1. Prelude to Everest. (Ian R Mitchell & George W Rodway)
  2. Echoes: One Climber’s Hard Road to Freedom. (Nick Bullock)
  3. Here, There and Everywhere (Jim Curran)
  4. Murder in the Hindu Kush: George Hayward and the Great Game (Tim Hannigan)
  5. Great Game East (Lintner, Bertil)
  6. The Sound of Gravity (Joe Simpson)
  7. The Challenge of K2: A History of the Savage Mountain (Richard Sale)
  8. Triumph and Tragedy: The Life of Edward Whymper (Emil Henry)
    Shadow of the Matterhorn: The Life of Edward Whymper (Ian Smith)
    Whymper’s Scrambles with a Camera: A Victorian Magic Lantern Show. (Peter Berg)
  9. The Will to Climb: Obsession and Commitment and the Quest to Climb Annapurna – the World’s Deadliest Peak (Ed Viesturs and David Roberts)
  10. Mountaineers: Great Tales of Bravery and Conquest (Ed Douglas et. al.)
  11. Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest (Wade Davis)
  12. Mountain Travelogues (Vijay Prakash Singh)
  13. Cold Wars: Climbing the Fine Line Between Risk and Reality (Andy Kirkpatrick)
  14. Northeast Triology (Bhalla, Dipti and Verma, Kunal)



PRELUDE TO EVEREST. By Ian R Mitchell & George W Rodway. Pp. 285, 2011. (Luath Press, Edinburg, £ 20.00).

This timely collaboration between a mountaineer with a grasp of neglected history and a scientist with a keenness for climbing deserves to reestablish Alexander Kellas, the Scottish scientist and Himalayan pioneer, among the great high altitude mountaineers. Prelude to Everest by Ian Mitchell and George Rodway lifts Kellas out of obscurity and puts his achievements into proper focus. It is a memorial to an exceptional mountaineer.

This timely collaboration between a mountaineer with a grasp of neglected history and a scientist with a keenness for climbing deserves to reestablish Alexander Kellas, the Scottish scientist and Himalayan pioneer, among the great high altitude mountaineers. Prelude to Everest by Ian Mitchell and George Rodway lifts Kellas out of obscurity and puts his achievements into proper focus. It is a memorial to an exceptional mountaineer.

A series of visits to Sikkim followed; small, lightweight expeditions with only the local Sherpas for company. He dismissed the idea of employing alpine guides in the Himalaya where, he believed, they would probably be useless. On Pauhunri (7125 m) he unwittingly broke the world summit altitude record and produced an academic paper entitled ‘A consideration of the possibility of ascending the loftier Himalayas’. Unlike such contemporaries as Mummery, Collie, Younghusband and Longstaff, Kellas left no detailed accounts of his adventures but he was probably the first climber to provide scientific evidence of the positive effects of using supplementary oxygen at high altitude, thereby opening the way to Everest.

The authors trace Kellas’s mountaineering and scientific life in a comprehensive and well-researched way. George Mallory’s first impression of him was unheroic but affectionate. ‘Kellas I love already,’ he wrote to his wife. ‘He is beyond description Scotch and uncouth in his speech... He is very slight in build, short, thin, stooping and narrow-chested, his head made grotesque by veritable gig-lamps of spectacles and a long, pointed moustache. He is an absolutely devoted and disinterested person.’

John Noel, the expedition photographer, paid fulsome tribute to Kellas as ‘a pioneer in every sense’ who with the help of the Sherpa people conquered virgin peaks one after another with an ease and rapidity that astonished the world. ‘He would emerge each year from his chemical research work at the hospital. He did not tell the newspapers when he set out to climb a mountain higher than any climber had ever tackled before. He just went unobserved...’

Kellas was a natural choice for inclusion into the 1921 Everest reconnaissance although he was strongly opposed by Percy Farrar, president of the Alpine Club, who had earlier criticised the Scotsman’s climbing abilities, insisting, ‘Kellas has never climbed a mountain, but has only walked about in deep snow with a lot of coolies, and the only time they got on a very steep place they all tumbled down and ought to have been killed.’

Although Kellas wrote very little about his expeditions, he did create an impressive photographic record as his ambitions to climb even higher summits progressed. Three times he explored the possibility of a route up Kamet (7757 m) in the Garhwal, frustrated when the delivery of oxygen cylinders intended for the climb was delayed after they were classified as explosives.

As Kellas became more obsessed by the prospect of Everest, physical illness was added to a fragile mental state; he suffered from aural hallucinations and was already exhausted when he began the long trek to the mountain. Mallory wrote that he died ‘without one of us anywhere near him’ after insisting that everyone should go ahead. Two summits were named after him and one, Kellas Rock Peak (7071 m), a near neighbour of Everest, still bears his name.

Ian Mitchell, an award-winning mountaineering author long aware of the historical importance of Alexander Kellas, and George Rodway, an active mountaineer and Honorary Research Fellow at University College London’s Centre for Altitude, Space and Environment Medicine, have combined to produce a fascinating and important account of Kellas’s life with a 60-page appendix covering his work on high altitude physiology. Kellas concluded that Mount Everest could be ascended by a man of excellent physical and mental constitution in first rate training, without ‘adventitious aids’. Some 58 years later, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler proved him right.


