his autobiography. After it all, there seems a kind of fulfilment, almost a kind of peace. 'In this complex and played out world, living in the mountains is like a focal point for my hopes. And so I become more and more settled. When I am at home, I am a farmer. On the road I am curious. Life cannot consist only of high points. Perhaps as a wanderer, and as a mountain farmer, I am full of peace and composure because I am only travelling, going nowhere, without ambitions. When I gave up wanting to be a mountaineer, more peace came into my life. As a mountaineer, I had hoped too long for the summits.'
Free Spirit is a fine autobiography — not to be missed. An account of some of the greatest achievements in the mountaineering world, but equally, a sharing of the mind and feelings of the man who accomplished them.
WAR IN HIGH HIMALAYA. The Indian Army. In Crisis, 1962. By Major General D. K. Palit, VC. Pp. 450, 7 maps, 1991. (Lancer International, New Delhi, Rs. 300).
There have been a number of books written on the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962. Brigadier John Dalvi's Himalayan Blunder is a superlative volume of memoirs. Lt Gen BM Kaul's Untold Story has been recently described by a reviewer in the IDR April 92 issue, as 'so totally self serving, so disloyal to all including his benefactors, so totally unconcerned about the soldiers he left down — and so cheaply written'. Neville MaxWell's India's China War in which he drew on 'material from unpublished files and reports of the Govt. of India and the Indian Army', a veiled reference to the unpublished 'Henderson Brooks Report', includes a section The view from Peking', an attempt to see the dispute through Chinese eyes, because as he states in his Preface, "The whole dispute has so consistently been seen from the Indian Point of view'. Dr. Mankekar's The Guilty Men of 1962' and Director Intelligence Bureau B. N. Mullick's The Chinese Betrayal. There are other books in which reference is made to the conflict, such as Lt. Gen. S. P. Thorat's Reveille to Retreat, Lt. Gen. S. D. Verma's To serve with Honour' to name but two. Maj Gen. D. K. Palit's book War in High Himalaya, is the latest and probably the most authentic version of events and personalities that have changed the course of post-independence Indian history.
The report of the inquiry by Lt. Gen. T. B. Henderson Brooks and Brig. P. S. Bhagat, VC, has not yet not seen the light of day. Since this reviewer is engaged in writing a biography of the late Lt. Gen. P. S. Bhagat, PVSM, VC, he made some inquiries as to whether official permission could be obtained to have access to the document. It appeared from these inquiries that Army HQ did not have a copy. A blank was drawn with Henderson Brooks, then in Australia and there was no copy of such a document in the personal papers of Prem Bhagat, which were made available^by Mrs. Mohini Bhagat. Where lies the report?
The truth about the quality men of 1962, politicians, bureaucrats and the military hierarchy can only be found in the Henderson Brooks Report and its time the Govt. published the report in its entirety. Thirty odd years would have elapsed since that ignoble defeat by end 1992 and the people have a right to know. Where otherwise is the glasnost of the freedom of information so evident in other working democracies and about which our politicians occasionally speak.
'Monty' Palit's book is not based on General Staff records of that period. According to Palit a senior research officer in the Ministry of Defence (MOD) informed him that these records had been destroyed. Palit states that in November 1962, Gen. Chaudhuri asked him to write a detailed 'Summary of Events and Policies', of which he (Palit) retained a copy. His book is based on that summary and his personal diary. And until such time as the Henderson Brooks Report is published one would have to depend on Palit's version of events and personalities for was he not one of the key actors on that shaky stage of events of the period ? Having first been in command of the ill-fated 7th Bde prior to the war and Director of Military Operations (DM0) immediately prior to and during the war and its aftermath (June 1961 to December 1963), his is an intimate knowledge of all that occurred, reinforced by a prodigious memory. But there are not many left on the state of events who could either support or refute his tale — Nehru, Krishna Menon, Thapar, Kaul, John Dalvi and many others have passed away.
