DEEP PLAY. A climber’s odyssey from Llanberis to the big
walls. By Paul Pritchard. Pp. 192, 16 colour plates, 1997.
(Baton Wicks, London, 9 16.99).
Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air may have been the climbing best seller of 1997, but Deep Play by Paul Pritchard is the best statement of where the frontiers of climbing are at today. Don’t take my word for it. This was what Sir Chris Bonington said during a question and answer session on books and the climbers who write them at the Banff Mountain Book Festival last November. Deep Play was not even shortlisted for the Banff book awards, but it made up for this by winning the 1997 Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature instead.
Paul Pritchard is a British climber who hoped his skills on the slate quarries and sea cliffs of North Wales in the 1980s. His first Himalayan foray was to attempt the Catalan Pillar of Bhagirathi III with Johnny Dawes, Joe Simpson and Bob Drury, but taking some untimely stonefall on his arm put a premature end to his participation. After a series of increasingly ambitious climbs in South America, and a notable first ascent of the west face of Mount Asgard, he returned to the Himalaya to attempt the Shark’s Fin on Meru and later to achieve the Slovene Route on Trango Tower.
But the book he has written is not a mere tick list. It is far too idiosyncratic and emotionally charged for that. It’s about the people and the places, the discomforts and disappointments. It is funny and elegiac without ever becoming maudlin. But, above all, it is about the surface of rock and the whoosh of an adrenaline surge. Not for a long time has one climber been able to describe the excitement and terror of extreme climbing with such immediacy that the reader is left hanging from the same sling. Here is a young climber with bags of talent on and off the rock.
INTO THIN AIR. A Personal Account of the Everest Disaster.
By Jon Krakauer. Pp. 293, 22 colour plates, 1997. (Macmillan,
London, 9 11.10).
By any standards of mountaineering literature, this is a devastating book. Put Whymper’s Matterhorn story, that of Mallory on Everest, Bauer’s Kangchenjunga, and Herzog’s Annapurna together; the tragedies, the miseries, the trauma of six parties on Everest in one month, May 1996, surpasses all. It is also a climactic book, the climactic of three ages on Everest. The first was the heroic age of the pioneers from Mallory to Shipton, pure adventure of the spirit. The second from Bauer to Hunt to Bonington is a chauvinist era of national flags on summits. (Reinhold Messner is a spillover from the first age to the second.) The third burst on Everest in 1996 in a guide-client commercial age, as the Alps had known earlier; only Everest is too high, too dangerous, too mystical for the market. The only thing common to all three periods was the challenge of the highest summit on earth, and human ambition.
It once used to be said, great things happen when men and mountains meet. But when men, mountains, market and media meet, fostered by dollar-hungry governments, it becomes an explosive compound of human foibles, human greed, human heroism and human misery. Result: a massacre of 12 deaths out of a mass of 383 people going above base camp to seize that supreme prize on one dark night. For much more of that explosive compound with the wrath of Sagarmatha, read Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, and share that gamut of human actions and emotions of men and women who know deeply what they want, are prepared to pay upto $ 65,000 to get what they want, but know not what fate and mountain hold for them. Hypoxia at high altitudes kills the faculties. Only a devilish will drives on to disaster and death of incomparable magnitude. In a sense, this is an epic of modern man ranging from the mountain spirit to the market spirit. Jon Krakauer is its Homer in prose.
Imagine 12 expeditions at one time on both sides of Everest, ranging from two solo efforts by a Norwegian and a Swede to those upto 23 as guides, clients and Sherpas, including a Japanese and an Indian ITBP expedition from the North. Imagine the experienced and the inexperienced trying to wrest this supreme Himalayan prize in a 150-year old Alpine relationship of guide and client, so imperfectly conducted. Imagine the governments on both sides multiplying their dollar fees manifold for what the market can take, and it could take a lot, with murderous consequences. The market calculus omitted the risk element of the rage of Sagarmatha, waiting like an angry goddess to make man and market pay the ultimate price beyond dollars. And there you have the setting for this wrenching book.
Unlike most mountaineering accounts which read sequentially from preparations in the plains and the approach march, Krakauer’s book begins on his final moment on the summit, realising the ascent was only half the job; and then that surprising descent through a Piccadilly of ascending and descending climbers with a traffic jam on a single rope at the Hillary Step of all places, when waiting meant ‘losing brain cells by the million’. Then, from chapter 2, he works backwards from 1852, and the first discovery of the highest mountain on earth in an Indian survey office in Calcutta. From Kathmandu to the first two camps, a fascinating prelude of the dollar adventures; Rob Hall, who had put 39 climbers on Everest’s summit in the previous 5 years; and Scott Fisher, a strong Greek God of a man leading ‘Mountain Madness’; and others, all packaging ‘a limitless supply of clients out there if you can offer them a good product’, like the Seven Summits over 8000 m and Everest, man’s highest planetary ambitions. Both Hall and Fisher were made of epic stuff as mountaineers, promoter stars in a pop age; both hungering for respect, recognition and market domination, with energy, skill, spirit, and managerial competence.
An interesting aspect of Hall’s strategy was an acclimatisation plan of about a month, unladen for clients, from base to about 6700 m, building higher camps for the quick push to the summit from the South Col direct, with the minimum exposure to the wasting higher altitudes above. In retrospect, the author felt that the acclimatisation level should have been raised to 7300 m. From ‘the city of tents’ at base camp to the summit was all of 5 km high. A concomitant change from the past was that these clients were not encumbered; their energies reserved for the critical summit attempt beyond South Col. Sherpas made camps, cooked food, carried loads, and made routes. A clear division of roles between those who pay and those who are paid.
Then the fascinating account begins beyond the ‘eerie blue labyrinth’ of the icefall - not justifying the disparaging ‘yak route’ - to the politics and foibles of this mixed mass of
climbing aspirants, including Woodall, a semi-political leader of a South African party sitting astride the second and third eras of Everesters; to a wealthy lady, Sandy Pittman who came in high style with portable television, a video-player, and 4 Easter eggs to celebrate Easter on Everest, showing ‘unwavering self-absorption’. Then the irrepressible Sherpas torn between their normal sense of fun, watching what they called ‘sauce making’ in a lady’s tent at base camp, and a fearful disapproval of sex between unmarried couples on Sagarmatha’s sacred flanks. When the weather turned nasty later, one or another Sherpa complained, ‘Somebody has been sauce-making. Make bad luck. Now storm is coming’. Hall had already sensed in his wisdom that, with such a mixed goggle, trouble was ahead of them.