(Reprinted from the Alpine Journal 2012, Vol. 116, with kind permission of the reviewer and the editor)



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ECHOES: ONE CLIMBER’S HARD ROAD TO FREEDOM. By Nick Bullock. Pp. 231 pages, 40 colour and 27 b/w photos, 2012. (Vertebrate Publishing, £20).

The relative ease with which is it now possible to publish, particularly for those endowed with a little spare capital, has resulted in a recent slew of climbing and mountaineering memoirs. Whilst some have been respectively proofed and edited, a considerable number have not. And in my humble opinion, a good many of these suffer from a basic misconception: before putting fingers to keyboard the authors should have taken a step back and asked themselves if what they had to say was really of any interest to anyone outside their immediate peer group. Echoes is not one of these books.

Nick Bullock’s writings will be well-known to many, through his articles in British and American magazines, national club journals, and his blog. Those outside this circle are in for a real eye-opener, as the thrust of this work is the dichotomy of two opposing lives.

In his early years Bullock suffered greatly from a yearning to be accepted, loneliness and a destiny for conformity. After a variety of jobs, including game-keeping at Porthmadog, his father read an article on prison service recruitment. ‘You should apply. Job for life, pension, growth industry.’ The upshot was an appointment at the High Security A prison of Gartree, home to such notorieties as Kray, Brady and the Guildford Four. ‘I knew I had thrown myself in at the deep end. a trait that would become my hallmark’.

The standard prison officer coping strategy of heavy drink and cigarettes was eventually replaced by training to become a PE instructor. And then a life changing event: he attended the course held regularly by Plas-y-Brenin for prison staff. Suddenly, he was enthralled. ‘In that final week [of the course] I made a pact with myself - climbing would become my life’. His work day altered: weight training, circuit training and running with the inmates, with lunch breaks spent climbing on a nearby railway bridge, sometimes in the evening too. And often he would cycle nine miles to work, and back. It’s not surprising he was good; few bodies could survive such a punishing schedule. Within a short period of time he was leading E6 - and beginning a succession of plaster-encasing injuries.

Nick’s writing is insightful, opinionated, and follows the trend of modern mountaineering autobiographies in completely bearing one’s soul. With him we discover the blood, violence, loathing and prejudice of prison life, quickly learning that a small battery, slipped inside a sock, makes a superb cosh (weapon), melting a Bic razorblade onto a toothbrush is perfect for slashing an enemy’s throat, and avoiding bags of shit thrown out of windows is an almost daily occupation. A constant critique is the failing of our society to deal properly with hardened offenders, a failing that produces intensely hate-filled inmates. This is a literate book that asks as many questions as it answers.

Much of the book battles against conservatism, Bullock longing all the time for release (‘after 10 years in the service going out at night concerned me - even frightened me’). Yet he continues to work until he has paid off his mortgage and banked a ‘safety blanket’ that will allow him two years full time climbing. The hippy ‘70s mountaineer would have probably done so less than half way through the book, but we live in different times.

There are obvious comparisons with Andy Cave’s Learning to Breathe, although Cave’s spell as a miner was relatively short, and his book compartmentalised, while Bullock’s impact (if you’ll excuse the pun) on climbing came much later in his life, and his writing flits between two worlds. The climbing is savage, gripping, from his love and hate affair with North Stack Wall to his bold but doomed attempt on the coveted Meru Shark’s Fin with the late Jules Cartwright, one of his closest and most influential climbing partners. High on the wall ‘Cartwright’s drive refused to allow him to accept the obvious and our blind faith in Cartwright refused to allow him to leave’.

Indeed, well proofed and fact-checked, matching the high standard we are coming to expect from Vertebrate Publishing, the chapters read in isolation afford a brilliant juxtaposition of the rigours of prison work and hard winter alpinism or expedition climbing. However, bundled together there is a feeling of repetition that might have been improved by tighter editing.

The book ends in 2003 with his sensational new line on Jirishanca’s fluted southeast face and his subsequent return home to eschew ‘comfortable’, a.k.a. the death of uncertainty. He hands in his notice to start a life on the road, and as we now know, a stack of material for a potential Echoes II.

Keep climbing Nick, and continue to keep us enthralled with your tales, always delivered in that inimitable style.




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HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE. By Jim Curran. Pp. 388, 2012. (Edgebrook Publishing, Sheffield, £ 30.00).

Back in my student days in Sheffield I went along with a group of mates on a dank winter evening to an un-promising venue to hear Jim Curran speak about a mountaineering expedition he had recently returned from. While I cannot recall Jim’s exact trip, his talk painted a compelling picture of far away exotic mountains and he kept us entertained with liberal doses of what I would learn was his trademark self-effacing humour.