Palit's expose of events as they unfolded makes fascinating reading. His historical perceptions, knowledge of the Himalaya and area of operations and of the towering personalities that together pushed a reluctant Army to its hapless defeat is skillfully narrated. But there is the nagging feeling that in enlightened hindsight he is moving himself away from the decisions then taken, although most knowledgeable people would consider that he should shoulder a proportion of the blame for the faulty decisions taken and the cascading flow of events that finally shook the very foundations of the Indian state.
The High Frontiers
The chapter 'High Frontiers' is of particular interest to those endeavouring to unravel the intracacies of the border problem with China. Palit describes the central Asian land mass as the greatest physical obstacle in the world outside the polar ice-cap, and its three interlinked civilisations. Extensive areas of the region are uninhabited; barren and desolate, with only the occasional visit by nomadic graziers. For the ancient Hindus of India the great range of the Himalaya revered as the throne of the gods was the eternal barrier that enclosed them to the South. In the mid-nineteenth century the expanding empire created by the British East India Company reached the Himalayan frontier, while Russian expansion in Central Asia had begun in the eighteenth century. Palit describes the historical events, the treaties, the Commissions, the cartographic evidence behind the claims of the contesting powers, that eventually in the second half of the twentieth century resulted in the Dalai Lama's 1959 flight to India and together with other cascading events led to an India-China confrontation along the McMahon line in the winter of 1962.
The Tribal, Administrator and the Soldier
There are passages in the book which will delight those, both in and out of uniform, who have walked the Himalaya. One such is regarding the Mompas, the tribals that inhabit the Kameng Frontier Division, Towang area in particular. The other the easy going, carefree life of the frontiersmen of those days, the Administrator and the Soldier. Lets have a quick look at these through Palit's eyes.
Describing the tribesmen of NEFA, particularly the Mompas of Towang as a friendly, gentle and easy going people of Tibetan stock, with soft wind-etched faces and smiling eyes wrinkled against the glare and dust of the open mountain sides of Towang, Palit states that the Mompas were culturally Buddhist and more sophisticated than the other tribals of NEFA, such as the Sherdupkens, Appatanis, Daflas, Mishmi. Their organised life style is based on agriculture, handicrafts and a market economy. The Mompas were helpful and supportive of the administration. They were grateful to independent India for liberating them in 1951 from the high-handed acts of Tibetan officialdom. Palit deplores the colonial attitude of the Army during that period exemplified by its unwillingness to enlist the cooperation of these friendly tribals — they were only used as porters on the march or helpers in camp. In overcoming local problems and conditions to evolve a feasible defensive posture the assistance of these friendly inhabitants in any meaningful way was neglected.
The Frontier Administrative Service which came under the MEA also failed to enlist and involve the Mompas or other tribal people of NEFA. many of whom would have willingly stepped forward in a patriotic cause. Giving credit however to the Political Officer and other members of the Frontier Service, partly recruited from the Military, as doing a magnificent job in these areas in keeping a discreet balance between extending the Govt's writ into the remote heights and protecting the local people from the adverse effects of too sudden an exposure to the sophistication and deviousness of the plainsman, Palit states that they had created an efficient close-knit cadre and in Kameng Frontier Division established considerable rapport with the tribals — but the relationship, he adds, was not egalitarian. When the crisis arose it was the Chinese who utilised the Mompas and other tribals. Before and during the invasion of Kameng they press-ganged numbers of Mompas for use as guides and informers and for providing safe houses. Yet says Palit, it had occurred neither to the political officer nor to him to enlist the aid of these people 1o supplement security measures. The Mompas would have responded enthusiastically because they had every reason to distrust intruders from North of the border. It was only a decade ago that Tibetan Dzongpens had held sway at Towang and Dhirang and had ruthlessly exploited them. In 1951 the Government decided to make good McMahon's claim, push the Tibetans out of Towang and extend its writ to the whole of Kameng Frontier Division. The Mompas are not unmindful of the part played by the Indians in the process of their liberation.