Krakauer takes us to the climax from 9 May, when 50 climbers made for the top from these multiple parties, going from hoped for sensible coordination, which Hall sought, to gathering chaos; no rope, each one for himself, guides separated from clients (unlike the Alps); a ‘mountain madness’ moving towards a Greek tragedy. Unlike in the past, ‘solitude was a rare commodity on Everest’. The author wrote, ‘I felt disconnected from the climbers around me - emotionally, spiritually, physically..... We were a team in name only’. After midnight, 33 climbers left for the summit on that fateful 10 May. Two parties, Japanese and Indian, were also ascending from the North. ‘The night has a cold phantasmal beauty’. But far to the southeast on the Indo-Nepal frontier, ‘colossal thunder clouds drifted over the malarial swamps of the Terai, illuminating the heavens with surreal bursts of orange and blue lightening’. For the climbers that distant portent must have been far away. Hall had given his crew clear instructions about the time to turn back wherever they were, between 1 and 2 p.m. But in that disorderly situation, climbers went beyond 4 p.m., including Hall.
Then Sagarmatha struck with terror that evening and that night, scattering 19 men and women all over the upper reaches of Everest in her stormy wrath; freezing, blinding, knocking the last stuffing out of brave and strong men. The author tells us of the best and worst in human nature before and during the grim events. There were some truly heroic feats. Rob Hall, a 3-time earlier summiter, dutifully waiting on the freezing summit slopes for his friend, Andy Harris, whom he pressed to come after two earlier near-failures on the summit. There he died stoically to the end, after speaking to his companions below, and to his wife in New Zealand on the radio, after 16 death-defying hours without oxygen in a wind-chill 1000 below zero. Earlier, he had said about the prospects of rescue from the summit ridge: ‘You might as well be on the moon’. There was that tremendous human effort without oxygen of Sherpa Sirdar Lobsang Jangbu, loyal to his leader and his clients, doing incredible feats of strength and spirit to save those lost and frozen. There was that titanic Russian guide, Anatoli Boukreev, also making frequent rallies from a storm-torn South Col tent to save the scattered wreckage of fellow climbers, who were resigned to die in unbearable cold and exhaustion. There was the miraculous Beck Weathers, whose eyes froze and was given up for blind on the summit ridge, unbelievably walking back to South Col tents with a greeting uplifted frozen arm like a reincarnated mummy; and then his quiet, courageous descent back to base; a true triumph of the spirit of a model of serenity in adversity.
And there were also examples of others, especially from South Africa and Japan, who indifferently passed frozen bodies, with not a gesture of help. One Japanese said, ‘Above 8000 m is not a place where people can afford morality.’ It is a hard, sad reality. The storm was so severe, the IMAX team at Camp 2 reported ‘the wind over the summit sounded like a squadron of 747’s even from 7000 ft below’. Never was such carnage on one mountain at one time. This was not Everest’s ‘master card’, to which Shipton referred in the case of one or two climbers’ forgetfulness pre-1940. It was Sagarmatha’s angriest sweep of a deadly hand against a whole mass of people who dared deny her the respect due to the world’s highest, engineered by the market. Perhaps sanctity and humility were missing in the market’s calculus. Sagarmatha, the highest point of the planet and Lobuje, the world’s largest shit-hole, can't go together. The two governments and the world's leading mountain clubs need to put heads together for a physical, environmental, spiritual revival of the Everest region, with a sense of respect and sanctity, like St. Peters or the Potala.
Never again, must be the reaction of reasonable men. In the very first chapter, the author asks, ‘Why did veteran guides keep moving upward into an apparent death-trap’, when the weather began to deteriorate? At the end of the book a climber asks, ‘What have we done to make this mountain so angry?’ Such questions have been asked since Mallory’s day. Climbers like Jon Krakauer say thoughtfully, it is a part of ‘the enigma of mortality’.
Climbers will always seek that enigma’s answers. But for those below not obsessed by the enigma, the answers may lie with the system of this third commercial phase on Everest, the market mind-set, which includes dollar-hungry governments. That needs a policy re-think. Those far below 8500 m should have some pragmatic morality beyond an appetite for dollars.
Jon Krakauer has produced an exceptional book of an exceptional experience. To have felt the torments of conscience, and to have written such a book on return, calls for the world’s sympathy and admiration. The book is riveting and un-put-downable. It reads like a novel with excellent characterisation and descriptions of events. He has a striking turn of phrase too. The trek beyond Tengboche was ‘in an ambrosial blur’, and the Everest region’s peaks looked like ‘the Valkyrian sky-line’. The Khumbu icefall was ‘a frozen, groaning disorder’. ‘A single rope snaked up the Lhotse face’. As a reviewer, I am not ashamed to say this book moved me to tears.
A. D. MODDIE
Ps. In marked contrast, there is the exemplary, disciplined, roped, well-planned ascent of the NE ridge of Everest by the Nippon University expedition in 1997 for the first time.
THE CLIMB. By Anatoli Boukreev and G. Weston de Walt.
Pp. 256, 16 colour plates, 2 maps, 1997. (St. Martins Press,
New York, $ 24.95).
The accident waiting to happen was how the climbing world looked on the May 1996 Everest disasters. in all twelve climbers were lost high on the mountain, but the focus of English-speaking attention noted in particularly on two commercial expeditions which between them lost five climbers, including both experienced and respect leaders. Since then there have been many books in whole or part analysing what went wrong and apportioning praise or blame.
First off the mark was Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, gripping reportage and for sheer readability alone a deserved bestseller. But Krakauer, a client of Rob Hall’s Adventure Consultants, levels some serious criticism at the played by Anatoli Boukreev, head climbing guide of the Seattle-based Mountain Madness team and The Climb is Boukreev’s answer to this and his account of events as he saw them.
His book does not give the overview Krakauer achieves and suffers from the need to have someone talking over his shoulder (his English was not good enough for him to manage without a co-author), but it is still an absorbing insight into the wheeling-dealing background of commercial expeditioning and a sober firsthand retelling of the deterioration of events on the mountain itself. More importantly, it raises the crucial question of how far a client’s hand should be held on an 8000-metre peak. Boukreev felt his job was to use his high-altitude experience to get the less experienced climbers sufficiently acclimatised to be able to look after themselves on the upper reaches of the mountain, with the unspoken corrollary that if they weren’t able to do that, they had no right to be up there. Apart from anything else, his poor English made it difficult for him to be a good tour guide decision-maker every metre of the way, which was what some clients appeared to expect or need.