Later I would come to know Jim socially as a big-hearted, generous and supportive man – a natural storyteller and pub raconteur second- to-none. Now at what he acknowledges is nearing the end of his life he has sat down and written a comprehensive autobiography, lavishly illustrated with many photographs. As such, it is a warm book about a life lived to the full; it feels very much like Jim wrote it predominantly for himself and appears to leave few stones unturned. For a time he struggled to come up with a suitable title, but what he has settled on is very apt. Here then are the climbs, life-long friendships with some of the great and the good of British climbing, anecdotes from his time as art lecturer and filmmaker, all told with wit, humour and some superb one-liners. However, like any life it has not all been a bed of roses, with deaths of family members and close friends, failed relationships, divorce, tiffs – most notably with fellow climbing media types Jim Perrin and Kurt Diemberger, his involvement in the 1986 K2 tragedy and latterly the discovery of prostate cancer that despite treatment is going to kill him in the end. While these trials and failures call for some self-analysis, at no time does it slip into self-pity.

Personally it was not surprising to learn that Jim has suffered from bouts of depression, as a life lived with such intensity and highs is likely to dip into troughs from time to time. Thankfully he has managed to muddle his way through the darker periods and as somebody with such varied interests, passions, along with family and good friends he has always had plenty to look forward to.

By the end of the narrative Jim has come full circle and his first love of art (particularly drawing) is rekindled. Being something of a philistine when it comes to art, I confess to not reading Julie Summers appraisal, but there are plenty of plates of drawings and paintings for the reader to do what I did and simply look and come to their own conclusions. For what it’s worth I like most of Jim’s output, but not all of it.

Jim describes himself as a jack-of-all-trades, simultaneously following several paths as a climber, writer, filmmaker, artist and college lecturer and wonders what might have happened if he had chosen to focus more on one discipline. Nonetheless, there is a weighty legacy of climbs, some fine mountaineering literature and films, drawings and paintings, students lives influenced or shaped by his time as their mentor, children and grandchildren. And yes, as many already know, he’s also a pretty good public speaker. I think most would happily settle for a lot less – Jim’s has not been a life wasted and it was a privilege to read such an intimate recollection.


(Reprinted from the Alpine Journal 2012, Vol. 116, with kind permission of the reviewer and the editor)



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MURDER IN THE HINDU KUSH: GEORGE HAYWARD AND THE GREAT GAME. By Tim Hannigan. Pp. 254, 2011. (The History Press, Gloucestershire, £18.99).

What a pity Richard Sale didn’t have the benefit of this fascinating book when he was writing The Challenge of K2. Lindsay Griffin describes The Challenge as ‘possibly’ the best-researched book on K2, but it seems that when researching the early exploration of the savage mountain, Sale either did not look in quite the same places as Tim Hannigan or did not rate what he found there. Perhaps the two authors should confer.

Sale credits Francis Younghusband with the being ‘the first European known to have seen K2 from the north’, on his extraordinary 1887 journey from Peking to Srinagar via Kashgar and Yarkand. However, to be fair, Sale is far from categorical about this and does wonder if there might be a precedent. Hannigan supplies one (and perhaps there are more).

On a freezing (-15°C) morning in November 1868, the RGS-sponsored explorer George Hayward scrambled to the top of a crag near the source of the Yarkand river in what was then known as Eastern Turkestan (today’s Xinjiang) and from 19,000 ft looked upon ‘a dizzying expanse of mountains’.

Far to the south stretched the Karakoram where one mountain towered above al1. Hayward tilted his artificial horizon, directed his compass, and calculated - it was 28,278 ft tall.

Surveyors in western Kashmir had already spotted the mountain that would become known as K2 and Hayward had no way of knowing he was looking at the same peak. In his notebook he recorded it simply as ‘Snowy Peak’, however he had the height right to within 30 feet – a remarkable achievement given his immediate vicissitudes as a fugitive in wild and lawless mountains in the grip of winter. Younghusband could of course be described as the first European to know he was looking at the north face of K2.

Hayward was a pawn in the ‘Great Game’ between the Raj and the Russian Empire. True, he mapped the source of the Yarkand and spotted K2 from the north, but he was pipped into Yarkand and Kashgar by Robert Shaw, and kept under house arrest there, and in July 1870 was murdered, still short of his primary objective, the High Pamirs.

Murder in the Hindu Kush was rightly shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Award in 2011. It is Hannigan’s first book – borne of a visit to the western Himalaya as an 18-year old with his climber father Des Hannigan – and he has done well grappling with the ethnic and political complexities of the region, every bit as tangled and brutal in the 19th century as they are today. Comprehending the geography of ‘Hayward country’ would have benefited from some far better maps than the naïve sketches included here.

The odds were always against George Hayward, but that in large part, is what must have endeared the increasingly suicidally obsessive to Tim Hannigan and makes his story such an engaging read.


(Reprinted from the Alpine Journal 2012, Vol. 116, with kind permission of the reviewer and the editor)



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GREAT GAME EAST. By Lintner, Bertil. Pp. 442, 2 maps, 32 colour and b/w photos, 2012. (Harper Collins, New Delhi, Rs. 699).

The term ‘Great Game’ was coined to describe the rivalry between the Imperial Britain and the Tsarist Russia for control or influence in the Karakoram. Various explorers, surveyors and army officers, both British and Russians were roaming the area. This game ended when boundaries were defined and the British left India. It spilled over to Afghanistan and Central Asia. The term ‘New Great Game’ was coined for the conflict between Russia and China and western powers for control of the Central Asia.

