Himalayan Journal vol.58
The Himalayan Journal

Publication year:

Harish Kapadia
    (A. D. MODDIE)
    (Lt. Col. A. ABBEY)


KISS OR KILL: CONFESSIONS OF A SERIAL CLIMBER. By Mark Twight. Pp 206. (The Mountaineers, Books, Canadian $34.95).

Once in a while you come across a book you can't put down. Joe Simpson's Touching The Void was one such. For very different reasons, Mark Twight's "confessions" is another.

I read the book over a weekend in the hills in the shadow of the high Himalaya, alternative between a feeling of tremendous admiration for a skilled climber and an honest writer and dislike for someone who came across as extraordinarily selfish and one-dimensional. As the book continued, the two streams reactions seemed to fuse together confusingly. Just as the author mellows as the years pass, and something of the sensitivity behind the hard exterior became evident, so did my reactions as a reader.

I closed it feeling, ultimately, that here's one of the most candid, self-revealing work I've ever read by a mountain climber who gives no quarter to anyone, least of all himself. And for once there's no ambiguity about the Big Question: Why Climb? In Mark Twight's case it is a driving force to be the best and to thrash the competition. The result may not be everybody's cup of tea, but this collection of autobiographical articles, which won the first prize at last year's Banff Centre for Mountain Culture Book Festival, we have a book that compels attention and takes mountain literature in a new direction. Reactions will vary and they are likely to be extreme. As the author himself says, his title - taken from one of the pop songs he is addicted to while climbing on vertical rock and ice - expresses his mantra: "you either love what I say and do or hate it."

Here's some of what Twight says:

"Sure, I'm a self-centered asshole, but being obsessed is something not easily shared, nor is it often appreciated."

"Oh, precious ambition that feeds me, I worship your power with emotional violence."

"I ruined relationships to get used to the feeling of failure and sacrifice (it was much easier than holding on). I trained on an empty diet to learn how far I could push myself without food or water... .I spoke only strong words and ignored weakness at every turn, I subdued my fears. I was opinionated and direct. I became a man either well loved or truly hated."

"When I speak of competing with others in the mountains, I'm sure it disgusts some of you. You say it is contrary to mountaineering spirit. I can't agree, nor will I argue. Whether it is right or wrong, it happens. This unspoken, unorganised competition is the only way to force alpine climbing standards higher."

And, here's some of what he has done:

Made an unrepeated ascent of a route called Reality Bath on White Pyramid in Canada where the odds of getting killed from falling seracs are 50:50.

Nearly got himself killed attempting the second ascent - in alpine style unlike the siege ascent by Messner's party-of the Rupal face of Nanga Parbat, but saved the life of a companion attempting a new technically hard route on the north face of Everest.

Climbed solo or unroped with a companion (simu-solo) most of the great faces of the Alps, many of them in or close to record time.

Made five new routes in the French Alps, routes on Aiguille des Pelerins, Les Droits, Mt Blanc de Tacul, Aiguilles Sans Nom and Grandes Charmoz that weren't repeated for years.

Completed an exceptional route on Mt McKinley in 60 hours compared with the earlier best time of seven days.

Attempted the South Pillar of Nuptse in the winter.

Such single-mindedness has cost him dearly. The climbing is sprinkled with tales of relationships gone sour. Invited to Everest, Mark Twight prefers to go and strengthen his resume (by being better placed in the future to get sponsorship) than marry a woman he wants to. His mother and step-father, unable to understand, thought he should go for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Sometimes, as in Russia and Alaska, he washes dirty linen in public or tries to put the maximum distance between himself and his climbing companion.

Many of his friends and companions died, among them Alison Hargreaves, and Philippe Mohr, whose death in an accident on Aguille Sans Nom affected him deeply. Having lived many years in Chamonix, whose cemetery is full of men who died in their early 20s, Mark Twight says he shies away from close relationships. "If I don't know you and you die, it's easier for me," he writes. "I avoided friendship with my peers.... I did it to protect myself from pain."

Death and pain, suffering and hardship run a steady course through this book. "I understand my lifestyle may eventually kill me," the author writes, a remark which symbolizes the steady current of sombre, introspective questioning and intensity of feeling that runs through page after page. What is glaring is the absence of fun and lighter moments. Does hard, cutting-edge climbing leave no room for enjoyment?

Suman Dubey

THE GREAT ARC: The Dramatic Tale of How India was Mapped and Everest was Named. By John Keay. Pp. 182, 31 illustrations, 3 maps, 2000 (Harper Collins, London, GBP14.99).

Surveying and map making in today's satellite technology world is sophisticated, but perhaps not exciting and certainly not dangerous for the cartographer. In 1820, in India, when one's feet were planted firmly on tropical ground, surveying was a technically complex and physically demanding task which only trained and unreasonably dedicated persons could do with any success.

The Great Arc : The Dramatic Tale of how India was mapped and Everest was named, by John Keay is a free flowing account of two pioneering Britishers, who took successive charge of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India; William Lambton and George Everest (who later became the Surveyor General of India). Everest (whose name was pronounced to match cleave-rest) had the honour in his own lifetime, of having the world's highest mountain named after him. But if we grant those who did so, the privilege of "naming" the natural formations of the world, then Lambton appears to have deserved the honour at least as much.

Lambton was a somewhat retiring but completely dedicated perfectionist to the art and science of surveying in that era and was largely responsible for initiating and sustaining the mapping of the Great Indian Arc of the Meridian. This was the benchmark series of locations from coastline locations like Madras and Karachi, which painstakingly built up latitude, longitude and elevation information on the entire landscape of peninsular India and eventually, on the mountains in the north. This obsessively careful set of triangulations allowed later day geographers to certify the heights of the grand peaks of the Himalaya as initially among the tallest in the world, and subsequently to include the tallest of them all, variously called Peak gamma, then peak b, then peak h, then peak XV and finally, Mount Everest. The precise measurement of the peaks takes on significance as they are far from the baseline measurements at sea level and also because Mt Everest is one among many giants and even from close by, depending on the angle of view, not obviously the tallest of them all. The book establishes in a convincing manner the need for a careful build up of survey data. That was actually the major contribution of Everest and his predecessor, rather than the actual measurements of the Himalayan peaks.

In 1856, when the information about the peak was conveyed to the Asiatic Society in Calcutta, it had the name "Mont Everest", but this was changed before it was approved in London. They could do nothing about the subsequent and probably permanent mispronunciation of the name of the person after whom the peak was named.