The catalogue of mistakes piled up by both expeditions makes chilling reading with the benefit of hindsight. But when disaster struck on the descent from the summit, it was Boukreev’s experience and phenomenal stamina that saved the lives of three people who would otherwise have died on the South Col on the nights of 10-12 May - a fact which was recognised by an American Alpine Club citation in December 1997. Days later, sadly, Boukreev himself died in an avalanche on the South Face of Annapurna I on Christmas Day. Equally sad is the fact that there seems nothing to stop the Everest tragedy duplicating itself in another season on another 8000 m peak.
EXPLORING KINNAUR AND SPITI IN THE TRANS-HIMALAYA.
By Deepak Sanan and Dhanu Swadi. Pp. 336, b&w photos,
sketch-maps, 1998. (Indus Publishing co., New Delhi, Rs. 450).
The district of Kinnaur has been home to some distinguished administrators. Considered remote and generally inhospitable, it has not been a preferred posting, attracting instead civil servants
of a different kind, possessed of curiosity and zeal and dedication. Nalini Jayal, who spent more than a decade at the helm of its affairs starting in the 1960s and introduced the concept of development, is perhaps the doyen of them all. There have been others, and certainly Deepak Sanan who with his wife Dhanu Swadi spent the early 1990s there, ranks high among this rare breed.
Exploring Kinnaur and Spiti is their gift to their friends as well as the growing band of aficionados of these remote mountains. Some would argue that the band is growing too rapidly, and that ecologically delicate regions like Kinnaur and Spiti should be better insulated from the outside world. But this is the era of information and communication, of democracy and development, and there can be no effective protection from the ‘Outsider’ save natural remoteness and sensitive administrators.
Though the authors lived in Kinnaur, their interest encompasses Spiti as well. This is logical. Though administratively, most of the Spiti valley has looked westwards to Lahaul for its sustenance, in spite of the barrier of the Kunzum la, access to it is easier from Kinnaur, through the dramatic gorges that mark the confluence of the Spiti and Satluj rivers. The lower Spiti basin, known as Hangrang, falls in Kinnaur district, and upper Spiti extends seamlessly into its own administrative domain.
Sanan and Swati have actually produced two books in one. The first 80 pages are a quick introduction to the land and its people - more accurately, the lands and peoples of the two regions. Though some of the writing is dry and instructional in style and divided into predictable compartments, it is comprehensive, and aimed at the interested traveller rather than the scholar. It serves its purposes well, introducing to the reader the basic features of the Kinnaur and Spiti, opened to foreign visitors only three years ago, as well as necessary details about permits and regulations. Its values lies in its underpinning of personal knowledge: this is not merely a researched account, it often has a participatory flavour that lends credibility to the writing.
The second and larger part of the book is a thorough and extremely useful guide to exploring Kinnaur and Spiti. As the authors make clear, this is forbidding terrain, nowhere less than 1200 m high, reaching to 7000 m at its highest. It is not to be taken lightly, though accessible and moderate explorations are now available to the adventurous visitor in such beautiful areas as the Sangla valley. Kinnaur and Spiti are really a trekkers and climbers paradise. And Sanan and Swadi have provided enough material to keep the average mountain lover occupied for a lifetime.
This too is in two parts. The first is an introduction to the main centres and valleys through which any visitor is likely to pass and beyond which only the hardy are likely to go. Thoughtfully, the authors have provided a comprehensive guide to accommodation and facilities, distances, useful words in the local language and a host of other information that renders it easier to make plans. Maps, how-to and what-to-do details, and photographs (though the quality of reproduction often leaves one unsatisfied) all add to the worth of the guides.
The most valuable part is the description of treks. As experienced trekkers in India know, there is a dearth of reliable information. In other days, when time was less of a problem and there was hardly anyone on the trail, it was a wholly different experience relying on local guides, asking ones way about. Today, trekkers expectations are different and accurate information is a greater need. Treks described by Sanan and Swadi have the reassuring ring of authenticity and that is a great achievement. And while it may not be entirely possible for a trekker to be equipped with this book alone and march off into the hidden valleys guideless, Exploring Kinnaur and Spiti comes as close as is possible to performing such a function, particularly for the Kinnaur and Kinnaur to Spiti routes.
So whether it is a two-day walk up to the Rupin pass, a seek to 10-day crossing of the Pin Parvati Pass, or the parikrama of Kinnaur Kailash, descriptions of what to expect are now at hand. If there is any criticism it is that this is a handbook, and ought to have been produced like one rather than a hard-cover library book. This genre of guidebooks, such as the Lonely Planet or Insight guides, now comes in a highly portable format, travel-resistant and user-friendly. Exploring Kinnaur and Spiti should have been like that.
CATALOGUE OF THE HIMALAYAN LITERATURE. Edited by
Yoshimi Yakushi. Pp. 1320, 1994. (Hakusuisha, Tokyo, Yen
(Available from Hakusuisha Publishing co., 3-24, Kanda-Ogawamachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0052, Japan. Discount for overseas consumer 27%: available at net Yen 42,340 plus Yen 2570 for registered sea mail)
The Himalaya has inspired much literature about several aspects of it- mountains, people, culture, architecture, language .... . It would be most difficult to track of published material about the range but for the monumental work like this one from Yoshimi Yakushi. Sometimes I read a title of a book with ‘Yakushi No.’ written after the title. This work is exhaustive and continuing affair. The only other work of similar nature, but narrower in its listing, I know of is Jill Neate’s Mountaineering and its Literature.
Visiting Kyoto, where the author lives, I had a chance to interact with this member of the Himalayan Club. He is a high school teacher. I first asked him on which programme he had used to compile this Catalogue, assuming it all can be done only on a computer.
‘It is entirely on card-index’, he proudly said. ‘When I started there were not many computers and once started I continued with this life-long passion’. To understand the enormity of this project one must see the statistics about its contents.
The Catalogue contains 9400 titles (7600 in European languages and 1800 in Japanese) Yakushi is compiling this for past 35 years and only 700 copies of this work, now in third edition, has been printed. He has also printed an addenda (of 1100 new titles) to bring it update about books published till 1995.