The author has coined the term ‘Great Game East’ for the new conflict played out in Asia, near eastern Indian borders. Three countries involved are China, Burma and India. They are so close to each other that at the tri- junction at Diphu la, their borders meet. Several expeditions and explorers have moved freely across this pass and roamed in three countries. These explorers include the Swedish born Lintner and his Shan wife from Burma. In 1985 they undertook an eighteen month, 2275 km overland journey from northeastern India, across the northern rebel-held areas of Burma to China. This journey is covered in his first book Land of Jade. (review in HJ Vol. 67) Thus this author is well qualified to observe and comment on the rivalries between three great powers.

The Chinese move to extend its boundaries led to a war with India in 1962. After descending almost to the plains of Assam they withdrew in face of oncoming winter. That was almost the last war in the area. But they kept alive their claim on entire Arunachal Pradesh. With the presence of the strong Indian army further military ventures were now not possible for China. Thus began the low intensity ‘wars’ to ferment local discontent. Caused due to local aspirations and inept handling by the government in Delhi, these movements were harbinger for a long term conflicts. The author considers such conflicts in Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. They started as violent movements and the first two are still festering. The Chinese are involved in this game by way of money, weapons and support. In Burma there was a constant conflict of interest between China and India due to presence of oil and its strategic position. India went out its way to support military dictators ruling Burma. Indian diplomats visited Burma and the Burmese government extended support to keep Indian rebels in check in their territories. In a unique picture the Burmese dictator, who had killed many, was shown offering flowers on the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace. Each side was appeasing the other.

In 1971 Bangladesh was created out of the war between India and Pakistan. Thousands of Muslim Chakma refugees migrated to neighbouring Assam throwing this Hindu state in turmoil. Soon support was extended to both conflicting sides by China and Burma. Many leaders of separatist groups were trained in the Burmese territories by China while India watched. Thus waters were muddy on all sides by now.

The author describes the above conflicts in detail with all the mechanism of different groups and their interactions. In last chapters he considers the Great Game East in the Indian Ocean where the conflict of interest continues. The area located at the strategic crossroads of Southeast Asia has a major bearing for peace of the area and for the world. This a good reference for anyone who wishes to understand the political future of the continent and its effects on the eastern Himalaya.




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THE SOUND OF GRAVITY. By Joe Simpson. Pp. 234, 2011. (Jonathan Cape, £ 16.99).

This is the second novel by Joe Simpson who was perhaps somewhat surprised to discover himself as a writer at the famous first attempt. Since Touching the Void owed much to the editorial advice of the late Tony Colwell, to whom the present book is co-dedicated, Simpson would not have known whether he was a one-book wonder, especially since the very structure of the two-voiced form was Colwell’s idea. It was therefore a rather bold move to attempt a novel for his second book. With The Water People Simpson might have been testing himself as ‘a real writer’, as it were – someone who was not dependent upon having a gripping personal survival story to tell, but a writer with a shaping imagination and a range of characterisations at his finger tips. The result was a creditable first novel that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Now comes something rather different – so different, in fact, that readers who come straight from Touching the Void will find a writer who has, in many ways, produced a contrasting kind of book at a very different stage of his life. The Sound of Gravity is slower, more philosophical, deeply introspective and driven by a mature devotion to love.

But if the opening chapter is a gripping read in the old Simpson survival mode, it’s actually about not gripping enough: a man lets his wife fall through his hands after she slips on their bivvi ledge. Except that she has noticed that in unclipping herself from their belay to take a pee she has also unclipped him. In fact, she has released herself from his grip to save him, which he will never know. The first section of the novel is about the man’s survival of a storm and his descent to search for the body that he finds in a crevasse into which he has fallen. More accurately, it is about the ebbs and flows of emotions, thoughts and memories of a lover who has lost what he thought he could keep safe.

Actually, the male climber has been unnamed in the first section, so it takes the reader some time to realise that the Patrick who has occupied the hut every summer for the last 25 years in the second section is the same man. And the reason for this long-term vigil is only fully revealed in the novel’s final pages. In between there are compelling characterisations of a series of visitors to the hut: the terminally ill climber, the mixed bag of a village rescue team, the arrogant macho climber who pushes his girlfriend, Cassie, into a state of blank hypothermia. Patrick, a grumpy old bachelor by this time, insists that the girl stays behind at the hut as her boyfriend pushes on through a building storm that lasts several days and dramatically rips apart the hut. Patrick’s methodical preparation for this eventuality is punctuated by a melting of his reserve that leads to a tender sex scene amid the storm that is Lawrencian in its significance. Cassie returns to the hut later and tracks Patrick across the glacier to its snout where she finds him collecting, in a wooden chest stored there, the bones and clothing of his wife in ‘a mixture of revulsion and love’. The novel’s final sentences are a powerful and fully earned redemption in which Cassie says, ‘You have her. We can take her home now.’

Some may find the first section over-written, and the cynics, of whom Simpson would have been one in the past, may find a romantic redemption hard to swallow, but even hoary old alpinists are allowed to find love in the harshest of conditions. The Sound of Gravity is another bold statement by a mature and compelling writer who has yet again extended his reach, both emotionally and stylistically.

