NO PLACE TO FALL. Superalpinism in the high Himalaya. By Victor Saunders. Pp. 175, 21 colour illustrations, 3 maps, 1994. (Hodder and Stoughton, London, £ 16.99).
On picking up this book, sub-titled 'superalpinism in the High Himalaya' I was half-inclined to pre-judge it as belonging to the category which contains fragmentary tales of' darring-do' put together in a language which has always seemed to me semi-obscure. I was quite wrong: it is not that sort of book at all. Hardly more than a quarter of its 176 pages relate directly to technical problems connected with pioneer climbs on some hard face, ridge, or peak. Faithful to his principles, and supported by like-minded companions, Saunders approaches his Himalayan ventures with a light touch, alpine style is the correct jargon, but never - he is much too experienced for that, - with a light head or heart. Given sufficient dedication, order invariably emerges out of the chaos to which Saunders sometimes refers as one of the preliminaries to setting out for the Himalaya.
As in his first book, this one is sub-divided into parts, devoted respectively to the author's campaigns in Nepal (Makalu NW or Kangchungtse 7640 m), the Karakoram (Ultar 7388 m), and the Indian Himalaya (two first ascents in the Panch Chuli group), during four years between 1989 to 1992. Each is full of good sense, and of sound mountaineering practice, culminating, in its own way, in a deserved success. What, in this context, is 'success'? On page 80, there is a glimpse of Victor Saunders' answer - Discovery is the meaning of life - This is what appears to stand out as his symbol, and as the raison d'etre
of his continuing involvement with his chosen pastime.
This short book gave me about three hours of most enjoyable reading, and I was sorry to put it down. It is a fluently written account of lands and people, carefully observed and wittily recorded. A result that is only achieved when the observer is able to integrate fully into the environment with an understanding and adaptability which makes light of the hardships, squalor, and stately bureaucracy, that are inseparable from travel in the high mountains of Asia. For me personally the book brings back vivid pictures of areas once very familiar, altered now almost beyond recognition, but still unique in character.
Book publishers nowadays struggle to perform a balancing act between maintaining quality of production and keeping selling prices at a moderate level; in achieving the latter, the first has often to be sacrificed. I reckon that this book merited rather better treatment. There are 21 attractive colour illustrations grouped together on 4 pages; a sketch-map each for the three areas described; and a useful index.
Die hard mountaineers talk technicalities at great pitch, length, and exclusivity. Then they climb something and write about it for each other. Those who can talk and write as if there is a world below 7000 m are as rare as the air they'd like to breathe all the time. Victor Saunders is the rarest type a mountaineer who likes the world around him even when it is not a chaos of moraine, icefalls, cornices, bivouacs, abseils and brews of potato mash and chewing gum. And he has a glorious way with words. He seems to have the mountaineer's approach to language, pushing it beyond the given, inventing appropriate words where the dictionary fails him. At one point, an exasperated Steve Sustad, the American who believes that pubs are the only contribution the English have made to world culture, tells Saunders that his suffixing 'ish' to words is sheer bad English. Sustad reads Moby Dick
and Ellman's life of Oscar Wilde on trips. Saunders, steeped in Wodehouse, Dahl and other such brilliant maulers of the language, retorts, 'Rubbish. ' Why would anyone criticise the language of a man who can encapsulate bureaucracy with a comment that in Kathmandu they were asked to fill in forms in 'nineteen-plicate'? Or that expedition doctors, in his experience, have all had 'compassion-ectomies'?
No Place to Fall
recounts three expeditions, to Makalu in 1989, to Ultar in the Karakoram in 1991, and the last to Panch Chuli in 1992. Each section begins with a short explanation of the geography and history of the relevant mountain. On the next page is a map. The Makalu one is, no doubt, very good. But since Makalu has been described as being twelve miles east of Everest, it is disappointing for the non-mountaineer to find no Everest on the map. It is especially disappointing for one who has just done the mountain flight and thought that Everest was, unsurprisingly, the greatest thing on earth.