Everest himself was a strong willed and cantankerous person who drove his subordinates hard. But he appears to have mellowed down in his last years and gained the admiration and respect of his colleagues. The name Mount Everest survived because of this and perhaps also because some of the competing local names for the peak were general (referring to an entire range rather than one peak) or too long (one Tibetan name roughly translates to "you cannot see the summit from near it, but you can see the summit from nine directions, and a bird which flies as high as the summit goes blind").

The book itself is equally about the mapping of the plains of India and the eventual, measured climb to the hills. It reads well as a professional biography of the two army-men turned surveyors, Lambton and Everest. The details on the science of surveying, about how measuring instruments themselves had to be calibrated, about the vulnerability to weather and atmospheric conditions (refraction in daytime plays a surprisingly crucial role), about how night surveying began, and about global dilemmas like the precise curvature of the earth, make for a fascinating read. There are a few sidelights on the beginnings of the colonial establishment, but much of the conflict is avoided as the book ends with the naming of Mount Everest, a year before the crucial events of 1857.

The culturally integrated personality of Lambton is reflected eventually, in his inconspicuous grave at Hinganghat near Nagpur whereas the stronger personality of George Everest puts a stamp on the Survey of India office in Dehra Dun, Hathipaon, his home and observatory near Mussoorie and of course the peak that he never saw, but which has his name.

Narayan Rangaraj

This book is a fascinating story about the Great Trigonometric Survey of India which began from 1800 to 1866. Each millennium has thrown up passion for doing something unique and one such passion that prevailed during those times was the accurate determination of the dimension of earth and the location of important geographical features based on latitude and longitude. The survey provided an indispensable tool in the acquisition of knowledge about India, when the frontiers where porous and largely delimited and the route survey served as a penetrative tool and a facilitator to a colonial expansion beyond the frontier and scientifically consolidate information on interior locations, to borrow a phrase from Metternich "a geographical expression with natural boundaries can only be understood with cartography".

The earliest attempt at computing distance was by a Greek scholar Eratosthenes around 250 B.C. He measured the distance between Alexandria and Syene in Egypt by measuring the summer solstice.The Great Trigonometric Survey was based on the principles of plane trigonometry and specifically, triangulation. Triangulation consists of the measurement of the angles of a series of triangles. If the distance along side of the triangle and the angles at each end are accurately measured, the other two sides and the remaining angle can be computed.

The author has dwelled more on the personas behind the Survey, William Lambton, who initiated the survey and died in obscurity in1832 while conducting the survey through Central India in Hinghanghat in Maharashtra and Sir George Everest the man who completed the survey.The book captures the politics behind the Survey and the geopolitical ambitions of the East India Company and its powerful principals in Great Britain.

The book capsules the forty years of high risk travel, ingenious improvisation and awesome dedication of both the personas involved the endearing hard working William Lambton and the bewhiskered and cantankerous successor George Everest.The author captures the enormity of the task when the team has to face tropical diseases, wild animals, insects and vagaries of nature in the tropics. Coupled with the technical and logistics of carting the giant theodolites through the country. The incident of hauling the giant theodolite on top of the gopuram of one of India grandest temples, the great Brihadeshwara temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located in Thanjavur in the Cauvery delta is fascinating.

In hindsight though the survey was supported as a great scientific endeavour, the Government of India had other pragmatic interests. As Matthew Edney an historian specializing in this particular period has aptly put it "Map making was intergral part of British imperialism in

India.The surveys and maps together transformed the subcontinent from exotic and largely unknown region into a well defined and knowable geographical entity.The empire might have defied the maps's extent, but mapping defined the empire's nature."

The history of the survey was relevant till recent times, when nowadays the technological thrust replaces conventional mapping methods. Now GIS and GPS throw up such great expectation as the survey once did. Time alone will tell how well these expectations are fulfilled.

John Keay has reproduced the excitement of the yesteryears and written in an unique style of English,a readable account of the one of the most enduring legacies of the British Raj.

Finally for us in the Himalayan club, it is not known whether or not George Everest ever laid his eyes on the great mountain that bears his name,but his triangulation network was extended and used to find the summit by Andrew Waugh, Everest successor. Waugh's admiration of Everest's achievements led to naming of Peak XV in the Himalayas. After its discovery by his team, Waugh wrote, "here is a mountain most probably the highest in the world without any local name that I can discover.." So he proposed."to perpetuate the memory of that illustrious master of geographical research. .Everest".

Raju Vasantraj

TOUCHING MY FATHER'S SOUL. By Jamling Tenzing Norgay with Broughton Coburn. Pp. 316, 40 colour 9 b/w, 2001 (Harper, San Fransisco, $26.00).

Everest must be approached with respect and love, the way a child climbs into the lap of its mother. Anyone who attacks the peak with aggression, as a soldier doing battle, will lose.

This is a lesson that Jamling Tenzing Norgay learnt well from his father, the famous and heroic Tenzing Norgay. Jamling climbed this mountain in his father's footsteps and wrote a book about his climb. In some ways this book is disturbing, but in many ways uplifting; to see a man's passion for reaching a summit as a pilgrimage to his father's memory.

Jamling Norgay was the climbing leader of the IMAX expedition to Everest in the spring of 1996. This was the time when a series of tragic events on the mountain took several lives and forced the climbing world to try and find answers to the fundamental issues that face the sport today. As jon Krakauer, author of the best selling Into Thin Air puts it, over seventeen books have been written on that infamous season on the mountain but this is probably one of the best. It is also only the second book written by a Sherpa, the first one being Tenzing's autobiography, Tiger of the Snows, which is now not easily available.

This book is not about the accident. It is about a man, a son and least of all a climber, whose lifelong passion is to reach the top of Everest.

jamling always wanted to do this. He thought that this act would bring him much closer to the father who he very rarely saw and who died before he was grown up. He also wanted to find answers to his own confusions and by this act, most of his confusions disappeared.

jamling was educated in an elite school after which he went to college in America. But, he came back and married his local sweetheart. He was torn between the pragmatic, individualistic attitudes of the west and the spiritualism of his religion, Buddhism.

Through a parallel account of Hillary and Tenzing's 1953 ascent and his own spiritual quest he weaves a story with help from co-author Coburn. There is a deeply moving climax when he meets his father on the summit. Also heartwarming is his camaraderie with the Sherpas as well as fellow climbers. His love and respect for his own tribe comes across well.

All in all, it is a story well told. In a simple way, he exposes himself to his reader, with the dramatic backdrop of the series of events that led to the tragedy that year.

Jamling's Everest bid is filled with rituals, divinations, dreams and premonitions, sometimes difficult to fathom for many of us. Also, these sometimes override the fundamental questions, almost as if the answers lie in rituals and offerings. Also, one does not get an understanding of Jamling as a climber with solid experience. Was it because of his status as Tenzing's son that he was invited by the IMAX team or because he was a climber of repute? The events of 1996, underscore this question. The book should have thrown light on this. But these are minor flaws. The book must be read because it is one from the heart.