But I can’t help smiling at the memory of the gnarly younger Simpson limping into the Byron from Siula Grande and grunting, ‘I’m not going to write about it’, and then later, ‘I’m not going to give talks about it’. It’s rather wonderful to consider where a little article for High magazine might lead.


(Reprinted from the Alpine Journal 2012, Vol. 116, with kind permission of the reviewer and the editor)



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THE CHALLENGE OF K2: A HISTORY OF THE SAVAGE MOUNTAIN. By Richard Sale. Pp. 256, 2011. (Pen & Sword Discovery, South Yorkshire, £19.99).

An extraordinary number of books have recently appeared on the subject of K2, but the phenomenally well-read Richard Sale has possibly produced the best-researched history to date with The Challenge of K2. The last comprehensive biography of the world’s second highest is now more than 15 years old, and in the intervening time there have been significant incidents both on and off the mountain, the latter best exemplified by formal acceptance of Walter Bonatti’s version of events on the first ascent in 1954.

Previous omissions have come to light and no stone seems left unturned. For example, take the fascinating story of Italian Roberto Lerco, who in 1890, two years before Conway’s expedition to the mountain, may well have climbed the Abruzzi Spur as far as House’s Chimney, though was far too modest to speak about ‘such a humble attempt’. Details of his Baltoro journey have been pieced together from letters to a German friend, which are now housed in the National Library of Israel.

The book continues from those early escapades, with prodigious detail through the years, to the claimed ascent by Christian Stangl in 2010. Then there are pages of the inevitable K2 statistics; all ascents, deaths and comparisons with other 8000ers etc. More than 30 pages of comprehensive notes, forming part of the appendix, are interesting reading in their own right. The text has an academic feel, but for those interested in a comprehensive history to (almost) the present day, The Challenge of K2 is indispensable.


(Reprinted from the Alpine Journal 2012, Vol. 116, with kind permission of the reviewer and the editor)



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TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY: THE LIFE OF EDWARD WHYMPER. By Emil Henry. Pp. 460, 2011. (Matador, £ 17.99).
SHADOW OF THE MATTERHORN: THE LIFE OF EDWARD WHYMPER. By Ian Smith. Pp. 336, 2011. (Carreg Ltd., £ 25.00).
WHYMPER’S SCRAMBLES WITH A CAMERA: A VICTORIAN MAGIC LANTERN SHOW. By Peter Berg. Pp. 148, 2011. (Alpine Club, £ 16.00).

The multi-faceted life of Edward Whymper has only been the subject of one serious biography in the English language, namely that by Frank Smythe, published as long ago as 1940 and never reprinted. Coinciding with the centenary of Whymper’s death, two attempts to repair the situation arrived during 2011 and both have added usefully to Smythe’s work. However, though they may have had similar aspirations, the two resulting works are very different.

Emil Henry is essentially both a non-mountaineer and a non-historian, though part of the stimulus to his interest in Whymper was a guided ascent of the Matterhorn back in 1984. In fulfilling what is clearly something of a passion for him, he has produced a successful historical biography here, albeit at the ‘popular’ end of the spectrum. Not that there is anything wrong with that: bringing Whymper’s life to the attention of the modern generation in such a thoroughly engaging and well-written way is certainly no bad thing. However, his relative lack of contact with mountaineering history and European history more generally has produced a book that would have benefited from a level of editorial input that was apparently not forthcoming.

To concentrate on the errors in the book to the detriment of its good side would be unfair. However, a couple of examples will perhaps help to encourage readers to do their own research if they have doubts at any point:

p xv Rather than the 14 cited, more than 30 peaks over 4000m were first climbed in the Golden Age and the primus, far from being available for mountain bivouacs in this period, was not invented until 1892.

p 65 Mont Pelvoux is not the highest peak in the Dauphiné. Mr Henry himself correctly identifies it as the Pointe des Ecrins on page 126.

p 84 Val Tournanche was at one time in Savoy (Savoie refers to the French part of the region) but was only part of France from 1792 to 1815. Austria did not rule this area at the time of Carrel’s birth (1829). It did control Lombardy, but Val Tournanche was not part of Lombardy. The ‘King’ (sic) of Sardinia was not in any sense self-appointed.

p 257 Mummery was not ‘Alfred’ and Haskett Smith, not Mummery, is generally regarded as the father of rock climbing.

On the plus side, Mr Henry has done much to improve the somewhat dismissive treatment given by Smythe to the last 10 years or so of Whymper’s life, which included his marriage, the birth of his daughter, his divorce and no less than six trips to Canada, as well as his lonely death in Chamonix. As compared to some of the earlier ones, the final two chapters are notable for the limited references to Smythe and they are all the better for that, though one has to say that even when re- presenting Smythe, Mr Henry does it with his usual pace and style.

In general production terms the book looks good, though some of the illustrations could have done more justice to Whymper’s wonderful originals. The author has rightly included maps of the key areas, as aids to orientation for the lay reader. However, they should either have been rendered in more legible form or replaced by modern maps.