The Catalogue has several other features. Sven Hedin has maximum entries for books by one author: 38 different titles are published by him. Some of these works are translated in different languages totalling 75 translated works, and some titles has several volumes totalling 25 different volumes. So Sven Hedin has in all 138 works under his name !
The Ascent of Everest (John Hunt) and Annapurna (M. Herzog) has maximum entries for translated works - 11 and 10 respectively. The oldest book listed here is Yakushi No. K212, Kircher, Athanasius : China Monuments (1667) followed by E 125, Giorgi, Antonio : Alphabetum Tibetanum (1759). There are more interesting facets of this catalogue and more one spends time with it more interest it creates. This is a tribute to the Himalayan literature by Yakushi and all Himalayan lovers owe him a debt for this work.
The Catalogue is very easy to refer to. In the first half all the books are listed under their authors. The second half contains list of books published in the Japanese with their titles written in English also. In the last part an Index lists all the books by its titles. The only references to the Journals are missing.
As we talked he produced a copy of the Catalogue, marked in red with several additions and improvements. ‘I have about 100 new cards ready at present which are not yet printed. After few years I hope that a 4th edition will be printed. But I am not sure, time, funds, publishers - there are several problems.’
This is a monumental work and those who can afford it (its steep price is the only constraint) must add to the collection. It is a record of sorts to produce such a Catalogue and it will be referred for ages. The Catalogue may hold another record too; being one of the heaviest books : it weights 3 kg and 125 grams !
More strength to your cards, Yoshimi Yakushi !
RIDING THE RANGES. Travels on my motorcycle. By Bill
Aitken. Pp. 271, 8 photos, paperback, 1998. (Penguin Books,
New Delhi, Rs. 200).
Travellers and distinguished from others by their search for ‘an organic harmony between all matter and all activity, whose discovery is the purpose of their lives’. When this impulse is felt as ‘a spiritual necessity’, travel must rank with more serious forms of endeavour. Admittedly there are other ways of making the world’s acquaintance but the traveller is a slave to his
senses; his grasp of a fact can only be complete when reinforced by sensory evidence; he can know the world, in fact, when he hears and smells it. Bill Aitken’s book is an account of his magnificent obsession; motorcycling and mountains and rivers of India.
Bill Aitken has written one of the most unusual book on travel using the medium of motor bike to traverse through two of India’s great mountain ranges the Himalaya and the Sahyadris and sampling the astonishing spectrum of tastes and lifestyles that go to make a vibrantly diverse nation. ‘One thing may range riding taught me about mountains is that their barrier status is but another label created by human mind. Mountains do not block your way, they invite closer inspection by making you slow down and find a way around.’ The importance of these two mountain ranges is wonderfully captured by Aitken ‘the Sahyadri whips up the monsoon clouds and the altitude gained is sufficient to bring rain to the Gangetic regions where the upthrust of the Himalaya prevents it from escaping into Tibet’. The monsoons towering influence over every aspect of Indian life is fascinating.
Bill Aitken set out on a journey through the States of Jammu & Kashmir to the far eastern corner of India, Arunachal Pradesh to complete the Himalayan leg of his fascinating journey. It is a wonderfully descriptive account of the cultural complexity of India and his thoroughly captivating, at times zany, at times acerbic record of his observations of the Indian topography its inhabitants, and its culture. The anguish of Bill Aitken is evident when he incisively points out the extraordinary gamble taken by the politicians in the construction of the Tehri Dam and his gloom on Tehri’s impending submersion. His keen sense of observation and sense of history comes to the fore in each of his narratives. His ability to unravel the finer points of his enduring journey makes enjoyable reading to site an example the city of Gorakhpur and its association with Gorakhnath, a Siddha yogi belonging to the Tantric school and his followers are known as Kanphatas so named after the practice of splitting the centre of the ear to accommodate large ear-rings. The city of Gorka in Nepal is named after Gorakhnath and his descendants now form the hardy Gorkha race. Bill Aitken has skirted the subject of Topi or hat in the various hill tracts of India which makes fascinating reading. The detailed monograph on the topi is printed elsewhere in the Himalayan Journal. His observation on the plantations of Kerala which he describes as ‘Strangely, however, plantations still maintained in the names of British companies which their Indian owners prefer not to disturb, illustrating the proposition that while ideology may be a necessary input it should not in the way of traditional means to garner profit’ (Kerala has a electoral history of Communist government governing the State).
Another of his classic observations on the socio-economic aspect of the inhabitants living in the Sahyadri range depends on dwelling place, to quote Bill Aitken’. Another aspect the traveller notices is how the coastal dwellers, whether of Dakshin Kannad or of Andhra, represent a surplus economy that can afford the money and time for an extended package tour of the South in the plateau country of the Deccan, the less well-off farmer may make his way to Pandharpur or Puttaparthi to have communion with his God’. As Bill Aitken superbly summarises his love and obsession for the rivers and the mountains of India.’ Mountain chains, like the rivers they release (perennial in the North, seasonal in the peninsula), acquire a persona of their own. Whereas India’s rivers easily admit of feminine graces and win goddess status for their benefactions, entire ranges eluding manmade boundaries tend to escape popular personification. The Vedic hyms come nearest to capturing the sense of primal power the great mountain chains possess by whose greatness, these cloud-piercing mountains exist-let us worship that infinite source of wonder. Bill Aitken’s witty, unorthodox book, filled with wry humour and keen sense of observation and the often romantic reactions of a self-deprecating explorer, takes us where few Indian feet have trod. Bill Aitken belongs to that enduring set of travellers who investigate the world for their own inspiration and tirth-yatra which means Hindu pilgrimage.
To quote perhaps the earliest allusion to the practice of pilgrimage in Indian literature is to be found in the Aitareya Brahmana of the Rig Veda.
Flower-like the heels of the wanderer,
His body groweth and is fruitful;
All his sins disappear,
Slain by the toil of his journeying.
THE ORDINARY ROUTE. By Harold Drasdo. Pp.258, 20 b/w illustrations, paperback, 1997. (The Ernest Press, 912.50).
