1. Freedom Climbers (Bernadette McDonald)
  2. Siachen Glacier: The Battle of Roses (Harish Kapadia)
  3. One Mountain Thousand Summits. The Untold Story of Tragedy And True Heroism on K2 (Freddie Wilkinson)
  4. Wind From A Distant Summit. The Story of New Zealand’s Leading Woman Mountaineer (Pat Deavoll)
  5. The Last Man on The Mountain. The Death of An American Adventurer on K2 (Jennifer Jordan)
  6. Kullu – Beyond Horizons (Rahul Sud)



FREEDOM CLIMBERS, By Bernadette McDonald. Pp. 352, 67 colour and 31 b/w photos, 2011. (Rocky Mountain Books, Canada, $ 32.95)

Freedom Climbers ...phew! Bernadette McDonald does it again. She writes another mesmerizing story. After Elizabeth Hawley, Charlie Houston and of course, Tomaz Humar, Bernadette turns her sights on the 20 golden years of Polish climbing, featuring Wanda Rutkiewicz, Jerzy ‘Jurek’ Kucuzcka, and Voytek Kurtyka as the main protagonists. Other legends such as Andrezj Zawada, Krysztof Wielecki, Tadek Piotrowski, Artur Hajzer, Janusz Majer together form part of the formidable wall that made Polish climbers rule the great mountains in the last romantic years of Himalayan climbing. First ascents, first women, alpine styles, winter climbs, clean shining walls, solo climbs, without oxygen, all 14 8000ers, alternate routes, fastest ascents – they did it all during the 1970s - 1990s. Many of them died...

I have always felt that in any form of communication to a wider audience, it is necessary to tell a story; to find the hook and to grab eyeballs – Bernadette definitely manages this and much, much more. She has intertwined several stories; not used the easy way of doing one at a time. Moreover, she has told the stories of Wanda, Jurek and Voytek in their context, with the political circumstances of their country giving an insight into what inspired them; the thread that tied these three and their contemporaries.

Yes it was a renaissance in the world of climbing. Imagine this – a grim and poor war ravaged Poland, ruined by the Nazis, ruled by the Soviets, and even after the iron curtain was lifted in the fifties, the prevalence of an oppressive communist atmosphere. Ironically, this was the very tool that helped these climbers dream their dreams and make them real... Just as the Renaissance marked a cultural rebirth in Europe as a reply to the dark middle ages with plague, suffering and death, similarly out of this dark and dreary Poland came climbers in huge numbers, metaphorically and physically scrambling towards freedom.

Early in the book Bernadette says of Wanda, for many first timers, climbing feels like a discovery of freedom. But in Wanda’s world of limited self expression, that feeling must have been much more intense. She had found an environment in which her strength and ambition could flourish, and in the middle of a country devastated by war, she had discovered a landscape that humans hadn’t yet blighted. Even Wanda had no clue at that time, what strength she had and what ambition. As the book unfolds, we discover these qualities almost along with her, this remarkable, charismatic but enigmatic woman. The author does not fall into the trap of narrating her thoughts or judging her. She paints a picture, almost cameo-like and leaves the reader to interpret, gently raising the right questions. Wanda Rutkiewicz gradually becomes a tragic, lonely and confused figure, walking alone to the summit of K2 – incapable of savouring her success. But she continues relentlessly to pursue the Himalaya and finally dies as she lived – lonely and confused, in a dug out near the summit of Kangchenjunga.

The idea of Freedom Climbers began with the author’s brief encounter with Wanda, just before she died in 1992. A couple of years later, Bernadette went back to Poland, met with mountaineers, heard stories and began to ponder over the puzzle of how a ‘tight-knit climbing community co-existed with such a desperate political reality and produced the very best alpinists in the world.’ She decided to dig deeper and look for answers that raised other questions for the reader to ponder about. Who were these incredible people who, although they were shaped by their country, could not be contained by it?