Each expedition Saunders describes is an event governed by chaology (refer to page one of book for explanation). Each has a distinct flavour. The Makalu one is assisted by Nepal's being generally receptive to climbers. Once they are deep in what I would say is hostile territory, they acclimatise themselves. Acclimatisation means hanging about in ice and snow, doing the odd climb (Peak 4, Yaupa Central, Chago glacier), occasionally starved and frightened out of their wits by their situations, with a shrinking group as sick companions opt to return to Kathmandu, and all the while the monsoon refuses to let up. They are confronted by the towering Makalu, ten miles wide and five miles high. Sustad and Saunders want to try it by traversing the north ridge for which they have to climb Kangchungtse which will bring them to the edge of the ridge. Mingma, a sort of cook, has a terrible feeling that they are doomed. But all goes well until just below the summit they are., in soft snow and bad weather, they lose their compass and Sustad's toes are frost-bitten. They get back.
Mingma's bad feelings, says Saunders, were probably about Lhotse where Jerzy Kukuczka, the second man to climb all 8000ers, except that he climbed by unusual routes, was attempting to correct his one aberration. He'd done Lhotse by the normal route. Now he wanted to try the 'exotic' south face ascent. He and Ryszard Pawlovski were killed. They were using second hand Korean rope which had already snapped once lower down but these two went ahead anyway. Kukuczka fell into space when he was at 8300 m. The rope snapped. His body was found two days later at 5400 m. Talking to him by radio the previous day, his wife had begged him to return. Kukuczka's strength and skill, which Saunders admires, may have been stupendous. But what about common sense? Why did he depend on the rope which could be faulty?
The next expedition ends the same way. Sustad and Saunders try the unclimbed Ultar, 5 km from the Karakoram highway and 5 km above it. They find Hidden Tower which acts as their door to Ultar. All, once more, goes well. Then 200 m below the summit Saunders breaks a crampon, Sustad his ice axe. They have to return.
Meanwhile the Japanese, with Hasegawa, lay siege to the mountain. In an earlier expedition they had fixed rope and now they return to conquer Ultar. Hasegawa's wife is their base camp manager. So, when Hasegawa and Hoshino are caught in an avalanche, there is no one to rescue them. Mrs. Hasegawa performed the cremation and burial. Once more, an experienced mountaineer fails to take elementary precautions. It is a ghastly pattern which leaves this non-mountaineer seriously bewildered by the urge mountaineers have to kill themselves in horrible ways.
The horror remains, but there are pleasures in the book too. Saunders' interest in buildings (he's a government architect, or was at the time of Ultar) is as absorbing as his descriptions of animals and clouds. But it is the people whom Saunders really enjoys from the jean-clad Nati's 'slightly more nonchalant way of lolling' as beautiful Tsering passes him to the dusty young villager in Hametabad who told them he was going to Canada ('I don't remember a village called Canada' brings a curious look and the carefully articulated lesson that Canada is north of the United States and he is going to the Aga Khan college in Montreal) to Chris Bonington's hearing of Muslim Contractor ('That is a person, not a job, isn't it?').
And so to the final section and the Indo-British attempts on the Panch Chuli peaks. Once again, Saunders and Sustad are together, holding their mad conversations. (Saunders says that talking to Sustad is like running through thigh-deep treacle.) We also have Chris Bonington and Harish Kapadia, Harish the Gujarati addressing the British lot as 'Steve Bhai' or 'Tony Bhai', - Chris Bonington worrying over his flocks and losing cameras and wallets that are with him all the time. There is also Steve Venables, the protagonist of this trip, who happily pursued Himalayan flora, made salads of wild garlic, lost his temper and recovered in record time, and who fell when they pressed their luck and tried yet another Panch Chuli peak.
Steve Venables broke both his legs and crushed a knee. Bonington nearly got killed trying to rescue, him, after which he went on a gruelling nine hour hike over what would normally have taken three days to arrange for a helicopter to evacuate Steve. Meanwhile Steve lay there, stinking of oozing blood, with Saunders and Dick Renshaw to help him. At one point, the two men had to leave him entirely alone while they went to get more supplies of food. The helicopter rescue was miraculous. Saunders doesn't mention that the Air Force pilots had to wait for a gap in the clouds, make a recce, turn back, return, and find no place to land. Saunders does say that as they hovered. Steve was hoisted in, screaming with pain. This is the only point where Saunders' style, otherwise compassionate, sounds flips. Steve, he says, displayed extraordinary courage for a hypochondriac.