All in all, with the caveat noted above, this is a very enjoyable, non- specialist account of Whymper’s life. However, the more demanding reader will have to turn elsewhere for a more reliable work.


In contrast to the life of Whymper reviewed above, Ian Smith has provided a biography that takes us some way beyond Smythe and stands as a worthy tribute to the memory of the great, if flawed, man 100 years after his death in Chamonix in 1911.

Although of course not of itself any kind of quality assurance, the sheer comprehensiveness of references (more than 1000) and bibliography (more than 300) is extremely impressive. More impressive still is the fact that Mr Smith’s researches have not only covered the more obvious sources, such as the ACL, BL, NLS, RGS and the Scott Polar Research Institute, but have also uncovered relevant material in such diverse places as Leeds, Zurich, St Andrews University, the Bodleian and the Greenland National Museum in Nuuk. If for no other reason, we are in Mr Smith’s debt for identifying and collating this vast wealth of information. However, his contribution is much more than that.

One particular area where Smythe’s biography is weak is in Whymper’s activities in Greenland. While Smythe may well have decided more or less to ignore these expeditions because of their relative lack of success, Mr Smith has covered them in some detail, thereby providing further insights into his subject’s personality following the traumatic events of 1865. In this connection, it is surprising that neither Smythe, nor indeed Henry, even mention one of the key figures in the first expedition, namely Robert Brown. Mr Smith ably puts this to rights by painting out Whymper’s doubtless very frustrating relationship with this rather odd man.

While recognising that Travels Amongst the Great Andes of the Equator was Whymper’s magnum opus, Smythe spent very little time covering the issues involved in its production and that of the supplementary appendix, familiarly known as ‘Whymper’s bug book’. This has considerable importance from a scientific point of view, as well as representing a high point in the wood-engraver’s art. Again, Mr Smith’s biography gives due prominence to the importance of this book, both externally and as a part of Whymper’s life over a period of no less than a decade.

The other area where Smith’s book fills a useful gap is in his treatment of wood-engraving, the Whymper family’s importance in the art during the better part of half a century and the part played by Whymper in the transition from wood-engraving to photography as the preferred mode of book illustration in the latter part of the 19th century. Having said that, it is unfortunate that the publishers could not find a way of coming closer to the originals in the renderings of Whymper’s engravings. Most of the fine detail in Whymper’s work is lost and the modern reader will gain very little impression of the extraordinary quality that will be found either in Scrambles or Travels Amongst the Great Andes. (Much the same comment could be made about Emil Henry’s book, though not about Peter Berg’s: see below.)

A limited number of photographs could probably have been usefully included to illustrate key points, but the 26 deployed are arguably too many and some, such as those in Greenland and the two from Ecuador add little to the proceedings.

The comments on illustration are, however, minor blemishes and Mr Smith’s book should stand the test of time as the best biography thus far of one of the great figures in mountaineering history.


In 1945, two boxes of Victorian lantern slides were donated to the Alpine Club by a certain Mrs Barron of St Albans. They were recognised as a set of the original slides used by Edward Whymper in a lecture first given in Davos in August 1896, possibly the very same set. The slides remained in the care of the Library until the former honorary archivist, Peter Berg, started his investigations in the mid 1990s. This led to an article in the 1997 AJ and to a re-creation of Whymper’s lecture, which Peter first gave at the Alpine Club in 1998 and which he has repeated in various venues, notably at the AC 150th celebrations in Zermatt in 2007.

As his personal contribution to the celebration of the centenary of Whymper’s death, Peter has now converted the lecture into book form, using primarily Whymper’s own writings for the accompanying text, supplemented by extracts from the books of contemporaries and the works of more recent writers. The reconstruction uses the majority of the slides in the boxes donated by Mrs Barron, as well as a number of reproductions of engravings from Scrambles amongst the Alps. The whole ‘performance’ is linked by Peter Berg’s own explanatory text.

Apart from being congratulated for having the very idea of doing this, Peter is also to be complimented on its execution, both in terms of the text and the book itself. The quality of the paper chosen has made a major contribution to the excellent reproduction values, not only of the photographic slides but also of Whymper’s own engravings, the quality of which can be easily compromised if due attention is not paid to the printing process.

The fact that the photographs are so well reproduced allows the reader to appreciate the standard that Whymper was achieving in the ‘new’ medium. Far from allowing himself to become stuck in the traditions of engraving, which had formed such a major part of his life, he clearly embraced photography and became something of an artist in this medium too. Although some of the photographs in his lecture were sourced from other photographers, most are Whymper’s and one only needs to look at classic views such as slide 29 of the Matterhorn and slide 54 of the Chamonix valley and Mont Blanc to see the sort of standards he was achieving. However, his skill was not restricted to mountain views, as slides 58 ‘Boulders on the Montagne de la Côte’ and 74 ‘Dr Janssen ascending’ show.

Peter Berg has done us all a favour by bringing another piece of the AC archive to our attention in such an informative and entertaining way.