Alongside Wanda, are Kucuzcka, and Kurtyka, friends growing up in similar circumstances but so different – Jurek is ambitious and like so many geniuses, simple, with a single focus to climb all the 8000ers alpine style, taking hard routes. Voytek on the other hand is the poet and philosopher – the aesthete - while on a high ridge on Broad Peak ...the more practical Jurek remained in the tent preparing water and food while Voytek wandered around in an aesthetic euphoria. With each shift in light the mountain features became almost prismatic revealing deeper more hidden shades of beauty. Voytek struggled to explain the intensity: ‘beauty is some kind of laser connection to higher worlds. That is what I learned just in the middle of our traverse, between the lower and middle summits.’ Voytek is my personal hero although I did track the crazy Kucuzcka all those years back when he was in the race with Messner to gain the 14 summits. But Voytek was the stylish one, intuitive (I think, extremely intelligent) – his ascent of the Shining Wall of Gasherbrum’s IV is apparently one of the hardest high altitude climbs ever accomplished.

Jurek who accomplished the 14 8000ers either in winter or by new routes remains the most mysterious. His accomplishments were astonishing; his family life, happy but his motivations? It was clear that he did not know any other life and so he died a dramatic mountaineer’s death on Lhotse in 1989. By this stage he was desperate. He wanted partners to climb with him but too many had already died, in fact almost every partner that Jurek had climbed with. Even so, he carried on climbing – he knew no other way of living. Without climbing, it seemed Jurek did not exist.

Thus goes the story of remarkable people, remarkably written. If I had to put in a suggestion, I wish it was longer, I wish there was a sense of the waiting, the way they did, at base camp or even higher camps as they could never afford to return, financially or emotionally. Everything in the book happens much too fast and so the uninitiated would find it difficult to follow. If you know a bit about the golden years then this book is for you. You just cannot put it down.

In 2011, Krysztof Wielicki delivered the Kaivan Mistry Memorial Lecture here in Mumbai. He talked about travelling from Poland to India in trucks as they were short of cash for their expeditions and how they earned it by smuggling goods in. He talked solemnly about his losses while attempting impossible routes and about Kukuczka and Wanda – his best mates, both lost to the unforgiving Himalaya. After reading Freedom Climbers, I think, thank god Bernadette McDonald wrote this book. Thank god somebody told the story of the Poles because, after listening to Weilicki I knew, climb mountains they can but tell stories! Leave that to Bernadette McDonald.

And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future you will gradually without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. (Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet).

Yes, Freedom Climbers makes you live the questions.


(Ed: ‘Freedom Climbers’ has already won two prestigious literary awards, the Grand Prize at the Banff Mountain Book Festival and the Boardman-Tasker Award)



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SIACHEN GLACIER: THE BATTLE OF ROSES. By Harish Kapadia. Pp. 229, 30 colour and 7 b/w photos, 6 sketch-maps, 2010. (Rupa & Co, New Delhi, Rs.495).

Harish Kapadia needs no introduction in this journal, nor does his subject. To him the Siachen is the Taj Mahal of mountain areas. His latest book distils three decades of enthusiasm and experience climbing and trekking on the glacier which has also exacted from him the highest price, the loss of his Gorkha son in battle. Through his own expedition experiences he interweaves both the history of the region’s exploration in the days of the Great Game and the phases of continuing geopolitical turmoil still arising from its position on a crucial border zone, controlling land access between Pakistan and China.

He recounts how the main axis of the Karakoram was established by explorers such as Younghusband and Longstaff, Visser and the Workmans, but goes on to show how the fatal imprecision of the Shimla Agreement’s wording regarding the Line of Control has led to two and a half decades of conflict between India and Pakistan in an unremitting cycle of attack and counter-attack. In this the comings and goings of foreign climbing expeditions and even such a small event as a dropped rucksack have become markers in the propaganda war. Unconcerned by all this, western and Japanese climbers have been happy to grab a chance of visiting such an austere collection of virgin 7000 m peaks and historic cols, but even travel with Harish Kapadia himself has not always guaranteed smooth conduct through the war zone, as he ruefully describes.

A great deal of this book is taken up with the ongoing warfare, with accounts of early heroes like Chewang Rinchin and his Nubra Guards, of OP Baba, the deified observer officer, the pivotal battle of Bilafond la and the bravery of Indian Air Force helicopter pilots, but the author also gives the reader a rare glimpse of the daily life of Indian soldiers on this inhospitable border, as they prop up an uneven stove leg with a couple of biscuits and share partisan jokes and songs at base camp. To the futility of this tit-for-tat warfare is added the depressing inevitability of pollution as garbage not left to decay is dumped down crevasses and split kerosene pipes desecrate the glacier.