The Army life style of the period would appeal to the Himalayan 'voyager' conversant with all the 'trappings' of a mid-twentieth century caravan making its way from the plains of upper Assam, across the lower hills and into the higher reaches of the Himalaya. Palit as Commander of 7th Bde states that despite the Longju incident the Chinese threat remained remote, the logistic build-up continued at a slow pace and the tempo of troop deployment remained leisurely. Meanwhile the Army enjoyed its traditional sporting occupations, even up in the mountains, shooting exotic game such as the blood pheasant, and bamboo patridge and fishing in the mountain streams for mahseer. Down in the plains the British Planters Clubs provided tennis, golf, swimming and enjoyable evening parties. Long treks to enchanting recesses of NEFA were undertaken (ostensibly government business), attended by retinues of camp followers and pack ponies. Palit recollects that travel in the high Towang areas was a particular joy — not only were the Mompas a smiling, hospitable people, but the terrain was less severe than in the lower ranges. Sheer reaches of daunting tropical jungle gave way to rolling mountain sides covered with tall flowering rhododendrons. Winding paths passed along banks of yellow primroses and as one climbed up to the higher snow covered crestline there was that magnificent vision of peaks.
Those were halcyon days in NEFA for both the local administration and the Army. The Political Officer and his subordinates found the influx of the soldiers stimulating and took pleasure in their company. There was increased activity in their previously sleepy surroundings and greater movement of people and goods up and down their mid-mountain back-waters. Army Messes opened, social activities blossomed, life suddenly became more pleasant. Paradoxically, muses Palit, it was the impact of the Army's presence that obscured the very urgency and reason for their coming.
Palit suspects that the Frontier Service Officers were never fully convinced that the threat of Chinese invasion was real. The Chinese claim on NEFA was a bargaining ploy to induce the Indian Government to yield to their claim on the Aksai Chin. After all they argued Peking had accepted the principle of the watershed to delimit the border with Nepal and Burma. The Himalayan crest line was the agreed border, so their claim to NEFA and the North Brahmaputra plains could only be a tongue-in-cheek assertion. Regrettably they were to learn to their cost, how wrong they were in these assumptions.
Palit then describes the war in detail and brings the role of the Indian army upto the 1971 conflict with Pakistan-Bangladesh. This is of interest to military historians.
The 1962 war in the Himalaya has been an subject of interest to those who are interested in the ranged This book would bring to light many events.
LT. GEN. MATHEW THOMAS,
PVSM, AVSM, VSM, (RETD.)
AT HOME IN THE HIMALAYAS. By Christina Noble. Pp. 210, 24 b/w illustrations, 1 map, 1991. (Collins, London £9.95)
At Home in the Himalayas is a different book — different for its variety of experiences. Christina Noble successfully achieves the difficult task of translating personal experience into an objective reading of life in the mountains. What started in 1970 as a trek from Shimla to Kashmir, later developed into an inseparable affinity with the Himalaya and the urge to establish an identity in a foreign land.
Kullu life is portrayed with a love that only comes with deep involvement. The autobiography which narrates all that matters to the author, also becomes the capsule of life in Manali and the regions beyond.
The business of organising trekking holidays is only the means of coming closer to the land and its people. As Christina Noble lives her life between two countries, she grows and develops with the passage of time. The changes that she observes are an effective record of the toll of time, of the break-up of age-old institutions and the 'advantages' of modernism.
There are of course times when an Indian reader would be sceptical at observations which are generalised, of superfluous readings of the Indian experience. And this still remains the basic criticism towards a western understanding of the Indian milieu.
Although it must be granted, that the sense of involvement, commitment and endeavour that pervades the book, is very enduring. There are details of customs and rituals, of moving between uncanny success and depths of dispair, of confronting the joys of life and the tragedy of death.