(Reprinted from the Alpine Journal 2012, Vol. 116, with kind permission of the reviewer and the editor)



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The Will to Climb sat in my book pile for a long time. I couldn’t bring myself to open it. The title turned me off, the cover announced that Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the National Football League wrote the foreword and I guess I didn’t respect that Ed Viesturs needed the tried and true climbing writer David Roberts to write the book. When I did I open the book, the old adage ‘You can’t judge by its cover’ seemed to ring true as I turned the book’s pages quite easily.

The authors set the story up quickly. In April of 2000, Viesturs is hiking in to climb Annapurna, the tenth highest mountain in the world. He has climbed ten of the fourteen 8000ers without supplemental oxygen. No American has ever accomplished this feat. Viesturs is married and has one child and his wife is pregnant with another.

When Viesturs was sixteen he read Herzog’s, Annapurna. The account of Herzog’s climb inspires him to claim that the book was the single most important push in the determination he formed by the age of twenty to become a mountaineer himself.

On page ten, the authors tell us The Will to Climb is structured around the dichotomy between obsession and commitment, as revealed in the deeds of Annapurna’s bravest and most skillful antagonist. The deeper meanings of climbing: fear and pain, fulfillment and emptiness, triumph and failure are explored through an all-star cast of characters who have climbed Annapurna.

Meanwhile Viesturs introduces us to his longtime partner, Veikka Gustafusson, and gives us a revealing moment in the book when four trekkers who paid for the experience of hiking to base camp with Veikka leave the team at Annapurna’s base camp. Viesturs records the moment in his journal, ‘Trekkers are gone—yahoo! We have our own space.’

Viesturs and his team do not climb Annapurna this time. The mountain is in horrible condition and rife with avalanches and serac fall. They retreat and the book shifts into the history of climbing Annapurna.

The book cooks through here and my palms sweat as Maurice Herzog and his partner Louis Lachenal are the first to climb Annapurna and both lose their fingers and toes during their ‘successful’ climb. Herzog is elated and Lachenal feels no fulfillment and feels robbed of his legendary skill and grace. Here the authors ask, what are the lasting rewards of mountaineering or any passionate enterprise? The book seems to hinge on Maurice Herzog’s famous line: ‘There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men.’

The authors seem to assume the reader has read Viesturs’ and Roberts’ two other books, No Shortcuts to the Top and K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain and here I feel the book loses track as it delves into the first ascents of the other Himalayan giants. Viesturs also lets us know he closes the loop by climbing all fourteen of the 8000 m peaks without oxygen while at the same time the authors continue with the history of climbing Annapurna and Viesturs own struggle to climb the mountain. We are continually told Viesturs is not in a race.

When Viesturs is seventeen maybe eighteen, he reads Chris Bonington’s Annapurna South Face. The book, in his words, gives a powerful boost to his ambition to become a climber. The authors use Bonington’s book to tell the story of the massive English South Face Expedition and once again I breezed through the pages.

In 1978, American Arlene Blum put together a team of ten women to attempt the north face of Annapurna. The team successfully put Vera Komarkova and Irene Miller on top. The pair was first Americans to stand on the summit. Blum wrote a book too: Annapurna: A Woman’s Place. The classic book and the all-woman climb fanned much controversy. The authors aren’t inspired by the book and inform us that Blum herself didn’t climb above 22,000 feet, used male Sherpas who broke trail, and that Komarkova and Miller used supplemental oxygen the last 12,000 feet. Viesturs tells us when writing about controversies in the book that he has his own thoughts about the expedition but prefers to keep them to himself.

Another book, Les 8000 Rugisants (The Roaring 8000) written by Erhard Loretan (with a Swiss journalist) is examined along with mentioning and poking into a host of books written by climbers such as Reinhold Messner, Jerzy Kukuczka and Anatoli Boukreev. Viesturs is influenced and inspired by these books.

By the time I finished the book I still didn’t like the cover or the blurbs, but worse, I didn’t know anything about Ed Viesturs except that he has some thoughts he’d rather keep to himself. I wondered where he got the money for all these climbs and, despite his claims to the contrary, I was not convinced it wasn’t a race for him to become the first American. Like I said, I read the book quite easily, especially when the authors dug deeply into classic climbing literature, but when Ed Viesturs finally stands on Annapurna’s summit and closes the loop of climbing all fourteen 8000 m peaks, he tells us, ‘Oh my God! It’s not just my fourteenth, it’s Annapurna,’ I’m not there, and I wondered why Viesturs didn’t write his own book.


(Reprinted from the American Alpine Journal 2012, with kind permission of the reviewer and the editor)



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MOUNTAINEERS: GREAT TALES OF BRAVERY AND CONQUEST. By Ed Douglas et. al. Pp. 360 pages, 2011. (DK Publishing, $ 40.00).

Ignore the vulgar sub-title and open the book. Hundreds of big glossy pages (12 inches by 10) with abundant photographs. There is also a good deal of text, but no ‘tales’ except of the most abbreviated kind. Instead one finds a sweeping if anecdotal history of not only mountaineering but mountains themselves, along with geological changes and evolving climbing gear, from pre-historic times until now. The emphasis is on pictures and layout, not on words.