Possibly Steve is a hypochondriac. Possibly he is bad tempered. When Muslim brought him in the killing heat from Bareilly to Delhi in a Maruti van, Steve's pain must have been terrible. Yet as far as I know, he didn't complain much, if at all. Muslim tried several hospitals but because Steve was a foreigner, they wouldn't admit him. Eventually Steve was accepted by the Sujan Mohinder hospital in our neighbourhood where he was given a tiny, supposedly air-conditioned cabin. We made special meals for him but all he wanted was beer. I can't remember exactly, but I think we smuggled that in one day. What I do remember is being deeply impressed by the stoicism with which Steve Venables put up with the pain, heat, and these well-meaning strangers who stupidly asked him, 'Does it hurt?' He must have been worried sick about his massive injuries but he said nothing. I had no idea who he was except that he had been with Harish and Muslim on this trip and that he was a remarkable man.
A small crib about Victor Saunders' wonderful book. Muslim is reported to have said that an ice peg he used was 'very broader' than the ice screws the British team had. It must be a misprint. Muslim doesn't talk like that.
K2: THE STORY OF THE SAVAGE MOUNTAIN. By Jim Curran. Pp. 192, 1995. (The Mountaineers Books, Seattle, $ 24.95).
Jim Curran, for anyone unfamiliar with the name, was climbing cameraman on the British expedition to K2 in 1986. At the end of that long, terrible summer he was one of the few people left at base camp to witness the final tragedy when five climbers, including his friend Alan Rouse, perished in a storm high on the Abruzzi Ridge. By his own admission, Curran is not in the first league of climbers, but by limiting his ambitions he has an objectivity perhaps lacking in the top performers playing for big stakes in the rarefied air above 8000 meters. He certainly writes better than most of them, supporting the theory that literary skill tends to be inversely proportionate to climbing ability. And he has been on enough Himalayan expeditions to know exactly what he is talking about. Like any good historian, he has the ability to sift through a mass of intensively researched detail and select the big themes. As his introduction promises, he is 'more interested in reliving the highlights and exploring the shadows of the stories than recording every fact'.
This history is popular in the best sense of the word. Curran sits us down by the fire, puts a large whiskey in our hand, and proceeds to tell us a story - a story of epic proportions. Human fallibility is writ large and Curran shows no compunction in exposing it. A chapter on one of the most revered 19th century explorers, for example, is dedicated, 'Conway - Connoisseur or Con Man?' Another pioneer - Aleister Crowley, the notorious diabolist involved in a futuristic attempt on the northeast ridge in 1902 - is praised for his obvious climbing talent, but after K2 his life, according to Curran, 'degenerated into the self-indulgent, self-deluding shambles that lasted until his death in 1947.'
That summary judgement is typical. Curran is not afraid to express opinions, and allows his own personality to enliven the narrative. Amid scenes of grim disaster, he provides comic relief, like this comment on the morale breakdown on Fritz Wiessner's 1939 expedition; 'There does seem to be a sea change on every expedition when the dominant mood swings from "thinking up" to 'thinking down'. Ideally this should only occur when the summit is reached.' Unfortunately the immensely talented Wiessner was still 'thinking up' when most of his inadequate team was "thinking down" and after a complete breakdown in leadership and communication the expedition ended in tragedy.
This is the case with the 1986 disaster. Only two people came down alive from that final terrible storm - Kurt Diemberger and Willi Bauer - each blaming the other for the over-crowding in the top camp that had led indirectly to disaster. Now, for the first time, Curran has analysed their conflicting accounts, pointing out major discrepancies of detail and concluding that everyone made mistakes.
The year 1986 was critical in K2's climbing history. Another was 1978. when Jim Wickwire, Lou Reichardt, John Roskelley and Rick Ridgeway made the third ascent of the mountain. Curran's accounts of both the 1978 and the 1975 expeditions present an unflattering view of American teamwork. I have to say that my own experience with American expeditions is completely different. Mountains can bring out the best in people, and Curran acknowledges this in his glowing account of Charles Houston's expeditions of 1938 and 1953. He observes that, in terms of team size and route preparation, Houston's 1938 team employed precisely the same tactics as Messner was to do on his self-proclaimed 'first alpine-style ascent' 41 years later. And in 1938, Houston's team had the added challenge of being the first proper attempt on the notoriously difficult Abruzzi Spur. By any standards it was a remarkable piece of climbing, carried out by a small, close-knit team working in harmony. The same spirit pervaded the 1953 attempt, which culminated in the heroic attempt to evacuate Art Gilkey, paralysed by an embolism, from a storm at 8000 meters. The 1953 American K2 expedition, concludes Curran, 'became a symbol of all that is best in mountaineering'.