Nandini Purandare

SACRED WATERS: A pilgrimage to the many sources of the Ganga.

By Stephen Alter. Pp 356, 2001. (Penguin Books, Rs 295).

A memorable travelogue arouses in the reader a lingering desire to follow in the author's footsteps, even when the mountain terrain he covers is as formidable as in this book on interior Garhwal. Sacred waters will appeal either to hardened trekkers for the authenticity of its flavour of the high hills or to those newcomers unacquainted with the area and its Dev Bhumi associations. Stephen Alter is the best of guides having grown up in Garhwal. He brings to his affection for the folklore a scientific regard for the birds, animals and minerals along the trail, a talent not shared by his editor who instead of "muleteers" gives us "mule tiers" (-a radish on radials?)

Few are blessed with the inputs of two civilisations and Steve puts to good use his dual cultural background by interfacing with the villagers along the way on their terms. However just as the subtitle of his four treks to the Char Dham is ambiguous, (he walks to three of the "many" sources) his social commentary while scoring useful points pulls its punches. The fledgeling state of Uttaranchal badly needs advice from footloose wellwishers on how best to develop its tourist assets but Steve's prescriptions, while agonising over the slum status of pilgrim places like Gangotri, fail to offer any drastic alternative. After trekking six hundred kilometers on and off over a year he spends exactly one hour in Badrinath. What should have been the climax of his pilgrimage ends in revulsion at the mix of saffron ecclesiastical pomp, white sepulchral khadi and blank cat successors to kala kambliwalas.

Again, with his well-informed views on the environment and interviews with Sunderlalji and Chandra Prasad the Chipko leaders he is content to cast doubts on the viability of eco-tourism rather than fulminate against its schizophrenic potential. Similarly the Tehri Dam is assailed more for its ugly scars left on the landscape and the lives of the oustees than for the monumental folly of its conception on a known geological fault line.

Teaching English at MIT, the author treads softly as befits an academic and sparks only begin to fly off his anvil when he clears the contentious level of human habitation and like a latter-day Thoreau becomes one with the trees and the birds. "Walking alone through a Himalayan forest just after dawn, a pale grey light filters in between the trees sharpening the edges of the shadows and giving the shape of branches a subtle adumbration. The air is clean and moist and birdsongs erupt from all sides (providing) an overture to the day."

What starts as a physical pilgrimage turns accidentally into an enquiry into the meaning of true religion. In all his, writings Steve probes the conundrum of whether a person's deepest level of being is Christian, Hindu, both or neither. If the "ultimate enigma of the human soul" eludes him he recognises how the spontaneous acts of kindness by laymen speak more of godliness than the quivering greed of guardian priests. He is struck by the unlikely beauty of Gujjar graves on Panwali buggial and meets a herdsman carrying his daughter to a doctor two days away. She has been paralysed by a stroke of lightning and fifteen buffaloes have also been electrocuted in a storm that ravaged their encampment. Contrast their huge financial loss with Amitabh Bacchan's helicopter trip and his ride to Kedarnath in a palanquin borne by four coolies. Sacred Waters is well structured and to emphasise the capriciousness of nature the author introduces the local lore of the Devi who mutilated her body in order to find a mate. Echoing this demonic theology is the dark denouement of a missing French trekking couple. The woman's body is found gruesomely murdered (by goatherds) with her hands tied behind her back and the head severed. Such things in uttarakhand were unthinkable till very recently and it is grim irony that Stephen Alter's book concerned to demonstrate the paradisiacal aspect of this pahari ilaka should announce Garhwal's loss of innocence.

Bill Aitken

THE MOUNTAINS OF MY LIFE. By Walter Bonatti. Pp. 442, 26 black & white illustrations, 6 sketch illustrations, 2001. (Modern Library, New York, $14.95).

The mere appellation of Walter Bonatti to the initiate is enough to conjure visions of the most challenging mountains in the world and a man's quest to explore and climb the lofty summits. Walter Bonatti has often been considered one of the all time greatest mountaineers and the finest Alpinist that Italy has produced. What is often overlooked is that he was also a writer of an unusually high calibre. Not many of his books are available in English and the addition to that miniscule literature of the one under review is certain to enrich the English mountain literature to an unprecedented degree. The Mountains of My Life not only collects some of the finest writings of the great mountaineer but also puts to rest the infamous 1954 controversy during the first ascent of K2, which was to change Bonatti's life forever.

The book begins with the account of Bonatti's first ascent at the age of 19 in Bregaglia, which he confesses is the most beatific Alpine landscape he had ever seen. The succeeding chapters recount all his expeditions to the Alps and the Himalaya over the next seventeen years till 1965 when he voluntarily capped his mountaineering career with the impossible solo winter ascent of Matterhorn North face. He became a photojournalist and a travel writer globetrotting for reporting assignments. But like a true mountaineer whose penchant for the heights never fade away, he returned to the Patagonian wilderness in Chile in 1986 with two friends to fulfil one more time the intense desire to stand on top of yet another summit.

The highlight of the book is definitely the chapters on K2, the southwest pillar of the Dru, Gasherbrum IV and Matterhorn. The part 2 of the book covers in extensive details, including the inquests and interviews of the people involved of the K2 expedition. Bonatti's ethical approach to mountaineering can be well appreciated all through the book. In the conclusion he has dealt quite openly and honestly about the environment problems in the high mountains that should concern all of us who regularly visit these environs.

Overall a compulsive and essential read for everyone, for a mountaineer to understand and come to terms what mountaineering is all about, and to a general reader to unravel the mysterious world of mountains and mountaineers through an exceedingly readable account from one of the all time greatest mountaineers in the world. One can only wish that more of Bonatti's book would soon be translated into English, for such a fine compendium of mountain literature must not remain the domain of a handful of Italian speaking community.

Lt Cdr Satyabrata Dam

ABOVE THE CLOUDS. The Diaries of a High Altitude Mountaineer. By Anatoli Boukreev. Pp 240, 52 coloured photographs, 3 map sketches. (St Martins Press, New York, US $ 27.95).

"Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambitions to achieve. They are cathedrals, grand and pure, the houses of my religion. I approach them as any human goes to worship. On their altars I strive to perfect myself physically and spiritually. In their presence I attempt to understand my life, to exorcise vanity, greed and fear. From the vantage of their lofty summits, I view my past, dream of the future and with unusual acuteness, I experience the present moment. That struggle renews my strength and clears my vision. In the mountains celebrate creations, for on each journey I am reborn."