And yet against all odds, Harish Kapadia remains positive and forward thinking. The Saltoro ridge will one day be recognised as the true boundary and the Siachen Peace Park for which he has been working for so long will one day become a reality.

But until that happens eager climbers who consult the author’s invaluable geographical appendix which breaks down the region by sectors will be advised to acquire sound accreditation and good local support before venturing into this desperate but beautiful wilderness.


I have read most books of Harish Kapadia, SIACHEN GLACIERThe Battle of Roses is perhaps the best book he has written. Only Harish Kapadia could have done so much research on the Siachen glacier. I am amazed at the facts he has given about the Siachen glacier which were not in the common knowledge of average readers of mountaineering books. After I finished the book I reflected for a while and then thought that he is the Kenneth Mason of Siachen glacier. Some information he has given about the expeditions is not found even in Kenneth Mason’s book Himalaya -Abode of Snows. Perhaps Kenneth Mason had a larger canvas to cover. The details Harish has given about the battles of Siachen are news even to most of the Army Officers. It just shows how deep he has gone into the subject of Siachen glacier. The description of the life of jawans (soldiers) and their living conditions are very interesting and impressive. No Army Officer could have done more justice to it because through long familiarity they have become blasé to many events. He has done a great service to the Army by pointing out the extreme living conditions of the jawans at high altitudes where it is difficult even to breathe due to lack of oxygen in the rarefied air in sub zero temperatures. He very rightly points out that apart from these living conditions our soldiers have to face objective hazards of the mountains like snow storms , avalanches, white outs, crevasses and all this under the watchful eyes of the snipers of Pakistan Army.

He has given many interesting legends connected with Siachen. One of them is about ‘Teram Sher’ (Oasis city), a temporary village, put up by Yarkandis on the banks of the beautiful lake from where they used to raid Balti villages for loot and pretty Balti ladies. It is situated at the confluence of Siachen (east) with Teram Shehr glacier (south). This village was destroyed after Baltis put a Tawiz (amulet) given to them by Mullah Hazrat on Bilafond la. I visited this lake in 1978 (almost half a century after G. Dainelli expedition in 1930). We found hundreds of heads of (old) ibexes who perhaps had come and breathed their last here after drinking the lake’s water and feeding on the green grass meadow.

After the curse of the great Mullah this route from Shaksgam valley to Balti villages via Bilafond la was totally destroyed due to avalanches. The Yarkandis started coming to Yarma gompa situated on the right bank of the Nubra river, crossing from the Saser la on the Yarkand-Leh silk route. When we visited this gompa in 1978 the elderly Lama told us that the last time a non Buddhist had visited them was before the Second World War. Going through the history of Siachen explorations I knew it was Flight Lieutenant (equivalent to Army Captain) Peter Young in 1939. I didn’t think he reached Gyong la, but had a good Shikar trip anyway.

The author is right when he says that the Generals of the Indian army are divided as far as the strategic value of Siachen is concerned. I think we the mountaineers should leave it to them to come to their own conclusions.

High altitude plays tricks with the memory of the mountaineers. One instance of that lapse of memory is in Para 1 of p.87. It conveys the impression that at the time of Indus Boat Expedition and reconnaissance of Siachen, I had retired from the army. This is not true.

A book reviewer must find some faults at least to earn his upkeep. After great scrutiny I found that in appendix ‘B’ page 209 the author writes ‘the high peaks on the eastern wall of Siachen are Singhi Kangri (7751 m), and three peaks of Teram Kangri (7428 m)’. Actually on ground we found Singhi Kangri much lower than Teram Kangri peaks. However the author is not to be blamed as Survey of India maps at that time showed the same height. Even Survey of India cannot be blamed as they have admitted on their maps that ‘ALIGNMENT APPROXIMATE’ on the Siachen glacier blue contours (yet to be mapped properly). These two words alignment approximate acted as showing ‘red rag to the Bull’. The pun not intended. (Col. Kumar’s nickname is Bull - ed).

Though I am full of admiration for the explorations of Bullock Workman couple, I would like to state that technically speaking, as definition of a ‘col’- goes, it is the lowest point in the ridge. The couple never reached Indira col. We followed their route totally and landed at a flat place on the ridge which is in between Indira col in the west and Turkistan la on the east. However we did stand over the great divide between Central Asia and the Indian Sub-continent. This spot is approximately 150 m higher than the actual Indira col and at least a kilometre away towards the east of real col.