A few months ago in 1995, when history again repeated itself and seven people died in a freak storm on K2, the world's media responded with a frenzied blast of ill-informed hot air. All those journalists, failing so dismally to understand the nature of climbing on the world's second highest mountain, would have benefited from a quick reading of Curran's book, for K2: The Story of the Savage Mountain
will appeal equally to Himalayan expert and layman. The maps and diagrams are excellent. The photos, though sparse, are well selected and intelligently captioned. The text, apart from minor slips (12 point crampons had been invented by the late '30s) is expert and authoritative. More important, it is a lucid, humorous, compassionate account of man's compulsive obsession with "The Mountain of Mountains".
HOLD THE HEIGHTS: THE FOUNDATIONS OF MOUNTAINEERING. By Walt Unsworth. Pp. 432, maps, diagrammes, plates, 1993. Hodder and Stoughton, London, £ 19.99).
This is a book for the long winter evenings. It is virtually a history of the development of world mountaineering from the first challenge of Mont Aiguille in 1492 to ultimate success on the world's greatest 8000 m peaks. It concludes with the ascents of Everest and Nanga Parbat in 1953: the foundations were laid; all the building blocks were in place.
Unsworth is to be congratulated on this bold and ambitious survey. He did not want simply to catalogue the highlights, but to seek cause and effect, draw conclusions, give explanations, discern a pattern or a thread. Like the concentric ripples in a pond, he has worked outwards from the Alps to the greater ranges of the world. The individual personalities of the climbers also shine through; if Mummery were to return today he would perfectly understand what a modern expert like Messner was trying to achieve.
The book is the outcome of one man's love affair with the mountains and mountain literature. There is a long bibliography and Unsworth has let climbers speak for themselves by quoting many passages from accounts of first ascents. There are also 29 pages of intriguing source notes - to be regarded as baroque curlicues, not pit props. The photographs, of which naturally the majority are of mountains, include numerous insets of the early pioneers and their guides, and leading climbers of the inter-war years. Maps of the main climbing areas and major peaks are plentiful and clearly drawn, highlighting the ridges and glaciers.
The particular interest of the book lies in Unsworth's tracing of the threads, for example, where the first traverse of Ushba by Pfann's party in 1903 makes a distinct step in the Austro-German progression towards Welzenbach and the all-out mountaineering of the 1930's - which led the French mountaineer Lucien Devies to remark that the capital of the mountaineering world had shifted from London to Munich 'where youth was ambitious and innovation encouraged'.
If the author had not collapsed from exhaustion after this effort, I assume that he is now engaged on a second volume completing the conquest of the fourteen 8000 m peaks and the continents' seven summits, and tracing the development of equipment and techniques which led to ascents like the west face of the Dru and the great precipices of Yosemite and the subsequent growth of sport and competition climbing. Has it all become too wide ranging to defy definition, he asks? What does the Everest climber, gasping for breath every step, have in common with the acrobatic athlete bouldering at Fontainebleau? Nothing - except that they may be one and the same person!
THE LAST HERO - BILL TILMAN. A Biography of the Explorer. By Tim Madge. Pp. 288, 16 b/w illustrations, 7 maps, 1995. (Hodder and Stoughton, London, £ 18.99).
The Last Hero
is a superb and beautiful account of the life of Bill Tilman, arguably one of the legends in exploration and adventure folklore. The author gives an excellent backdrop of Tilman's childhood and the psychology behind shaping the life and career of one of this century's greatest explorers.
Bill Tilman had a typical middle class tradition alongwith his brother and sister. Even during his school days his letter to his father, reflects his love for physical pursuits and the quest of adventure.
The single most important event in his life which transformed him from his typically middle class childhood was the World War I. He was 17 years old at its outbreak and it ended when he was 20 years old. He served the Royal Artillery in World War I field and survived the war without any injuries. The metamorphosis in Tilman's attitude towards life had changed dramatically and for the rest of his life Tilman undertook hazardous adventures and expeditions. As the author puts it aptly 'The guilt of the survivor when most are dead or injured, maimed physically or mentally'
Bill Tilman's words reflect his insecurity in the early days of his adulthood 'To those who went to the war straight from school and survived it the problem of what to do afterwards was particularly difficult' - these are the words of a resettled soldier in Kenya in the African continent of Big game - hunting tuskers, rhinos, buffaloes, gold prospecting engulfed the man who has love for outdoors, living rough and chancing a sudden discover)'.