This book is about climbing- British rock climbing, a popular subject of climbing literature as focus or the backdrop of numerous books. There have been many books on the British climbing scene and most often they have pictured very effectively (even with some exaggeration) the very vigorous and energetic scene of beer, brawls, blondes and bravado providing the additional impetus for epic and extreme exploits on climbs, in bars and among the rest of non climbing world. Very few books have been reflective in intention, the focus being on events and action -climbing or otherwise- in the lives of climbers. Drasdo’s book feels different as all the action is there but the emphasis is on the experience of climbing and being a climber and not the act as such.
Drasdo has been climbing for fifty years and to express the varied experiences and ideas related to his long climbing career he has not used the sequential storytelling format but has treated the book as a tool for a free flowing trip through his fifty climbing years not necessarily looking at everything, even passing by as he confesses some of his most important climbs and mountain experiences in the interest of the form of the book to evolve naturally surprising even the author with the directions and stops his narrative takes.
Some order and direction of course is evident as the book starts with his formative years as a climber starting to climb in the immediate post war years and is full of anecdotes and graphic descriptions of climbs and events that build up the feel of that era of British climbing. The next section of the book Drasdo focuses on what he calls the adversities of climbing as he explores them as abstract events and personal experiences serious, sad or amusing and weaving interesting ideas and insightful observations to frame them. These are about falling ,about getting lost, about bivouacs and strangely about writing guidebooks (of which he has written two)-necessary discomforts which characterise and heighten his experience of climbing.
After coming to terms with adversities the book enters into romance of the climbing experience, of travelling and climbing in exotic wild and not so wild places, of exploring new areas and climbing long cherished routes. Descriptions of locales and climbs still remain subdued and yet graphic.
In the final section Drasdo shares his concerns about the current issues that confront British climbing and also hold relevance for climbers everywhere -namely the problems of access and conservation, the quality of the climbing experience amidst ever increasing attention towards pushing the grades of climbing performance and of course the debate about the ethics of modern ways of putting up new routes and climbing them. He defines and makes a case in support of the Ordinary Route-the easiest classic route with aesthetic and technical integrity in an area and which can be appreciated and enjoyed by climbers in the widest spectrum of technical ability.
The last essay called ‘Grammar’ equips the uninitiated with a general understanding of the process of climbing and the necessary terminology to be able to appreciate these ethical concerns. The passionate sections about restricted public access to common land in Britain, the urgent need and the politics involved in conservation efforts and non efforts , read in conjunction with maybe Gary Snyder’s essay` The place, The region, and The commons ‘(The Practice of the Wild,1990) would form instructive reading even for climbers and administrators in the Indian context where the important rock climbing area of Dhauj is under imminent threat of destruction.
The timeless values in climbing - the aesthetics, exploration, exposure, effort and evolution have remained unchanged over the years even though peppered by the different prevalent flavours of the times be it gentlemen imperial explorers , the working class anti war strains in the first half of this century, the psychedelic anti establishment years till the seventies and the increasingly media and sponsorship driven fluorescent colours of the present day which are already giving way to shades of green. Drasdo travels through these with ease, sharing his experiences, his values, his opinions and his insights into this whole game of a climbers life with literary restraint and subtlety even at the risk of becoming dry once in a while but the easy conversational style of the text, the loose sequencing of persons, events and situations juxtaposing over each other or emerging through whatever channels his thoughts take fancy of following, pull the script through any tedious passages in this ‘ordinary route’ through the climbing life of Harold Drasdo.
THE DUKE OF THE ABRUZZI : An Explorer’s Life. By Mirella
Tenderini and Michael Shandrick. Pp. 188, 33 photos, 1997.
(Baton Wicks, London, 9 17.99).
The age of polar and Himalayan exploration, at the turn of the century, produced many household names: Amundsen, Scott and Pearey, Mallory and Irwin. These men reached the South and North Poles, lost their lives attempting to reach the summit of Everest, and heralded a new era for the exploration of the earth’s wilderness areas. Luigi Amedeo di Savoia-Aosta, better known as the Duke of the Abruzzi, is more familiar to climbers and lovers of the open spaces than the general public. But just as his place in history is ensured by the expeditions he ran, his remarkable life and personality make him a compelling figure. Tenderini and Shandrick wrote this book without ever meeting a feat made possible only by the Internet and electronic mail. They have produced a readable and entertaining account of the life of a man of many parts, an explorer, traveller, author, diplomat, naval commander, would-be-car-rallyistùand a crown prince of Italy.
The naming of a spur on K2 after him commemorates the Duke. But if his attempt on that and some other mountains in the Baltoro region, including Chogolisa, did not succeed, he did at least inaugurate the route by which fellow Italians Compagnoni and Lacedelli made the first ascent of the mountain.
The Duke’s life did not, in fact, revolve around K2. Born in 1873 into the House of Savoy at a time when his father had been selected by Spain’s Council of Ministers to be King of Spain ‘a phenomenon straight out of the storybooks’ young Luigi seems to have inherited a fondness for the outdoors. As a 19year old he climbed his first Alpine summit and followed that up with several seasons of climbing even though he was being readied for a career on the high seas. Among his notable climbs was the second ascent of the Zmutt ridge of the Matterhorn in the company of Mummery, who had made the first ascent some years earlier. A round-the-world journey brought him to Calcutta in 1895 when he took advantage of a month-long break to visit Darjeeling and gaze upon Kangchenjunga.
As a young adult, the Duke embarked on a series of remarkable explorations in different parts of the earth. Accompanied by guides and the celebrated photographer Vittorio Sella, some of whose pictures adorn the pages of this slim volume, in 1897 he made the first ascent of the 5489 m high Mount Saint Elias, on the border of Alaska and the Canadian Yukon. The highly readable account of this expedition reveals the flavour of mountain travel at the turn of the century, complete with a discussion on the merits of sleeping on the ground versus the iron bedsteads favoured by the Duke. Anomalous as sounds, the expedition also sought to save weight by taking lightweight tents designed by Mummery that checked in at less than two kilos.
Two years later came an abortive attempt to reach the North Pole, and in 1906 he led the first ascent of the highest point of Ruewenzori range in, Margherita peak, 5109 m, along what is now the border between Uganda and Zaire.