The Americans (Workmans) had explored the northern and western part of upper Siachen. The Britishers, (Longstaff), came from the south and went up to halfway of Siachen glacier. The Italians (Dainelli) also came from the south till the junction of Teram Shehr glacier and then went east to the Shyok valley. The Indian team (Col. Kumar) walked the entire glacier from south to north, that is from snout to the source. This team also climbed Sia Kangri, the main feeder of the source of the source of Siachen. I think it does deserve the specific mention, in the book solely written on Siachen glacier, that the Indians were the first to do a snout-to-source crossing of the entire glacier.

For future mountaineers this book is a bible of Siachen glacier as many peaks on the glacier are unnamed and unattempted. This is the future playground of the Himalaya. I fully agree with the ‘Peace Park’ concept of the author and I am going to support it to the best of my ability. But I feel that the Baltoro glacier which is the second longest glacier of the Himalaya next only to the Siachen is as polluted (see the pictures in the article of Outside Magazine of USA by Kevin Fedarko ‘The Coldest War’, p. 218) and also it is as disputed as Siachen, lying in Pakistan occupied area of J & K. Imagine these two longest Himalayan glaciers in the peace park which will have five peaks above 8000 m including world’s second highest peak and you have the greatest playground for trekkers and mountaineers of the world.

At the end I would like to congratulate both the author and the publisher for bringing out such a great book, which is very well researched, highly readable and reasonably priced.





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ONE MOUNTAIN THOUSAND SUMMITS. The untold story of tragedy and true heroism on K2. By Freddie Wilkinson. Pp. 352, 2010. (New American Library,New York, $ 24.95).

K2, is often called ‘The Savage Mountain’. It has seen numerous tragedies over the years. It is considered as the ultimate challenge in mountaineering. It is an unforgiving and capricious body of ice and rock, with weather changes, and rock and icefalls, as sporadic as the mood swings of a woman. It took numerous lives while attempting to reach its summit. In 2008, seven teams and 30 climbers were trying to climb the mountain simultaneously. Eleven of them perished during the effort, eight of them while returning from the summit. Two were rescued from near death. Falling seracs and ensuing avalanches caused havoc in a little more than 24 hours.

Freddie Wilkinson was as shocked as anyone else, when he read about the disaster on the front page of the New York Times. He was appalled at the way the general public was bad – mouthing the whole mountaineering fraternity. There were many contradicting stories amidst the media buzz. Everyone was keen to get as much of the limelight as possible. His curiosity was aroused as he scourged the internet for more articles and posts. He felt that there was more drama than facts in most of the reports. After analysing the information, he posted a short piece on his blog, giving his opinion. Subsequently he was approached by Rock and Ice magazine for a write – up on what had happened. He was planning an expedition in Nepal in six weeks. It was an interesting project to work in the meantime. Over the course of next year or so, he met and interviewed three of the four surviving Sherpas several times. He also talked to the families of the deceased, and the other survivors, collecting detailed information. The amount of time devoted to study the different possibilities, joining different pieces of the thread, can be clearly felt while reading the book, in the lucidity and the level of detail in the account.

The book follows a non– linear storyline. We begin with the night of 1 August, with four of the Sherpas who went to the summit talking to each other in Nepali. The author effortlessly juts back and forth between the actual story, information on climbing and its history, and the background of all the teams and people involved. He tries to present an unbiased and thorough account of the mishap. Noteworthy is the effort taken by him to get to know the Sherpas and try to understand the psychology behind their actions. At the end he tries to draw a timeline on the events according to the eyewitnesses who he thinks are reliable, cross– checking it with earlier interviews, and consulting other people about their opinion on the course of events as well.

The author has been as thorough and objective as possible, as one can be while giving a second hand account. He has presented a detailed profile of most of the people involved in the expeditions, especially the ones he has concentrated on. He keeps the readers absorbed with his unconventional style of writing, providing tidbits of information to satiate our curiosity. He constructs the story quite well, as he looks at it from a fresh perspective. It’s like putting together pieces of a puzzle, where some pieces are missing. The reader is a partner in this quest of his.