The love for adventure led Bill Tilman who took up to climbing in Africa in his 14 years in Kenya as a colonial planter and from here on begins a saga of a man who became one of the greatest explorers of the century.
One of the most famous partnerships of Bill Tilman and Eric Shipton in climbing history was forged in the untamed Africa. Their first climb together was Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. The duo set its sights at Nanda Devi, highest peak in the Garhwal Himalaya. Bill Tilman and Eric Shipton had the foresight to use the Sherpas as climbing partners, history, would testify the invaluable character of this hardy mountain race.
The historic Nanda Devi expedition is vividly described and at the summit of Nanda Devi at 25,645 feet. Bill Tilman wrote 'It was difficult to realise that they were actually standing on top of the same peak which we had viewed two months ago from Ranikhet, and which had appeared incredibly remote and inaccessible, and it gave us a curious feeling of exaltation to know we were above every other peak within hundred of miles in either hand. I believe we so far forgot ourselves as to shake hands on it'.
The entire expedition was undertaken without modern accessories and oxygen. It reflected the immense courage and fortitude of these brave men.
After his historic Nanda Devi climb, the duo set their sights on the Karokoram range, which had the greatest concentration of high mountains in the world. The exploration of unknown region excited Bill Tilman and Eric Shipton. In this adventurous way they attempted to climb Everest from the Tibetan side.
Tilman saw action in the World War II behind the enemy lines in the European theatre of Italy and Albania. Subsequently, in 1945 Bill returned to his pre-war life as a mountaineer and explorer in Nepal and Burma. This was a brief interlude before he embarked on his long standing romance with the sea which he describes as 'The sea's most powerful spell is romance; that romance which, in the course of time had gathered round the ships and men who from the beginning have sailed upon it - the strange coasts and the discoveries, the storms and the hardships, the fighting and trading and all the strange things which have happened and do happen to those who venture upon it".
The author brilliantly brings out the lure of sea in Tilman's life, the sea represents death and in its endless waste Tilman found peace. He took up deep sea sailing on a Bristol pilot cutter Mischief and explored the Arctic and Antarctic waters where he finally met his end in the icy Antartic waters.
The author Tim Madge has written the biography of Bill Tilman with a great deal of elan and brings out the sensitivity of the man, the explorer and adventurer in the various facets of this enduring saga of its fantastic and yet low profile career. This excellent book recalls the ancient quality of a man as an explorer and adventurer and is a compulsory reading for mountaineering enthusiasts.
THE HIMALAYA IN MY SKETCH-BOOK. By Geeta Kapadia. Pp. 144.54 b/w ink sketches, 1996. (Indus Publishing Company. New Delhi, Rs. 500).
In England it is raining. From outside the office I hear the drone of traffic and the splash of puddles thrown against the pavement. Everything is damp and grey.
Geeta Kapadia's new book is the perfect antidote, reviving the spirit with memories of the clear, bright light of the Himalaya. It is a collection of monochrome pen and ink sketches, which might not seem the best cure for English greyness. Better, you might think, to reach for another extravagant volume of lavish colour printing; but you can only take so much glorious technicolour before the eye becomes satiated. After a while you appreciate subtle suggestion, rather than the glaring statement. Geeta Kapadia's drawings achieve the former, focusing on some of the details that make Himalayan journeys so memorable and, by association, evoking all the brilliant light and colour that is never anyway going to be captured fully in a photograph.
The details I like include the river windings of the Sangla valley, in Kinnaur, the abstract patterns of Ki monastery in Spiti, and , the suspension bridges which are such a feature of any Himalayan journey. But what really holds the drawings together and gives them purpose is the accompanying text, covering over twenty years of trekking in India and Nepal for those of us who aspitre to great deeds on precipitous walls, Geeta's evocation for trekking at slightly lower altitude is a reminder of what ambition can easily overlook. She captures the universal contentment of food, warmth and comfort after a hard day's exercise. She brings back the scent of juniper and the tingling sensation of the thin cold air. She reminds us of the local deities and she describes friendships with some of the famous Sherpas like Pertemba, Navvang Gombu and Gyalzen.