Climbing and exploration went hand in hand with increasing naval duties; as befitted a prince, responsibility and rank came early in life. Sadly, marriage did not. In 1906 or 1907 - depending on which account is believed Luigi met the daughter of a wealthy American businessman and senator, Katherine Elkins. He was 34 and she 21. The press was interested in the Duke’s explorations and climbs, but his love life got the greater attention. Some American reporters were behaving like today’s papparazzi even then. But they weren’t the problem: his family, starting with the King, was. Elder brother Emanuele Filiberto, had married for political reasons, and they now opposed the Duke’s marriage to a foreign commoner. Katherine’s father grew tired of waiting for the Duke to make up his mind and voiced his apprehensions publicly. The story of the break is vividly told, and the result was that the Duke remained a bachelor all his life.
His naval career was more successful. He fought a controversial engagement with the Turkish navy in 1911 and already an admiral in his mid-thirties, went on to command the Italian navy in the Adriatic during World War I. The rise of Mussolini after the war saw the Duke, who seemed to have little interest in politics, decide to leave Italy for what was then Somaliland, where he set up an experimental agricultural enterprise. It was here that in 1933, stricken with cancer, Luigi died, preferring this to be his final resting-place rather than Italy where he was still a national hero. His reason says much for the man he was : ‘I prefer that around my tomb there be entwined the fantasies of Somali women, rather than the hypocrisies of civilized men.’
DARK SHADOWS FALLING. By Joe Simpson, Pp. 207, 27 colour photographs, 1997. (Jonathan Cape, London 9 15.99)
Why and how people climb mountains has changed tremendously over the years and efforts of Joe Simpson with first book Touching the Void and later his other books, have surely added value to the discussion within the climbing community, on the driving forces and the ethics of climbing. His latest book Dark Shadows Falling is a very pertinent effort to critically look at some of the disturbing current trends of modern Himalayan climbing Mountaineering is a serious endeavour for the expert and the novice, the choices they face and make and even the situations they ignore or are unaware, - can be fatal.
Unfortunately all is not well in the climbing scene and most climbers have either experienced, witnessed or are aware of irresponsible, unethical and one dare say inhuman acts and practices that seem to continue to grow within the ever increasing number of climbers and mountaineers. Himalaya being the most coveted and the most extreme, coupled with the economic and cultural conditions of their countries seem to be the site of most of the this degeneration which has ranged from exploitation of locals to environmental and socio cultural pollution, to callous and criminal disregard for human life.
Joe Simpson’s book revolves around Himalayan climbing and raises a lot of questions about mountaineering ethics in general and the extreme case of ethics in life threatening situations in particular. It starts with details of an incident that occurred in 1992 on Everest where two mountaineering teams wilfully ignored to rescue two dying Indian climbers on South col and who died in front of their eyes. He then recounts the tragedy that occurred on various routes on Everest in the spring of 1996 when 12 climbers lost lives on the mountain and an incident similar to 1992 occurred when Japanese climbers jumared past three dying Indian climbers without bothering to help. This same tragedy also saw some truly heroic rescues of the stranded climbers and guides. The book takes one through several similar kind of incidents where climbing mountains seems more like a pressure/ an any which way compulsion/an obsession with various kinds of vested interests. He has seriously tried to express his concern towards the environmental strain on the mountains and prevalent style of huge packaged siege style ascents happening in the Himalaya. The highly organised climbing expeditions guided by professionals with fixed ropes, Oxygen bottles etc. with inexperienced, ambitious and rich clients and the over crowding at popular summits like Everest have brought about a great degree insensitivity in the climbing scene. He finds it unforgivable that climbers can treat their fellow mountaineers with such callous disregard and exclaims ‘If shutting the door on a mans last imploring gesture, or avoiding eye contact while climbing sternly past three dying men, are the requisite skills for modern high altitude climbing, then I want none of it’. Along the way he is also trying to build a historical perspective recalling the examples of Shipton, Tilman, Herzog etc. and their attitudes towards the rescue of other fellow climbers and their perception of climbing mountains thus highlighting the contrast with some modern situations.
Joe expresses his honest confusion over the dramatic change in the climbing scene and tries to explore the reasons behind such obstinate behaviours in the mountains through out the book. He discusses in detail the commercialisation of the mountain climbing by giving examples of Everest expeditions and questions the ethics of guiding inexperienced clients up high peaks. He admits that whole perspective can be uncritical and this can be treated as just another approach towards climbing but such things have led for example to potentially fatal traffic jamming in 1993 when some 40 climbers stood on the Everest in one single day. The percussion of such kind of climbing situations are explored in detail by the author.
The role of media in misinterpreting the climbing scene is another concern shown by Simpson which only to the general ignorance towards the mountain climbing. He sites a few examples like the death of a wonderful female climber Alison Hargreaves on K2 and Luke and Eva Parker deaths in the Canadian Rockies and how their stories were twisted and misinterpreted badly by the media. He delves further into media generated type with the background of climbing in an environmental disaster area in England acknowledging the all too obvious effects of a highly commercialised media and politics have in colouring public opinion, fears and aspirations. This has everything to do with mountaineering becoming a saleable commodity and the mountains, their environment and even the human help purchased to enable climbing, falling to the status of expendables - mere packaging for the shiny new status booster that high Himalayan climbing has become for some. Harrowing accounts of criminal mountain
behaviours when trekking and climbing parties left their ill equipped Sherpa porters to die in the severe blizzard that ripped through the central Himalaya in autumn of 1995 illustrate sadly that dark shadows are clearly falling on mountaineering.
All is not dark through and there are many instances of heroic rescue efforts, compassion for fellow climbers and victims and the resulting superb feats of mountaineering throughout the book. Simpson’s own experience in 1996 on Pumori an expedition to which he devotes a part of the book, is one such case. The expedition started with jinx when he came to know that their long planned new route on the mountain had been climbed by others. Later the jinx carried on during the expedition and except for Simpson and Delaney everybody had to abandon the new route. Their entertaining base camp discussion about neighbouring teams climbing with the help of Sherpas of fixed ropes and about Haebler who was abandoned so simply and without remorse, after his fellow climber Ray Delaney suffers from high altitude sickness high on the route.
Joe Simpson is eminently qualified to engage a discussion and lend an insiders perspective to the issues of the book being an active and serious mountaineer and having being on the receiving end of many epic accidents and subsequent rescues. Losing a lot of friends to the mountains, returning to mountains after resolving to keep away, falling to climb after enormous preparations, are all intense experience that seem to have tempered his sensibility. Simpson is forthright in his enquiry and honest in analysing himself and expressing self doubt-ingredients that add value to his opinions and give freedom to the readers to evolve their own understanding. His accounts and arguments are either first hand experiences or discussions with people who have been in these situations. His despair is real, ‘If climbers cannot afford morality and ethical behaviour becomes too expensive, then has the sport become prostituted ?’ he asks.