The compelling thing about this book is that it brings to fore the contribution of the hired Sherpa guides (climbing Sherpas / HAPs) in the expeditions. They are involved in route fixing, managing the entire team and rescue operations. But as seen in the story, they are never part of the crucial decision making process. They are never regarded as equals, always viewed as hired hands by most. They are still to attain the level of European guides in the climbing fraternity. Looking at the expedition from the point of view of these unsung heroes is what sets this book apart. There have not been too many books on Sherpas in mountaineering, apart from the ones on Tenzing Norgay and his son in circulation. The author portrays the numerous difficulties Sherpas have to face, but still come out cheerful in the face of adversity. Another angle which author dwells on is the friends, family and the support group of the climbers. His interaction with Annie Starkey is an insight into how the loved ones climbers leave behind, try to keep track of their whereabouts. Later, in the event of tragedy, it also shows how strong Annie is, relentless in her belief that Gerard would never leave a human being in distress.

The author has handled a sensitive issue admirably. He has tried to be impartial. At times one feels that he veers slightly away from the actual story, due to the non– linear nature of the account. But he is able to connect all the dots as the book progresses. Overall, it’s a gripping account of a controversy, which he has tried to set straight in his own inimitable way.




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WIND FROM A DISTANT SUMMIT. The story of New Zealand’s leading woman mountaineer. By Pat Deavoll. Pp. 264, paperback, 29 colour and 2 b/w photos, 2011. (Craig Cotton Publishing, New Zealand, NZ$ 39.99).

The subtitle of the book is a misnomer since Pat is one of the world’s top all round alpinist today redefining boundaries and breaking barriers of mind, body and soul in the vertical arena of high mountains. Of her climbing prowess, iron will and reckless passion the mountaineering world is aware but who would have imagined that she wielded equal finesse and grace with her pen! That too when she could only finish it due to the publisher’s deadline. I am not known for embellishments but for Pat’s book the only word I have is ‘unputdownable’ and even then it is an understatement. I am not sure if writing this book was a redefining period in Pat’s life but for the reader it would surely be a redefining experience as we climb sheer virgin faces of rock and ice with Pat, often fragile, broken, on the verge of collapse and all angled at gravity and death-defying dimensions. Was I glad that I was only accompanying Pat vicariously, sometimes inside her rucksack, sometime riding her helmet, peering down white walls of glistening ice into the rugged wastelands of Alaska, Canadian Rockies, Karakoram, Himalaya, Tibet, Central Asia, and her very own Southern Alps, where she learnt her ropes and holds.

Pat Deavoll was raised on a farm in North Canterbury and educated in Christchurch. She began mountaineering in her late teens and, after a break when she also became one of New Zealand’s leading whitewater kayakers, has continued to climb at the elite level for over three decades. She worked as an outdoor instructor for many years before retraining as a journalist. Currently she works as the Activities & Events Coordinator for the New Zealand Alpine Club in Christchurch. If you haven’t heard of Pat before then you should and if you haven’t known her before then it’s time you did. Perhaps it would raise eyebrows of recognition to know that Pat was one of the lead stunt doubles for the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Vertical Limits’.

Pat leads us through compelling storytelling on the journey of her life from the countryside following her passion for the outdoors; developing from a shy wobbly teenager into the woman she is today. We learn the elements that such high caliber extreme alpinists are made up of and what keeps them going. Her story is as much about her personal voyage of self discovery as it is an inspirational tale of grit and determination, failures and self-doubts and above all an embodiment of man’s ‘never-say-die’ spirit. Pat’s climbs are essentially steep, incredibly and ludicrously steep and dangerous ice and rock faces around the world. And she climbs not to prove anything to anyone or for glory or for any misguided ego; she does it simply since she loves it and finds her true self up within those lofty pinnacles where even eagles fear to fly. This is a journey of self-discovery as much as a nail biting thriller that would inspire and motivate anyone from any field of work to go that extra length and to take that one step to achieve his ultimate goal. Since Pat teaches us never to give up on our dreams no matter how heavy and impossible the odds are.

What makes Pat’s book a cut above such genre books by other elite alpinists are the chapters dedicated to such ethical and moral issues as gender bias, forging of a fulfilling partnership, bonding and finding friends in the most unlikely places, styles of climbing, Everest mortalities and usage of oxygen, etc. She literally shakes the hornet’s nest in matters few would dare to discuss publicly. She collects opinions and views from some of the world’s top climbers on such issues and adds her own; giving us an in depth understanding of a world few have the privilege or courage to explore.