Having trekked with the Kapadia family and their Bombay friends, I particularly enjoyed having personal memories triggered. Food, of course, is paramount in any Kapadia venture and I was delighted by the reminder of crispy Bombay bhel - the perfect instant snack, which we guzzled greedily in the Pyunshani valley four years ago. But most of all. it is the sense of shared endeavour - of companionship and laughter, with the loyal support of the Kumaoni men from Harkot - which comes flooding back.
MIXED EMOTIONS. By Greg Child. Pp. 255, 1993. (The Mountaineers, Seattle, Paperback $ 14.95).
"I've never been certain whether I'm a climber who writes or a writer who climbs" says Greg Child in his preface. The only time he was scared witless on a climbing trip was while crossing a stream on a camel. Writing, on the other hand, he says, required courage. The courage has paid off because this is an immensely readable book.
Mixed Emotions covers two decades of a passion which may have remained undiscovered if Child had not been bitten by a deadly snake when he was a teenager. Thereafter he abandoned snake collecting as a hobby and sought refuge in climbing. It wasn't quite so simple of course but since Child tells the story well, we'll skip a precis. He evokes the exhilaration and confusion of mountaineering, muses about the impact of the Siachen conflict on road building, and of roads on the trees which are hacked down because transportation is so easy. Child also considers how mountain tourism in the Karakoram has brought more money for the locals but created a food shortage because ploughers of fields and tillers of land are looking for jobs as porters. Child is not just another sentimental sahib, however, because he does present alternative points of view even though his attempt at a local persona ('In Another Voice') doesn't quite come off.
The section on rock climbing will, I'm sure, be deliriously fascinating for the cognoscenti as will the one on mysterious companions in high places for those who have experienced such things. I personally liked 'K2', 'Journeys' and 'Meetings with Remarkable Men' for simple, earthbound, pedestrian reasons. Despite all the scientific reasons for it, there is a silly appeal about naming a gigantic, nearly inaccessible mountain K2. But these bits will come alive for non-climbing mountain maniacs if they are read along with something like Galen Rowell's more historical account. (Rowel 1 has pictures, too. Child has none apart from those on the cover and then there's some arty fudging of mists and Everest. Not in the best traditions of mountain photography).
Child's account of the Czech, Vostek Kurtyka. fleshes out their differences. Kurtyka and Kukuzka climbed 8000ers between 1982 and 1984, and then came an 'ethical' split. Kukuzka rushed to compete with Messner in an almost hysterical frenzy whereas Kurtyka enjoyed a safer style of mountaineering. Like Child's other 'Remarkable Men', Kurtyka wanted to live so that he could climb, Child says - in one of his many passages of absolute and blessed sanity - that for Kurtkya.
The attitude that the 8000ers have more significance than other peaks is ludicrous. If converted from meters to feet, an 8000er becomes a 26.240-foot-high peak: where, asks Voytek. is the magic in a clumsy number like that? If 26,000 feet were the hallmark of a notable peak, then the collectors would have twenty-seven summits to climb (twenty-eight if one stands on someone's shoulders on the summit of Kangbachen in Nepal), (p. 183)
In another of these engaging portraits. Child's 'working-class hero'. Don Whillan, watches Doug Scott's laid-back approach to organising climbing binges and comments that the team couldn't organise 'a fuck in a brothel'. Whillan's tasty one-liners were legendary. His near-perfect expression of incompetence is no reflection on his friend or on Child's really good piece on Doug Scott.
is a knowledgeable, sensible, compassionate telling of mountain tales. Even the bits about crawling over rocks in America which, Child says, have a self-consciousness that characterised such prose in the 1970s, make good reading.
The finished product, alas, is another matter. A book that falls apart as you read is a terrible nuisance. The publishers could learn something about binding from India's ancillary cottage industry to the book trade. Generations of readers won't be able to dismember the remade copy of Mixed Emotions
in the Himalayan Club library at Delhi.
GEOFFREY WINTHROP YOUNG. Poet, Mountaineer, Educator. By Alan Hankinson. Pp. 365. 39 b/w illustrations, 1995. (Hodder and Stoughton. London, £ 18.99).
I felt that I belonged to these mountains and that they belonged to me.
These are the words of Geoffrey Winthrop Young. Mountains meant a great passion for Young and he is known as the, 'Grand Old Man' of British Mountaineering.