Simpson may sound rough towards certain people in the book but then may be he is letting them off lightly. A point that does hanker a little is when he goes on about the incompetent decision of three ITBP climbers to carry on to the summit late in the afternoon in gathering bad weather. Small errors of judgement have killed the best of climbers whereas many have emerged unscathed out of foolhardy exploits. There is sometimes very fine line between death and heroism and fuzzy barriers between competence and good luck. Personally knowing T. Samanla who was one of the strongest mountaineers in India it is hard to picture him allegedly obsessed by summit fever. Continuing in the India context the conduct of the ITBP team in 1992 does seem highly deplorable when they left two Indians of the civil expedition to die lonely deaths on the South Col. An incident which has been efficiently swept under the carpet here in India. This book is also of special relevance to Indian mountaineering institutions - civil and military - still obsessed by large siege style expeditions and an unhealthy fascination with Everest any which way. This book deserves a wide readership and we hope a robust lightweight paperback edition will be forthcoming as the hardbound edition has started to fall apart after first reading.
ALKA SABHARWAL AND PARAMJEET SINGH
RECENT RESEARCH ON LADAKH 6. Edited by Henry Osmaston
and Nawang Tsering. Pp. 374, 1997. (Motilal Banarsidass,
New Delhi, Rs. 300).
The landlocked remote and little known region of Ladakh in Northern India because of its inaccessible terrain and harsh climate has gained considerable importance and interest from all over the world ever since the Indian Government opened its doors to the outside world two decades ago making it one of the most important tourist destinations in the Himalayan belt - for its remoteness, strong Buddhist traditions and culture. Among the many visitors to Ladakh, few that have returned repeatedly to live amongst the people and study its History, Culture, Religion and traditions of which little is written about.
Recent Research On Ladakh is one such compact study book - outcome of one of the meetings organised by a group - The International Association For Ladakh Studies in 1993, which gives all those interested in Ladakh information on varied subjects that they might be interested in with the chapters presented in the form of lectures and discussions during such meetings by members from all over the world together with a few local representatives, experts in their respective fields. A contribution of all these various experts who have spent years specialising on their respective subjects, this book gives the most recent and up to date study covering a wide range of topics - history, tourism development, Social life, anthropology, health, education, hydel
power potential. The chapter on household integration and exchange among Buddhist and Muslims in Nubra valley is an interesting example giving a lot of details about the various activities and the integration existing in a community. Hydel Power and its potentials and problems, a new subject and development in Ladakh has been discussed in one of its chapters too. A well researched and informative book on Ladakh - its past and present, this book covering all topics would be very useful to students, scholars and provides interesting reading to all those travelling to Ladakh and especially to those interested in conducting programmes of various kinds to help in the development of Ladakh.
NEPAL HIMALAYA TREKKING. By Masayuki Nakamura and
Ryohei Uchida. Pp. 223, illustrated, 1997. (First Published
in 1995 by Yama-kei Publishers Co. Ltd., Tokyo, nps).
This book profiles 28 trekking courses in 8 areas of the Nepal Himalaya. The combination of painstaking detail in the day-byday description of each course, the vivid and colourful photographs and the excellent quality of publication make the book a valuable guide to trekking in the Nepal Himalaya.
Methodically structured, the book begins with 3 trekking courses in the Kangchenjunga region and moves westward to Khumbu Himal (5 treks), Rolwaling Himal (3 treks), Langtang Himal & Jugal Himal, Ganesh Himal, Manaslu Region, and ends with Annapurna Himal (7 treks) and Mustang Region. The itineraries for the courses range between 3 days and 14 days. Typical contents for each trek include: how to get to the starting point, map of the course, altitude graphs (with different colours used as warnings for altitude sickness), accommodations and standard times (hours taken) for each day’s trek. Each chapter is generously endowed with photographs of the sights along the trek-terraced fields, tranquil villages, rock faces, breathtaking panoramas of clouds swirling round snow clad peaks, prayer flags, pagodas and campsite scenes.
The text contains a day-by-day description of sights along the course and is written in a commentary format. What is striking is the extent of detail in the narrative. Consider this :
‘Today you will reach Muktinath, the final destination. From Kagbeni, climb the eastern flank onto the terrace and follow the path, which is joined by the path from Ekle Bhatti. From this point on, the path will go up on the gentle, sandy flank. Before long, you will see in front of you the Thorung Pass (5416 metres), which is a col with a rock spire on each side. Also in the back, Dhaulagiri I (8167 metres), which now looks different, is soaring up. You will be up on the place where big bodhi trees or pipal trees are growing. To your left, you will see Kinger which has about 30 houses standing close together. Move on and cross over the hill, and you will reach Jharkot, which has been turned into a castle. If you ascend a little more, you will come to Ranipowa which is dotted with many lodges.’
(day 6, from Ghorpani to Muktinath in the Annapurna Himal)
Interspersed in the book are two additional chapters - one on festivals in Nepal and the other on flowers of the Nepal Himalaya. The latter is a collection of 37 colourful photographs of spring and summer alpine flowers including multi hued rhododendrons, delicate lilies and irises and the thorny Meconopsis horridula.
The book also contains guides to the towns of Kathmandu and its suburbs, Pokhara, Patan, Bhaktapur as well as the Royal Chitwan National Park including maps and a brief description of major tourist sights. A handy feature is the last chapter on General Information and Trekking Advice with tips on preparation and formalities for going to Nepal, obtaining a trekking permit, transportation in Nepal, facilities for trekking and basic words and phrases in Nepalese.
The book is very useful to prepare for and during the Himalayan trek. It is also a visual delight. It certainly manages to go beyond being a trekker’s handbook, and is an informative pictorial, cartographic and narrative compilation for the armchair traveller.
Ryohei Uchida first visited Nepal in 1973 and since then he has made 45 visits to the country. Masayuki Nakamura has been on 20 treks in Nepal since his first visit in 1989. Both authors express deep sentiments towards the country in their ‘afterword’ to the book. Says Uchida, ‘Some feeling that wells up from deep inside of me or something that I cannot hold within myself is driving me to Nepal. Every time I visit Nepal, it shows me a
new face. ‘And Nakamura’, ....every time I visited Nepal I made new discoveries and encounters, which came to influence my lifestyle greatly’. This book is indeed reflective of the authors’ considerable experience in the Himalayan mountains and is an effort that manages to convey the fascination, sense of discovery and beauty that the country holds for them.