Besides being very readable At Home in the Himalayas is remarkable for its simplicity of expression and the vast panorama of human experience that it encompasses.
PEAKS AND PASSES OF THE GARHWAL HIMALAYA. By Jan Babicz, Pp. 246, 5 maps, 104 sketches, 1990 (Alpinistyczay Klub Eksporacyjny, Spot, No price printed)
The author has done service to the cause of mountaineering in the Garhwal Himalaya, a region in India, from the border of west Nepal to the watershed of the Tons river in the west, within the state of Uttar Pradesh. Ten seven thousanders have been included in one section describing the route and mountaineering history in brief, together with sketch of the mountain and a line map of the region. Lesser mountains upto 6000 m in the Gangotri glacier system take the bulk of the material in the book. A guide book presentation is given in this section also with certain routes shown and graded.
For the high country trekker a few selected routes are described in brief.
The book does not pretend to be an exhaustive source material for Garhwal Himalaya, which has a rich history, being the Himalaya which has attracted Indians for ages for spiritual solace and thereafter by the early explorers and mountaineers, since the late 19th century. However the book does serve as a quick 'who's who' of prominent Garhwal peaks and mountains of Gangotri regions. There are 104 sketches of mountains described and five line maps of selected sections showing water sheds of main river valleys. There are a few minor drawbacks in presentation of sketches. It would have been better if the top side of the long format mountain sketches No. 11, 12, 21, 32 were kept on left hand side as uniformly done for the remaining ones. Sketch 13 of Dunagiri is printed in reverse. However this does not reduce the good reference value of the book on mountains of Garhwal Himalaya.
J. C. Nanavati
MER DE GLACE. By Alison Fell. (Methuen, London, £13.99).
Alison Fell's Mer de Glace is a novel with an end at the beginning and a surprise at the end. In making ends meet, she takes her reader through the various stages of a love triangle whose centrepoint, Will, is an American climber. He holds a deep belief in his own needs and thoughts and intellectually justifies them with ease. The main character of the book, rather than the triangle, is Kathleen (Will's academic tutor and lover) whose own intellect combines with her emotions to turn in on herself. In comparison to these two, Will's wife retains a surface icy-cool.
Many a fictional love triangle has been related with varying degrees of success. What distinguishes this particular tale is the nonstraightforward manner of telling. Via Kathy's therapy sessions and Will's written assignments, the reader travels through London, Chamonix, guilt, self-assurance and temporary happiness to one of life's awfully inevitable conclusions: one which Kathy is unable to accept and the reader is led not to expect.
Those who demand of their 'climbing fiction' little more than thinly-disguised documentary would write this book off instantly. Those who like fiction relating to the climbing way of life and are tired of the straightforwardly-told, undemanding storyline will welcome the refreshment this book brings. It fully deserves its success as joint Boardman-Tasker Award winner.
A VIEW FROM THE RIDGE. By Daye Brown and Ian Mitchell, 1991. Ernest Press, London, £6.50).
There is a contradiction about this attractive and distinctive book. In format and superficial appearance it is modest and its price is cheap. Yet its own back cover announces an ambitious intention.
'Fed up of anaemic books about mountains, about being poor and happy and mystical fulfilment? Then this is the book for you, tearing a veil from the culture clashes and conflicts on hills. Have stripey pants and Munro-bagging consigned the Great Proletarian Revolution to history ? What happens if you go in search of the American Dream in Colorado, or Celtic Twilight in the Cuillin ? How do Scots and English interact on the hill ? And do mountains alter the pattern of male/female sexual behaviour?'
Quite a programme to jam into 185 pages! Inevitably the answers vary in depth. For all that, the book is a darned good yarn too, as long as you are not so English parochial to be put off by occasional attempts at rendering the Scottish vernacular on paper. After all that has been respectable at least since Robbie Burns, except for his enemies.