On 25 December 1997, a massive cornice break off from the western wall of Annapurna, shattered the silence of the vast amphitheatre of the Annapurna Sanctuary and swept away three climbers into oblivion. What seemed far- fetched and perhaps unimaginable till then, ultimately happened. The life of the legendary Russian climber Anatoli Boukreev thus ended in the giant cathedrals of his own liking. The climbing world had tragically lost one of the greatest mountaineering prodigy, of our time.

Anatoli Boukreev was a man born to climb. A product of the old Soviet climbing school, Tolya showed a keen penchance for heights since his early days. He possessed an unusually inquiring and decisive mind in a genetically gifted body and was perfectly at home even in the upper reaches of the 'Death Zone'. His trail blazing, even by modern standards in the Himalaya remains phenomenal and unparalleled. He climbed Gashebrum II in ten hours, Dhaulagiri in seventeen hours, Makalu in forty-six hours, Manaslu in winter and traversed all four summits of Kangchenjunga in a single push. After just two days rest from the epic 1996 Everest Rescue, he soloed 27,923 foot Lhotse in a record twenty-one hours, which was his mark of respect to his late dear friend and mentor, Scott Fisher. At the time of his death he had already climbed 11 of the 14 eight-thousanders of our planet.

The book Above the Clouds is the essence of the climbs of Anatoli Boukreev. The book begins by giving an insight into the early life and background of the young Buka or Anatoli. He was born on 16 January 1958 in Korkino, Russia and lived his adult life in Almaty (now Kazakhstan). A science graduate, he grew to manhood in the most enlightened years of the communist experiment. He always gratefully acknowledged that his climbing success was due to the early recognition of his talent by the soviet mentoring system, which refined his natural ability of climbing and skiing with great discipline and technique.

Anatoli began his serious climbing in 1990. In 1990, he recorded a ten and a half hour solo ascent of Mount McKinley, which till date is the fastest ascent recorded in the history of the mountain. This was preceded in 1989, by an ascent of Kangchenjunga by a new route. This was followed by an epic ascent of Dhaulagiri, Everest in 1991 and K2 in 1993. In 1994 he climbed Makalu followed by Everest, Dhaulagiri and Manaslu the same year.

In 1996, he again climbed Everest while guiding 4 clients on the ill fated Mountain Madness expedition of Scott Fisher. His daring effort and rescue earned him a letter of commendation from the US Congress and was later awarded the American Alpine Club's David Sowles Award for the 1996 rescue of clients and attempted rescue of Scott Fisher. He also climbed Lhotse, Cho Oyu, Shisha Pangma, the same year. In the year 1997 before his tragic death, he climbed Everest, Lhotse, Broad Peak and Ghaserbrum II. He completed the climb of Gasherbrum II in an astonishing nine hours and thirty minutes.

The book is gripping and contains nerve moving accounts and narratives of Boukreevs phenomenal climbs. His climbing details are lucid and carry the reader alongwith the fascinating technical details of his climbs in the Death Zone. Photographs from the "Collection of Anatoli Boukreev" gives the reader a deeper insight of the world, which Boukreev saw through the lens of his camera.

Apart from having a plethora of information needed for climbing the highest mountains of the world, with the omni present subjective and objective dangers of climbing, the book gives a deep insight into the awe inspiring character and portrait of a man whom very few people knew. A climbing prodigy, Boukreev revelled in thin air both spiritually and physically. As a person he wanted to achieve some thing essential in life, not measured by money or position in society. The mountains were not stadiums where he wanted to satisfy his ambitions. To him they were the sacred cathedrals of his religion where he endeavoured to understand his life.

With moving reflections and hair rising adventure. Above the Clouds is a pristine view of the world from the highest heights of our planet. The book is an absolute classic and a 'must reading' for every mountaineering enthusiast.

Lt. Colonel A. Abbey

THE MIDDLE-AGED MOUNTAINEER. Cycling and climbing the length of Britain. By Jim Curran. Pp 204, 17 colour illustrations, maps, sketches, 2001. (Constable, London, GBP 17.99).

One of the pleasantest experiences is to go on a journey. Jim Curran's short book is a veritable guide for the cyclist covering Great Britain. Starting from the Shetland Islands, North West Scotland, the Highlands, North of England, the Peak District to the Severn and ending with Devon and Cornwall. Major routes to follow with adequate road signs have been indicated.

Jim Curran's novel experiment traversing Scotland and England on a bicycle of over 1500 miles is a sojourn recorded in a humourous style full of anecdotes and reminiscences. Musical names such as Muckle Flugga, Old Man of Hoy, Drongs, Penzance etc. are brought to life by relating them to real life experiences of climbing, filming, photographing and engirdling them on a bicycle. Curran's sketches and photographs are interspersed appropriately in the book giving it a personal touch making the book interactive experience and a joy to read. As there was no element of competition or endurance and no time limit on how long to complete this achievement, the description is leisurely and fun to read.

Following his practical wisdom, inspired by the memory of the lone figure on the Tibetan plateau and determination, that nearly all cycling is uphill, wind is always against you, don't camp and stay in bed and breakfast places and do not expect to get things easier, he was able to complete this journey despite trying weather and inhospitable conditions.

Laced with existential remarks and thoughts "Writing is a lonely activity with too much time for soul searching", "Sometimes happiness can be found in very simple things", "never put off till tomorrow what can be put off till next week", "vast sky and turquoise ocean seemed to pulsate like a Mark Rothko painting" makes the reader participate with the inner feelings of a very sensitive mind. To read about shared excitement and experiences with persons like Mike Banks, French superstar climber Catherine Destivelle, Chris Bonington, great mountaineer and Kendal Film Festival and magazine editor Geoff Birtles is very exciting.

A readable and highly entertaining book, his tales flow with a rhythm like the bicycle he rode. A delightfully written, not a book, but an engaging essay. A great weekend read.

Tanil Kilachand

VOICES FROM THE SUMMIT: The World's Great Mountaineers on the Future of Climbing. Edited by Bernadette Macdonald and John Amart. Pp. 256, 2000. (National Geographic, Washington, $ 30).

Voices... is a publication to commemorate 25 years of the Banff Mountain Film Festival. It is a compilation of essays by a veritable roll call of some of the world's greatest living mountaineers and mountain writers. Although the book is supposed to be a collective statement on the future of climbing, it goes beyond that. It explores every aspect of, and every approach to, mountaineering, from alpinism to technical ice climbing, from professionalism to commercialism, from ethical issues to challenges that await mountaineers in the future.

32 revered figures introspect on these issues and present their thoughts in this very eloquent collection. You have Sir Edmund Hillary setting the stage with a nostalgic account of his 1953 ascent of Everest, his lifelong relationship with Nepal and mainly, his uneasiness with contemporary climbing attitudes.