Alan Hankinson has profiled the different hues in the character of Young first as a mountaineer, known for his exploratory1
climbs in the Alps, the poet who derived excitement and pleasure from his vivid and impressionistic accounts of mountains and mountaineering and finally as an educator who worked closely with Kurt Hahn to establish the Outward Bound Movement. He was, a liberal democrat and until the outbreak he was a frequent visitor to Germany where he met many of the liberal minded Germans, the army officers, teachers, lawyers and intelligentsia who vehemently opposed the philosophy and manifesto of the Nazi Party and its leader Adolf Hitler. The book skirts Young's meetings with leaders like President Roosevelt, Churchill, Baden Powell to name a few of the important leaders.
The book brings out the attitude of Young, his spirit of adventure and his indefatigable spirit at the loss of his leg in war.
The author has extensively researched Young's diaries and letters to write this book. One felt that perhaps a slicker editing could have brought the much needed vitality and highly charged attitude reminiscent of Young's life.
Vitality is the only thing that counts', Geoffrey Winthrop Young.
CAVING IN THE ABODE OF THE CLOUDS. The Caves and Karst of Meghalaya, Northeast India. By S.J. Brooks and CM. Smart (editors). Pp. 55. 11 illustrations, 1 map, 21 surveys. 1995. (CM. Smart, 6, The Cottage, Farleigh Wick, Bradford-on-Avon. BA15 2PU. England, £ 6).
When I reviewed Daniel Gabauer's splendidly authoritative 78/ Caves of India and Nepal
for the Himalayan Journal
Vol. 40, I regretted that he had been unable to obtain a permit to visit Meghalaya. and speculated that this is where the most spectacular Indian caves are likely to be found.
Since then travel restrictions have been eased; and in 1992 and 1994 joint expeditions from the Bristol Exploration and Orpheus Caving Clubs of England spent two months in the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills. This is their expeditions report, which fills the gap which was involuntarily left by Gebauer. It is very encouraging to note that the local people, both official and private, went out of their way to be helpful.
In addition to good field work, the authors have done their homework well. This report contains introductions to the history, geography, climate, flora, fauna, culture and speleo-history of the area. There then follows the main report. Thirty one caves varying in length from a few metres to the 4 1/2 km. Siju cave were explored. All these caves are described and locations given.
The appendices cover cave flora, fauna and fossils, medical report, travel and accommodation logistics, rock specimen analysis and survey notes.
This is a very thorough report which is a major contribution to the speleological and topographical literature of India. It deserves to be available in all the major speleological and Indian libraries, and will be essential reading for any future expedition to Meghalaya.
S. A. Craven
NEPAL HIMALAYA MAPS. Drawn by Manmohan Singh Bawa. Sheets 3 and 4. Scale 1: 200,000, 1995. (Leomann Maps, London, nps).
Survey of India was responsible for producing maps of the entire Himalayan range at first. They have excellent sheets, covering minute details and maps of big scales of the entire Himalayan range. But, alas, they are 'Restricted'! As a policy most of the maps of the Himalaya are not sold and all the maps near the international borders are prohibited. This includes even the coast line. Hence it is not possible to obtain contour maps of Bombay or the Western Ghats. Even for sketch-maps to be published as sheets or in a book many procedures are to be followed to obtain a permission.
Nepal luckily has followed more liberal and progressive policies. All the mountain areas are covered by maps and trekkers have access to maps and information to make their trips worthwhile. Thus the above two maps covering the areas of West Nepal are a welcome addition. These two sheets cover Annapurna Himal, Dhaulagiri Himal and Kanjiroba Himal. These are some of the most popular areas in west Nepal for trekkers and these maps should prove most useful. Behind the sheets one finds useful information about the range, stage-wise route details and general information about trekking and mountaineering in Nepal.
Though this is labelled as 'Trekking and Mountaineering Map' it will prove useful more to trekkers but mountaineers will certainly have to look for a detailed contour map. Two more sheets, are planned covering areas further west. These areas being more remote and less visited, these maps will be welcome.
Manmohan Singh Bawa, who has compiled these maps and the information, lives in Delhi and Dalhousie. These maps certainly shows the extent of his deep study and skills in cartography. Some years back he had produced some trekking maps of the Indian Himalaya. They had no heights mentioned due to the rules of Survey of India. Now he has produced proper trekking maps with all the details and heights. Lets us hope Bawa, with this excellent examples, now persuades the Indian authorities to rise to better 'heights' about maps.