Allowing that neither its rendering of the oracle in deep Glasweigian, nor its commitment to communal values redolent of Red Clydeside, will engender universal enthusiasm throughout the Isle, A View from the Ridge celebrates a glorious and honourable tradition among Scottish mountain addicts from No Mean City. Bourgeois mysticism' and idealism are squarely rejected, and with them the perceived fascism of the naive and dangerous individualism of the 1980s. Had it been possible for the book to emerge two decades earlier I would have thought it too pessimistic.
Recent events in the mountains, rocks and elsewhere in Britain now persuade me otherwise. Would that there were more of these analytical hillwalkers and climbers stalking the glens and bogs as they used to, taking their pleasures in long wet night tramps and bivouacs under tarps and rocks. Then Jacksonville or any bothy was luxury, even with the mealies on plates to keep the resident vermin down.
The book does pursue its ambitious prospectus, across Scotland and the Atlantic and back, in a whirligig of moods and styles. It has flashes of the classic gallows humour so difficult to render on paper, and just a touch of the verbal obscenity commonplace in the company described. Otherwise the experience, a sort of history from below, could not be reflected with any hint of veracity. It is not really about climbing, though exhileration on the rock and its counterpart of accident and death have more than a walkon part. Rather it seeks to do a little justice to a valued and mourned culture, a product of the folk of the 1930s, and of hardships we hoped would not be inflicted again.
The symbolic focus of these wild ramblers was the fire and the squarey (sausage), the crack and the song, a time away at the weekend and little for the boss, the keeper or the landlord. The convictions ran deep and the sense of solidarity was so fierce as to seem irresistable. It seems shocking to hear of its dilution into munroing on the odd Sunday away from the family. Yet there is a note of optimism still, in the lack of enthusiasm for social fragmentation wherever found, in the ability to share the wake of a good mate even with strangers, in the faith in the growing strength of another generation. From this view each wave produces its antithesis, and* already the writers approach the second remove of a grandparenthood, at least in spirit. Hardened anti-idealists as they see themselves, yet they can hope for reaction against the plasticity and selfishness of the 'me' generation's self advertisement, in those who follow. Their's is a faith in some renewal from the experience of the hills, as another generation rejects the spurious consumerism of the effete 1980s.
Sometimes the book left me hoping for more nostalgia, more reminders of a fading collective memory of a world which many outsiders rightly feared. It is fitting that a book trying to do more than clothe past times in a rosy glow and seeking to appeal to an uninvolved audience, should avoid overplaying the easy hand of sentiment and reminiscence. For all that it raised issues and old warmth, a feeling of identification and gratitude for their acceptance and hospitality, readily given if your adolescent pride could bear the crack long ago.
(Mer de Glace and A View from the Ridge were joint winners of the Boardman Tasker award for mountain literature in 1991)
(Reprinted from Mountain 142, with kind permission of the editor.)
MOUNTAINEERING AND MOUNTAIN CLUB SERIALS: A Guide to English Language Titles. Complied by Virginia Seisser and Robert Lockerby. Pp. 180, 1990. (The Scarecrow Press, London, Price not stated).
With much being published about mountaineering. The above title should prove a useful guide. If covers 'The Serials', 'Publishing Organization Index' and 'Geographic Index' for U.S. and the world. In a very concise format it gives all available detail about the publications. It is tremendous amount of work and reference that could have led to this, — almost like having a computer disc in print!
MOUNTAINEERING. The Freedom of the Hills. Editor Don Graydon. Pp. 446, sketches and line drawings, 1992. (The Mountaineers, Seattle, $ 22.95).
Fifth editiion of the celebrated guide book to mountaineering. This revised edition in four major sections tells you all about the techniques like climbing, rescue, glacier travel, rappeling etc. It also introduces one to route finding, navigation, use of altimetres and allied crafts. A most contemporary and comprehensive source on mountaineering.