After this, different topics of importance have been chosen and divided into sections, to be addressed by mountaineers from diverse fields and opinions. The publication emerges as a forum where disagreements and frustrations that are on the forefront of the sport are addressed, namely the justification for guided and commercial climbing and for pushing one's endurance not to one's limit, but beyond.

There is the 'Historical Perspective' addressed by Dr. Charles Houston and Junko Tabei, the latter's, a hard hitting study, 'Garbage on the Goddess Mother of the World'.

Now begins the freewheeling ride on exploration, adventure, climbing styles, peak bagging, competing, technical climbing on ice and rock, minimalism and true alpinism (an excellent essay of finely tuned climbing style definitions by Mick Fowler). There are all kinds but each one a hero in his/her own right. Complete credit for this goes to the editors. All agree on a couple of facts namely that mountains obsess them, that most respected are those that climb solo and unaided, that we have only one earth and that staying alive is most important. This is said by writers from the 19-year old climbing whiz, Leo Houlding to the 96 year old legendary alpinist Anderl Heckmair, and even the film star of climbing, Catherine Destivelle, in their own ways and contexts.

Chris Bonington, Todd Skinner and Silvo Karo go on to describe the very essence of exploration in the section entitled The Last Frontiers followed by a most heartwarming section on Role Models. Finally we have the Chroniclers who have filmed, recorded and written about mountains, climbing and climbers. Phew! What a large canvas!
The last word, not surprisingly, is reserved for Reinhold Messner. In 'A Passion for Limits' Messner creates a fine distinction thus: We should not discuss ethics. We should save values... Mountains without danger are not mountains. He strongly believes in protecting the wilderness of the mountains and when he talks about limits, he does not mean how high one can reach but how high one can reach with an understanding of one's limitations... In my entire life I have never placed a bolt and I never will: if I cannot do it without one I don't go.... I push myself only to my limits never above them. Passion for limits is my motivation and this could be a good slogan for mountaineering in the new millennium. You begin to wonder... if everyone has the same basic values, then where is the problem? Who are those who are destroying the purity of the sport? Where lie the problems in the future of this activity? Maybe the editors should have put forth the point of view of a few extremists and guided tour operators as well!

The Banff Festival's history at the end of the book makes for very interesting reading for it is in a sense the history of climbing over the last 25 years. The black and white photographs, particularly, the portraits of the writers are superb.

Through Voices... , we have travelled with these writers, sometimes into the past where we saw legendary heroes who inspired them and their own evolution as climbers and sometimes into the future where hi tech climbing tries to coexist with a spirit of minimalism and respect for the fragility of our earth. There is a heightened sense of awareness for the reader, definitely a feeling that one is privileged to read the works of a master at his or her craft, even if you open the book randomly to any page.

Voices from the Summit is a lucid reflection of the state of mountaineering at the turn of the millennium.

At the end, there is a feeling of sorrow as one feels when one finishes a great book. There is also of a certain sense of incompleteness... are all the living legends only West European and American?

Nandini Purandare

REGIONS OF THE HEART: The Triumph and Tragedy of Alison Hargreaves. By David Rose and Ed Douglas. Pp 227, 16 b/w illustrations, 2000. (National Geographic Society, Wasington, $ 25).

Alison Hargreaves was a climbing star. Flush with success on Everest where she reached without support or bottled oxygen, in May 1995, she went on to summit K2 and was dead in less than three months, caught in a hurricane on her descent. Every perception about this extraordinary climber changed because of her death. The fact that coming back alive is more important than any success was proved ever so strongly in her case. The mother of two young children, who presented such a beautiful picture on her solo Everest success, became a target of anger, her triumphs now eclipsed by controversy. Success at what price? Was she a superlative mountaineer or an obsessed selfish woman? Why did she have children if all she needed was to surpass herself on the mountains? Who was the true Alison Hargreaves?

David Rose and Ed Douglas' biography attempts to set this record straight. Without overlooking her shortcomings and lapses of judgment, they have traced her life from birth and early obsession with the hills to her life as a star and her major and even minor triumphs in the world of climbing. Sometimes, while reading the book, there is a sense of uneasiness because the authors have spared no details. We are privy to the most personal events in her life and would she have liked it this way? I wonder. There are pages devoted to Alison's disastrous marriage and her failed relationships, her alienation from her family, all of which seem to indicate that climbing was an escape from everyday living.

As book to inspire climbers, there is value. Alison, in her short life of 33 years, had several firsts to her credit, all well described. The chapters Everest Alone, Nemesis and Aftermath are important in that they graphically describe the events that led to the tragedy and the questions that assume importance after it. The commercial pressures that probably cloud ones judgments, the thin line between ambition and obsession and the fact that she was a mother are centrestage.

All said and done, the biographers prove one undeniable fact; that Alison Hargreaves loved her children and desperately wanted to come home to them. To conclude in their words: here was an ordinary woman with an extraordinary talent and determination, with hopes, fears, loves, virtues and faults, who did great things and made some terrible mistakes. It is not too much to hope that in the moments before the hurricane closed around her, as she started home from the summit of K2 with the world beneath her feet, Alison was happy.

Nandini Purandare

FEARLESS ON EVEREST : The Quest For Sandy Irvine. By Julie Summers, Pp 290, 34 b/w photos, 3 sketch maps and illustrations (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, GBP 20).

George Mallory and Sandy Irvine set out from camp at 23,000 ft. on 6 June 1924 to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Two days later they still had not returned. Despite brave attempts to locate them, the rest of the party turned reluctantly back, not knowing whether the duo had actually climbed to the top.

In 1999 Mallory's body was finally recovered. Sandy Irvine is still lost in the snows of the highest peak of the world.

Fearless on Everest is the warm, evocative biography of Sandy Irvine, written by his grand niece, Julie Summers. She has recreated his life and the actual expedition in a flowing narrative style that reads as if she were there herself. Her intensive research and use of extracts from letters, diaries, interviews and newspaper articles gives us a close look at a remarkable young man. By all accounts, Sandy Irvine was a superb athlete, a near genius with things mechanical, generous, modest to a fault, dogged in finding answers and apt to drive himself beyond limits in order to reach his set goal. These qualities (that seem almost too much for one man to possess), are echoed again and again in condolence letters and reports from colleagues, friends and teachers. They perhaps explain why a 22-year old youth with very little mountaineering experience was chosen by Mallory to be his partner on the final ascent.