While talking about others, Pat is equally courageous to elaborate upon her own demons, both real and imaginary; her trials and tribulations, battle with clinical depression, sacrifices she made and continues to do; and this makes her and the book a human story of unparalleled courage, tenacity and honesty. Her historical essays are well researched and she has added her wit to showcase the old through a fresh coat of interpretation and storytelling nuances. An exhaustive glossary will help even non climbers to understand the technical aspects of climbing and an elaborate bibliography would surely lead us to some more mountain literature of repute.

Pat is a personal friend and I have had the rare privilege of sharing her rope on numerous occasions and so far I have only had admiration and respect for her climbing portfolio and regard her as a human with all qualities of being humane. On a bad ass climb, on a sheer face of hard ice, on a sustained long vertical pitch or on a dark stormy night on the verge of certain death, I would if I could, want Pat to be my partner and if not her then certainly her book by my side. When you are down and out and on the edge you need her passion, her enthusiasm and her climbing skills to see through your ordeal. And if you are caught inside your tent waiting out the weather blasting outside then you need her book to count your hours into seconds.

Whoever you may be, and even if you hate climbing, this book is for you and for your kids and everyone you love since this is an eternal tale of man’s hunger for the unknown and the indomitable spirit of the human race. Let Pat be your guide and lead you through the adventure of life; you will never be the same again.

Any author’s first book is normally a learning ground and is often below the best; but with Pat I am hoping and looking forward to her next offering to know how on earth she can improve on her first foray into the literary world! I am sure she can and she will just like the way she keeps us boggled with her climbs year after year that gets crazier and deadlier. With Pat, there’s never a stage where one can say, this is the best she is capable of, since she would outdo herself in her next climb; and I hope that her literary adventure would also unfurl in the years to come in a manner similar to her climbs. Despite being on the supposedly wrong side of 50 Pat continues to grow as a climber and a human of undeniable strength.

If you are looking for an edge of the seat thriller and have a lazy weekend ahead then don’t look any further, Pat’s book is more than you would be able to handle.




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THE LAST MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN. The Death of an American Adventurer on K2. By Jennifer Jordan. Pp.302, 39 B/W photos, 2 maps, 2010. (W.W. Norton and Company, New York, $ 26.95).

K2, at 28,250 ft is the second highest mountain in the world. Many people have died on it after summiting it. Owing to its steep slopes, none of the dead bodies remain on the mountain, unlike Everest where you discover frozen corpses on its slopes even today. Everything is swept to the Godwin Austen glacier at its base.

Jennifer Jordan, the author of this book was at the base camp of K2 in 2002, when she found skeletal remains of Dudley Wolfe, an American climber who had died on the mountain in 1939. He had perished, abandoned by his teammates, an event which had caused a huge ruckus in the American mountaineering fraternity at that time. Emotionally charged by the discovery, the author decided to retrace the events leading to the disaster and its consequences. The book is the fruit of her eight year research.

As you read the book, you admire how meticulously the writer has accumulated information about the man and compiled it into absorbing text. You get to know Dudley Wolfe as a child and youth - athletic and adventurous, brilliant at sports, albeit slow in studies. Then his experiences during the First World War on the front harden and mould him as a man. His opulent background meant that he could do what he chose. Everywhere he went, he was seen as a friendly, likeable person. He was never fond of business, and on returning from the War, chose to pursue his passion for sailing instead. He was famous in the sailing circles of his times, and won many races. On one of his trans – Atlantic voyages, he stayed over in the Alps and was introduced to guided climbing. He instantly took a liking to it. He learned how to climb and ski. He also met his wife Alice there. His life changed when he met her, as he got more involved with mountaineering and climbing and trips in the Alps. K2 seemed like a natural progression of things to him, although he was perhaps unaware of the difference in the level of climbing from the Alps.

In stark contrast is the leader of the 1939 K2 expedition – Fritz Wiessner. A climbing genius, he was nevertheless a man no one was ready to associate with, owing to his egomaniacal behaviour. The times were desperate for him financially. He saw climbing K2 as his claim to fame and riches. He was blinded by this idea, and was ready to pursue it at all costs, unmindful of the consequences. When the most experienced climbers of America refused his invitation, he assembled a team with little experience of unguided high altitude climbing, leave alone Himalayan climbs. His presence deterred people like Charlie Houston to join. He wasn’t able to generate funds for the expedition and used Dudley shamelessly as a benefactor. Also he took irrational decisions like not carrying radio sets to save money. These proved decisive, as lack of communication was the main reason for the disaster that ensued.