CHOMOLUNGMA SINGS THE BLUES. Travels around the
Everest. By Ed. Douglas. Pp. 226, 15 b/w illustrations,
2 maps, 1997. (Constable, London, 918.95).
Ed Douglas has written an extremely sensitive account of the fragility of the entire Himalayan region caused by tourism and in particular climbing in the Everest region.
The author has spent a lot of time in Nepal and Tibet and has met a large cross-section of people to ascertain his views. He talks about the social upheaval caused by a growing materialism from the outside world which has facilitated major political changes in Nepal. Today the entire region shines in the glitter of the 20th century. Corrugated roofs reflects sunlight off the newer buildings, the bazaar is festooned with brightly with coloured plastic buckets, replacements for the traditional hand tapped brass pots. Experts feel that the natural erosion of the Himalaya is the major cause of worsening floods in India and Bangladesh. The intrepid inhabitants of the region have long known how to live with nature. Mountain sides sculptured with meticulously craved terraces are a proof of the hill farmer’s ingenuity. Hydologically engineered terraces save soil from being washed away and help grow food on non-irrigated steep slopes with only a thin skin of top soil.
Douglas also skirts the issue of tourism. Many of Nepal’s environmental and social concerns preceded the arrival of tourists. The indulgent habits and the cultural contrasts of an alien influx leave an indelible mark on the country which is isolated by physical barriers. Like the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs, the tourism goose also fouls its nest. Even the high mountains have not escaped the environment problems. Recently in the South Col discarded oxygen cylinders, stoves, climbing gears were found. More serious fear is that mountaineering will further strain the already fragile ecosystem of the region. The Barun valley in Eastern Nepal the moraines are crumbling because of the mountaineering expedition on Makalu have uprooted the dwarf junipers to burn base camp kitchen fire. The social and economic problems of the Nepalese seem fleeting and inconsequential in the grand scale of geological time, a millisecond of historic consciousness in the limbo of drifting continents and colliding tectonic plates. Ed Douglas has written a very readable account of his travels around the Everest and sheds new and different light on the mountain and its people.
EPIC. Stories of survival from the world’s highest peaks. Ed. by
Clint Willis. Pp.342, 1997. (Thunder’s Mouth press, New
This book is a good compilation of some of the great mountaineers/writers in the business. Reading Epic is like going through the experience of some of the greatest action sequences in mountaineering. The book basically contains extracts from the books of renowned writers like Krakauer, Venables, Boardman, Herzog, Mathiessen, Tilman and Shipton to name a few.
Thoughts flood one’s mind about the first ascent of 8000 metre peak, the ascent of Annapurna by Maurice Herzog and his team. They had no experience of the hazards particular to the Himalaya. Herzog tragically lost most of his fingers and toes from frostbite. But sheer determination and grit saw the team through. Extracts of this great ascent is culled by Willis in the book. One of the profound piece of writing in Herzog’s book “Annapurna, to which we had gone empty handed, was a treasure on which we should live the rest of our days. With this realisation we turn the page: a new life begins. There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men.
The West Wall of Changabang is as severe a test of modern climbing skills . Nobody expected Joe Tasker and Peter Boardman to make it. Only their dreams and that crazy urge motivated them, backed by mutual trust and confidence in each other’s ability. The book Shining Mountain is a shining example of both ability as well as ethic and is an all time classic and absolutely indispensable if you want to make an ascent of the West Wall.
One of the problems of compiling a book such as this must be to decide what to include and what to omit. This book is enjoyable to read and gives that urge to read the complete book of each of these great climbers/writers. I for one felt that the book is incomplete without sketches, maps and photographs.
AGAINST THE WALL. By Simon Yates. Pp. 176, 18 colour
plates, 2 maps, paperback, 1997. (Jonathan Cape, London,
The author is the one who cut the rope in Joe Simpson’s book touching the Void. Now he has written about his climbs on hardest routes, on east face of the Central face of Tower of Paine in Chile.
FORBIDDEN JOURNEY. The Life of Alexandra David-Neel. By Barbara and Michael Foster. Pp. 363, 26 b & w photos, maps, 1998, first published in 1987. (Harper & Row, San Francisco, $ 21.95).
Alexandra David-Neel is well-known for her journey to Lhasa. Born in France she lived for 101 years and became an authority in her times on Tibet. This book, American edition of the 1987 original publication, recalls her life and journey. It brings to life what David-Neel had said, ‘Adventure is my only reason for living.’
DEATH ZONE. Climbing Everest Through Killer Storm. By
Matt Dickenson. Pp. 211, 17 colour and 18 b & w photos,
3 maps, 1997. (Random House, London, 9 16.99).
On 10 May 1996 a killer storm killed several mountaineers on Everest and it gave birth to several books on the storm and the tragedy it caused. This book covers the event on the northern side of the peak where the author was climbing with Alan Hinks. It considers the deaths of Indian mountaineers, Austrian on the peak, and author’s own climb. Like many before him he cannot resist wanting to call a ‘first’ - this time ‘first Briton to film on summit of Everest and return alive’ !
SAGARMATHA 1994 (in Japanese).
The ultimate climb of Everest was considered to be by its most difficult route (Southwest face) in most demanding season (winter). A Japanese expedition achieved this in 1994. Having failed earlier in a similar project, they built on past experience and finally climbed the peak in 1994. This book is in celebration of that climb. There are several photos with full story of the climb in English.
It contains two interesting articles written by Kuniaki Yagihara and Yoshio Ogata on their ascent of the Southwest Face of Everest in winter. Both the articles contain detailed expedition notes on the climb which make interesting reading. The book contains some wonderful photographs which captures the majesty and primal beauty of the various climbing zones of the Everest.
THE HIMALAYAN ASSOCIATION OF JAPAN 30TH YEAR CELEBRATION (1997) (in Japanese).
The Himalayan Association celebrated 30 years of existence in 1997. To celebrate the landmark they published this book which details all the expeditions undertaken by them over the years. It contains photos, routes and maps of each expedition with full details. The only hitch is that the text is in Japanese. However with the photos (with English captions) and sketch-maps this is an invaluable reference.