The parts I like best in the book deal with the preparations for and then the actual Everest expedition. Even for armchair climbers (like me), the physical discomfort, the sub-zero temperatures, the altitude sickness and the sheer hardship faced by the team, come through clearly. Reading the confident, enthusiastic letters home, I found myself egging on the climbers and hoping and wishing that somehow there would be a miraculously different ending - that the team would triumph and everyone would return safe to their families.

Does the book have any problems? Well, the praise on every page does get a bit wearisome. But that's not Irvine's fault and may be forgiven as the admiration and fondness of Ms. Summers for a family icon. But the entire British team too seems to be full of paragons. I may be cynical, but even after spending months together in close proximity, in the harshest conditions and cut off from the rest of their world, not one disagreement or harsh word seems to have sprung up between them. In letters home, they refer to each other as the most capital of chaps. The locals, of course are only there for the porterage. They do the most remarkable feats of carrying huge loads, without footwear, in most cases, and often with children strapped to their backs. The men and women seem to travel like mountain goats up and down from camp to camp and yet all this is taken as no more than expected from them.

Finally, however, these problems do not detract from the essence of the book. The book has excellent production value with a nice typeface and good paper, which makes it a pleasure to hold and read. Did I enjoy it? Very much. Would I recommend it to family and friends? Certainly.

Deepa Balsaver

THE FLAME OF ADVENTURE. By Simon Yates. Pp. 220, 2001.

(Jonathan Cape, London, GBP 16.99).

Simon Yates was the man who was with Joe Simpson when the latter had his dreadful fall on the Siula Grande in the Andes, an experience so movingly told in the climbing classic, Touching The Void. But Yates has since proved himself to be an accomplished climber and story-teller in his own right. His first book, Against The Wall, was runner up in the Boardman Tasker award for mountain literature. His second is a vibrant travelogue which takes us through the early climbing life of an impecunious climber, driven by a love of adventure and hard climbing, told with remarkable candour.

To climb the Walker Spur of the Grandes Jorasses on your first outing in the Alps is no bad way to establish your self as a climber. Simon Yates follows this up with commendable first ascents around the world, not to mention classics such a the Bonatti Pillar on the Dru, the Croz Spur on the Grandes Jorasses (where he saw two Japanese climbers fall to their death just below him) and the Eiger North Face. He comes alive as a person who shuns the conventional, abhors city life and creature comforts. More than anywhere else, he likes to be on the high road, whether to the mountains or the vast expanse of Australia, no matter how demanding or full of discomfort it might be.

Actually, discomfort strikes in many ways, including diarrhea and hepatitis which drive him away from expeditions at base camp. The author also seems singularly accident prone. A poor jummar slips on a rope on Pik Pobeda in the Tien Shan giving his leg muscles grief. A broken hand one time, a thorn in the foot which goes septic on a high mountain on another. He even manages to walk into a barbed wire in Australia and hasn't been above getting into fist-fights to prove a point.

Beyond all this, however, here is a story of youthful enthusiasm and commitment, a skilled climber who seems to enjoy himself thoroughly and holds out a promise of more. Yates says he finds writing difficult; that doesn't show in this book and shouldn't be a discouragement to writing more.

Suman Dubey

AWARE OF THE MOUNTAIN. Mountaineering as Yoga. By Gil Parker. Pp 181, 8 black & white illustrations, 2001. (Trafford, Canada, nps).

The way of Yoga has often been called a quest within to find the all permeating being inside every human being, which is the true 'guru'. The austere life and other Yogic exercises are prescribed to awaken that inner Supreme Being that finally culminates with self- actualisation. This unique way of life has been practiced for ages in India from where it has today spread to the remotest corners of the world. Anyone who has ever undertaken a trek or a climb in the mountains would certainly realise that how closely the sport of mountaineering is linked with that of Yoga since fundamentally the latter preaches what the former compels one to do. Countless reasons have been sited by the mountaineers of all times as to why one climbs. A careful analysis of all of them finally brings one rudimentary principal to the surface: climbing is nothing but a victory over oneself. No one has ever conquered a mountain the summiteers only conquered their own weaknesses and apprehensions. A mountaineer's life is one filled with challenges, isolation and introspection. When amidst the silent icy sentinels one naturally hears the inner voice and turns into a philosopher pondering over the deeper significance of life and death. Though all Yoga practitioners might not be mountaineers but it can be safely said that all mountaineers are definitely Yogis in varying degrees.

Gil Parker's autobiographical book under review brings out the Yogic aspects of mountaineering and a mountaineer in a simple narrative that is at once riveting and illuminating for its objective views. Each chapter complete with delectable epigraphs leads the reader into the mountains and the life of those who embark on the voyage of self-discovery in their midst. A well documented book that should not only delight the hardcore mountaineers but general readers too, in fact anyone who has ever wondered about the true ways of life.

There are several accounts of the author and his companions resorting to a spiritual journey when their normal views of life are unable to accept the hardships and the immense toil of mountaineering. Though the misery and physical trauma remains the effect is lessened or best totally overcome as a different approach is adopted. This is perhaps the best application of Yoga to mountaineering that can make one continue even after all mundane rationality has failed to goad him further.

A thoughtful book about life and living through the eyes of a mountaineer, Gill Parker has written a commendable memorabilia that should find favour with one and all, though some coloured photo- plates could have certainly added some conviviality to the book's presentation.

Lt Cdr Satyabrata Dam

TREKKING AND CLIMBING IN THE INDIAN HIMALAYA. By Harish Kapadia and Climbing Consultant, Victor Saunders Pp 176, 160 colour photos, 28 colour area-trek maps, 25 strip maps, 2000. (New Holland Publishers, London, GBP 14.99).

This a stunning trekking and climbing guide to the Indian Himalaya. It is a book meant to be on every mountain lover's shelf. Of course, the author, Harish Kapadia needs no introduction but his book is an answer to many like me who have gone through the pleasures of planning a trek/expedition every year, sometimes twice a year.

This is another publication in the Globetrotter Adventure Guide Series, with an excellent layout, stunning photographs and a text that is informative yet economical, thus serving perfectly as a travel reference for 25 treks in the Indian Himalaya.

Unlike several old guidebooks, this one beckons you like Pied Piper. Lying on a table, it says come pick me up look at me, follow me into these beautiful mountains and valleys... After a general introduction on these mighty mountains, and travel tips, there is a practical section on dos and don'ts while planning a Himalayan trek. There are no false promises here; this is no tourism ad. If you are a foreigner, on your first trip to the Himalayas, you can depend on and religiously follow the guidelines in this book. So, whether it is information on permits or equipment or food, look in here and depend on it. The very competent and knowledgeable Himalayan climber, Victor Saunders is the climbing consultant.