From the start there was no camaraderie in the team. The other young climbers were foolhardy, and not ready to acknowledge Dudley as a climber, thinking of him as a fat purse Wiessner had brought along. With little experience of the Himalaya, the other team members wasted too much energy on the approach, and didn’t take proper care of their health. So the team wasn’t ready for the climb when it arrived at base camp. Only Dudley and Fritz were in good shape. Additionally Wiessner was erratic in his leadership, never clear with his orders, and shouting unnecessarily in frustration when things went wrong. This was a perfect soup for disaster. Unfortunately, with his silent ambition to prove that he could succeed when others felt otherwise, Dudley was caught in this chaos and had to pay with his life. Three Sherpas were also killed trying to rescue him on their own without any leader.

The book is written with Dudley as the central character. All the events revolve around him till his death. The author has depicted the events in a manner that keeps us gripped. We want to know more about Dudley and like his quiet affable manner. The events of the expedition and its aftermath are dramatic and controversial, and Jordan has handled the content exceptionally. She has maintained a largely unbiased approach, although one feels that she has failed to highlight the inexperience of Dudley on K2, which was the principal reason for his demise in such an unmanaged expedition.

The author has captured the personal aspects of Dudley’s life, highlighting his relationship with his family and wife. His feats in sailing and the war give him a hero like appearance. Fritz is the antagonist in the story, who manipulates him to join the expeditions at the beginning. He is shown as a lowlife who tries to coax money out of Dudley’s family even after his death. This is a perfect setting for a tale to ensue, and amidst all the drama, you feel sad for such a kindred and naive soul, who lost his life on someone else’s fool’s errand.

The book is biographical, focusing more on the person, his history and his point of view rather than chronicling the disaster. Dudley is glorified by his feats, and even when approaching death, the author tries to imagine that he died a peaceful and satisfied death. The events after his death were chaotic, and try as she might, the story ends at Dudley’s death, and the events that follow seem largely irrelevant. As she tries to sum up the stories of the other people involved – Fritz, Jack and Alice, Dudley’s shadow palls them. He was left behind and lost, but could not be forgotten. The title The Last Man on the Mountain seems apt for the story, and is worth a read for any adventure lover.





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KULLU – BEYOND HORIZONS. By Rahul Sud. Pp. 192 pages, 150 photographs, 2010. (A self published coffee table book, New Delhi, Rs. 2500 (incl. courier charges within India), +919218550501.

Most photographers tend to travel to areas of their interest and then let the passion for capturing the moment take over. Those who are highly dedicated return again and again always on the look out for the magical shot. In the case of Rahul Sud the situation is a bit different as he is a resident of Kullu and has the opportunity to photograph his favorite locations at different times of the day as well as in different seasons.

Over the years I have done several treks in and around the Kullu region and going through the photographs in Beyond Horizons was like going back in time. In the trekking community, you often come across names like Beas Kund, Brigu lake, Hamta pass, Great Himalayan National Park, Malana, Naggar, Jagatsukh, Deo Tibba base. Rahul had over the years been on several treks to these places at different times of the year and has selected some of his best pictures for the book. In addition due to a fair level of familiarity with the location Rahul has also been able to find spots which give interesting perspectives of the region’s prominent valleys. Some landscape shots panning the full Kullu valley are indeed quite stunning.

Another aspect of Beyond Horizons is that various elements are covered. These elements include peaks, forest, meadows, mountain streams, wildlife, villages, people, festivals as well as views of the stars visible on clear nights. Each of these elements requires a different level of skill and light conditions to get the photograph just right. From the quality of the photographs it is evident that Rahul Sud not only has the skill but also the ability to virtually amble up to some amazing locations fairly frequently.

Being a photography buff myself I did find interest in a particular type of photography, which I never knew existed. Rahul has tried on a windy and cloudy day to take landscape photographs with a long exposure and using filters to ensure that the photograph does not over expose. The results are interesting as clouds, which are moving, appear blurred and the detail in the photograph too is enhanced.

Beyond Horizons, which contains a collection of 150 pictures taken over a period of five year shines as an example of genuine passion for both photography and the mountains.


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