Like all books of this standard, the production makes all the difference. Covering the Indian Himalaya from east to west, the book is divided into four regional chapters: Sikkim, Kumaun and Garhwal, Himachal Pradesh and Zanskar-Ladakh. Each of these has a detailed coverage of some trekking routes and some climbing routes that can be accessed during a trek. At the end of each section, there is a regional directory of the place listing out accommodation available, tourist offices and places of interest.

A typical page describing a trek contains a box detailing trekking essentials, a map indicating the route, a strip map illustrating elevations and walking times apart from the text describing the trek. Peak details include climb essentials as well as special topo photographs. There are introductory chapters on geography, people and cultures, travel information and other practicalities like logistic requirements. Notes on ecological issues, minimal impact trekking and mountain photography are included as appendices.

Interspersed between chapters are yellow pages, which have essays on areas of special interest like the Nanda Devi Sanctuary and Valley of Flowers.

But the true value of the book lies in the choice of the author. Unlike other international publications such as the Rough Guide or Lonely Planet, this book is by an Indian who knows and understands India and her mountains like the lines on his hands.

Let me try with my own experience: About a decade ago, when we decided that it was time to hit the mountain trails again, trekking was not such a happening sport so working out logistics and information were a greater challenge than the trek itself. But we had an ace up our sleeve in the form of Harish Kapadia. His cloth store, tucked away in the crowded area of Bombay, Kalbadevi, went on to become a pilgrimage point for us, every January/February, when we pestered him for areas, routes, books, itineraries, heights, details, descriptions, distances, grades, seasons, photographs, maps, estimates, permit requirements, gear advice, local contacts and so on. On scraps of paper, over very sweet chai, we gathered information that was priceless in those days but now there is this book.

Although it must have been very tough to pick 25 treks from a region, which has several hundred beautiful treks that he has done, the whole team has done a wonderful job. Here's looking forward to next in the series.

Nandini Purandare

On my first expedition to the Indian Himalaya in 1979, the only prior information we had was a sketch on the back of beer mat showing 'our' mountain and a river. It sounds romantic, but the reality was that we created many problems and crises for ourselves and others and missed much. Any fool can be ignorant.

Today, of course, there is much more information available and to not take full advantage of it will reduce the chances of success, enjoyment and learning about this fantastic part of the world, its mountains and people.

I must admit to some bias, to merely see the name of the author Harish Kapadia, one of India's most experienced and knowledgeable mountaineers, attracted me to this book and gave me high expectations about its content but even so I was impressed when I opened the covers.

There have been many guidebooks to the Indian Himalaya before, but none like this, as far as I know. The book is in softback but with very high quality printing and reproduction. It is written in an attractive style, similar to some modern text books with information presented in blocks, paragraphs, pictures and maps that make it both interesting and digestible but also easy to search for information. It even has a guide to how to use the guide. I imagine that some people will find it convenient to photocopy the relevant pages to take on their trip and leave the rest of the book at home. (Although I wouldn't, of course).

The general sections at the beginning introduce all the regions in the books and I think help a first time visitor to get their head round the vastness of the Indian Himalaya and its possibilities. A later section gives details of arrival and travel in India and could help prepare for, and prevent some of, the inevitable culture shock.

The love of the Himalaya that the author has come through from the main text. It is much more that achieving a trek or climb, it is about the whole experience, the history, culture and language of the places described. Credit is given to the reader by not having day-by- day, hour-by-hour itineraries, although all the important information is there.

The style of Victor Saunder's contribution as climbing consultant I like too. There must have been a temptation to write it in climbing guidebook style but I'm glad this was resisted. The broad picture is all that's needed (Climbing Essentials) and then you go and climb it in the true spirit of adventure.

The only unanswered question that this book raises is whether next year I should go back to Himachal Pradesh and cross the Pin Parvati pass or Ladakh and climb Kanamo, or then again Garhwal has lots of possibilities

Tom Richardson

(Reprinted from High magazine,December 2001 with permission of author and editor).

THE MOUNTAIN TRAVELLER'S HANDBOOK. By Paul Deegan. Pp 211, 69 colour photos, 2002. (The British Mountaineering Council, Manchester, GBP 13).

There seems to be a sudden increase in attractive guides to trekking and mountaineering, thus reflecting a definite increase of interest in this activity in recent years. In the present day flood of books, a few exceptional ones stand out. This seems to be one of them.

From gentle treks along valley floors to high altitude ascents of snow-covered peaks, mountain travel is a broad church and everyone is welcome. You can make your journey as easy or as challenging as you wish. Options range from one-day excursions emanating from a mountain lodge or multi-week adventures carrying everything on your back. Whatever your ambitions, this book will help you achieve them.

Thus the tone for this beautiful little guidebook is set.

The Mountain Travellers Handbook: Your Companion From City to Summit, is a great handbook for trekkers, backpackers and climbers. With the help of the best advisors and contributors, including Sir Bonington, Peter Hillary, Stephen Venables and Harish Kapadia, Paul Deegan has produced one of the best international guides in recent years. Very easy to use, it covers every mountain region in the world.

The book begins at the beginning. It does not presume anything and that's where its value lies. Where to go? How long? What to ask your travel agency? What should you do if you are going alone? and so on. Of course, there are the usual sections on places to stay, medical advice, equipment, a rather detailed section on altitude sickness, photography, eating and drinking and local people.

What is really precious about the book, to my mind, is actually twofold: firstly, the appendices which are extensive and include checklists, resources and manufacturers. But more important is the section on 'Giving Something Back' which sensitises the would-be traveller to the local environment. Unlike the either dry guidebooks or patronising Eurocentric travel books that one comes across, this book is contemporary as well as sensitive, dealing with the many questions that face the climbing world today.

Other issues that have been covered are trekking with children or older people and a great chapter on international rescue. It definitely is a book for young people by a young person. The photographs are of course, stunning and so is the layout. It has quotes, which convey the essence of that section at a glance and boxes in a Q&A format with vital information. Most of all it precludes the need for bulky guides. Sorely missed are maps, which could have indicated trek or climb routes that could not be included in the text. As a result one would have to carry this book as well as a route map and guide. But, I would definitely use this book if I were travelling to any mountain in the world. So make sure while packing that you have space enough to squeeze in this travelling companion. It will hold you in good stead.

Nandini Purandare

FOR HILLS TO CLIMB[1]. The Doon School Contribution to Mountaineering - The Early Years. Edited by Aamir Ali. Pp 421. [Published by The Doon School Old Boys's Society, Rs. 500/- (HB)].

There is a strange mystique that attaches to high ranges and in some alchemical sense part of it rubs off on those who venture therein. Proof of that is found on several pages of For Hills To Climb where even teenaged schoolboys find themselves consciously transformed by their Himalayan surroundings. This compilation of Doon School outings and serious expeditions from 1935 to 1965 - marking the Age of Innocence in the Indian Himalaya - is remarkable for displaying both the idealism that inspired masters and pupils alike and the toughness that saw them through their adventures.

Mountaineering to many is a curious pastime. It gets you nowhere quite dangerously, but compensates by crystallising awareness of fully conscious living. Suman Dubey who made his debut in the hills by climbing two major peaks experienced their "bewitching charm and intangible lure" and notes "There can be no falsehoods in such intimacy, it is the qualities of selflessness and honesty of purpose that sparkles most." The mountaineer has to be part sportsman, part poet and part philosopher. (In short he would make a good Doon School master.)

As a senior citizen who has never set foot in The Doon School nor crossed the 6000 metre barrier, I confess I am too enamoured of For Hills To Climb to be able to give it a balanced review. Nor am I qualified to wiseacre about life in the death zone though I do reserve the right to complain that an awful lot of modern expedition reports resemble Monster Thursday on TV where masochism masquerades as manliness and pain is too often celebrated at the expense of joy. I don't give a hoot about a climber's list of summit scalps so long as he/she has the wit to share their enjoyment or say something meaningful. (For brainstarved-of-oxygen soliloquies I have no need to go to the top of Everest. A visit to any local municipal office provides similar mindlessness in triplicate)

The Doon School was modelled (or muddled) on the playing fields of Eton and, extraordinarily, it has upstaged its original by the production of this book. (Probably the standard of English is better, too). It is fascinating to conjecture on what sort of volume the Germans or Japanese - who are much more adventurous than the Brits - would have compiled had their imperial plans hatched. English just happens to be the language of adventure although it is equally true that it probably reaches its ceiling of expression in the Alps. The Himalaya demands the profundity of Sanskrit or the flights of Urdu, so Doon School writers do contribute subliminally through their regional tongues' subtle shades to the shot-silk fabric of Indo-Saxon.

Most of the articles are lean and elegant and this suggests a long labour of love by the editor in Switzerland and the coordinators in Chandigarh and Dehra Dun. It is a hefty book, beautifully produced and illustrated with fine old photographs and some colour plates of flowers (by Rupin Dang). Cartography is always a controversial subject and I was surprised to see that a colonial survey anachronism had slipped through to offend both common sense and Uttaranchal sensitivities. How can Bandarapunch, Gangotri, Jaonli and Kedarnath realistically be considered part of the Dhaula Dhar?

Geography and English were considered Doon strengths yet strangely JAK Martyn's watercolour endpaper of the view from Chandbagh omits the chief topographical feature: the town sits on the Ganga- Yamuna watershed. The sketch is delightful enough to save the artist from a box on the ears.

The four pillars on which the Doon's mountaineering reputation was built it must be remembered were all (for the most part) crusty bachelors. This enabled them to enjoy the rare luxury of giving advice rather than receiving it, and allowing them more energy to further their vision. They all had an almost ascetic regard for bodily discomfort and a monastic singlemindedness in living up to the values they believed in. Jack Gibson writes casually "I went on with some local porters over the Lamkhaga pass down to the Baspa valley to Chitkul and then back over the Borasu into the Har ki Dun" implying that these high passes were a doodle. In fact stamina and endurance of a high order is required to do even one of them. Of Holdsworth it was said he would be so engrossed in umpiring a cricket match that he would not have noticed a herd of wild elephants go rampaging by.

It is fashionable for populist netas to denigrate the Doon School as a safe haven for the sons of the rich and influential. This overlooks entirely the reality that no institution can survive without a healthy code of discipline. Since some of the book's chapters together constitute the best account of Garhwal's mountaineering assets it might be a good idea at a time when the fledgeling state of Uttaranchal is searching for its USP, to have these translated into Hindi (if not Pahari) to enable the ordinary villager to learn of the contribution made to modern Himalayan climbing by Garhwali porters. Just as 'Carpet Sahib' has become a household name in the lore of Kumaon the reputation of Gurdial Singh rides high amongst the inner ranges of Garhwal. In the Statesman of August 1955 he had written an article entitled "Garhwali Porters First to Reach Abi Gamin Summit"

Arthur Foot the first Headmaster was an Alpinist and in devastation testimony to how the mountains can bring out the best in a man he witnessed the school's most delinquent pupil Nandu Jayal transformed by them into a gentle, prefect knight. The most moving passages in the book are the obituary notices of Nandu's early death. Here was one of the world's leading mountaineers cut down by official folly in his prime. For readers the loss is doubly painful for Nandu Jayal rates among the best of mountain writers. His articles are stylish and zesty and would have been approved of by his inspiration Leslie Stephen - the doyen of nineteenth century Alpine authors.

"The Himalaya" wrote Foot "completed his education into a stature of nobility." Nandu's insights on the sport he made his own echo this sentiment. In his summing up of a Saser Kangri expedition two years earlier, he wrote: "Pushing the body to the utmost for something indefinably inherent in a person, is intrinsically noble and worthwhile."

Bitterly ironical is the inclusion of H.C. Sarin's obituary notice for Nandu. This senior defence bureaucrat, more familiar with scaling career graphs than mountains - but with the power to decide the fate of serving officers, evades the truth while not telling a lie.

This book is centered round the 1951 ascent of Mount Trisul by Gurdial Singh which marks the birth of Indian mountaineering. Whereas the British had smoked proprietorial pipes on the summit, Gurdial, to demonstrate the local belief that all pilgrimages end in Shiva, performed the yogic asana of standing on his head. The real significance of his achievement lay in restoring the Indian attitude of reverence to the throne room of the gods. In his preface to this book Gurdial emphasises the point: "Many of the articles have considerable literary, artistic and philosophic merit reflecting a very sensitive approach to climbing." Nandu hammered home this theme when addressing trainee climbers, advising them to "feel physically small and spiritually great."

The School's contribution to mountaineering lay in stressing that means were as important as ends. It laid emphasis on noting the flowers and birds along the way and fitting them into the total scheme of things. Environmental wisdom was pioneered by the Doon expeditions and Nalni Jayal (who was with Gurdial on Trisul) went on to devote his life to good stewardship of the Himalaya. When I read Nalni's version of the climb I suspect he has got his priorities right. On reaching Tridang he notes "The grass on which we camped was like a cushion sprinkled with tiny mauve primula and the gentle lapping of the running water recalled melodies from Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. I confess a desire to bring my efforts to an honourable conclusion here - as long as somebody got to the top - and revel in this bracing and saner altitude."

The School also set sporting standards in an age when false claims to summits (suc