Indeed, it is hard to know who wrote those words, which have all the personality of an encyclopedia. No authorial credit appears on the dust jacket or title page - you must really hunt for the attribution to Ed Douglas and associates. They give us brief but knowledgeable accounts of peaks and those who climbed them, or tried to. The biographies, while generally adulatory as well as accurate, can be properly critical: Oscar Eckenstein was ‘direct, argumentative, and quick-tempered’ [196]; Don Whillans drank too much and got fat; Paul Bauer was an especially distasteful Nazi.

Mountain descriptions - a page or two each - are well chosen, but readers will inevitably regret some omissions: in my case, Mount Kailash, the beautiful striated sacred summit in western Tibet. The photographs, familiar and not, are often beautiful, although some of the older ones lose sharpness on being blown up to size. The photos of Everest, Denali and many others that are provided with route lines are vivid. The pages are attractively laid out, with sidebars and boxes, and the production is excellent - sewn signatures, rare these days.

The primary audiences for the book are beginning climbers, those interested in mountains, and people with big coffee tables. But more sophisticated readers, like members of the AAC, can profit from it as well. How many of us know about the glaciologist Franz Josef Hugi, who made the first ascent of the Finsteraahorn in 1828? Or the climbing monk, Placidus À Spescha? Or John Ball, the Victorian guidebook pioneer? Or the extent of the mountain involvement of people famous for other achievements, like John Ruskin and J.M.W. Turner?

Mountaineering provides no full meals, but it is a big, tasty plate of hors d’oeuvres. Above all, it reminds (or informs) us that climbing has a rich long history. Every climbing gym should have a copy.


(Reprinted from the American Alpine Journal 2012, with kind permission of the reviewer and the editor)



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INTO THE SILENCE: THE GREAT WAR, MALLORY, AND THE CONQUEST OF EVEREST. By Wade Davis. Pp. 672, 2011. (Knopf, New York, $ 32.50).

I begin with a confession. Opening Wade Davis’s Into the Silence for the first time, I found it difficult to believe that there was more to be said about the celebrated English mountaineer George Leigh-Mallory, or about the Everest expeditions of the 1920s, to possibly justify the book’s nearly six hundred pages of narrative. After all, there are at least five worthy biographies of Mallory already in print, including Peter and Leni Gillman’s excellent The Wildest Dream, any number of broader histories of Everest and/or the Himalaya that deal extensively with the 1920s expeditions, including Walt Unsworth’s comprehensive Everest, not to mention a raft of fairly recent books inspired by the discovery of Mallory’s body on Everest in 1999, including Conrad Anker and David Robert’s gripping first-hand account, The Lost Explorer.

But I was wrong. With the publication of Into the Silence, Davis, a Canadian anthropologist, ‘explorer-in-residence’ at the National Geographic Society, and prize-winning author of a dozen previous books about outdoor adventure, natural history, and other topics (including zombies!), steps into the front rank of mountaineering historians.

The 1920s British Everest expeditions did not succeed in climbing the mountain, but were tremendously influential in shaping the history of Himalayan mountaineering in ensuing decades, and not just because they set the pattern for the large-scale expeditionary efforts of the mid- 20th century with the double burden of promoting national prestige while reaching for the world’s highest untouched summits. The initial British push on Everest also made Himalayan mountaineering an object of deep and abiding popular fascination in the west, chiefly through the romantic image conjured into existence by the disappearance into the mist on June 8, 1924, of Mallory and climbing partner Sandy Irvine somewhere in the vicinity of the second step on the mountain’s northeast ridge.

The events leading up to that dramatic tableau are, of course, part of a familiar and oft-told story. What’s new and exciting about this book begins with the links that Davis establishes between the Great War of 1914-1918, and the Everest expeditions of 1921, 1922 and 1924. The typical account of Everest in the 1920s has heretofore been based on a few well-explored archives: the British Library, the Royal Geographic Society, the Alpine Club, Mallory’s correspondence from Everest with his wife, deposited at the Magdalene College library at Cambridge University. Davis has mined all of these traditional sources, but has in addition put in many hours in hitherto ignored or underused archives, including those in London’s Imperial War Museum, from which he reconstructed the military experiences of a score of British mountaineers who made their way up the Rongbuk glacier to the North Col of Everest in the first decade after the war. Except for the very youngest and oldest, almost to a man the mountaineers on those expeditions were veterans of hard fighting in the ghastly trench warfare on the Western Front that killed nearly a million British and Commonwealth soldiers, and wounded over two million others. As Davis wrote of Canadian surveyor and mountaineer Edward Oliver Wheeler, a member of the 1921 expedition, ‘By the time he was twenty-eight he had witnessed the deaths of hundreds, encountered the shattered bodies of thousands. Death’s power lies in fear, which flourishes in the imagination and the unknown. For Wheeler there was nothing more that death could show him, short of his own.’ The wartime experience of the Everest pioneers did not necessarily make them reckless climbers obsessed with the summit at all cost (a charge sometimes leveled against their German and Austrian counterparts in the inter-war era), but they certainly did share a war-bred fatalism. The three expeditions to Everest in the 1920s would cost the lives of three British and seven Sherpa climbers, deaths often keenly felt by the survivors – but also accepted as necessary sacrifices in a common effort dedicated to a greater cause.

The war changed the climbers – and also shaped the perception of the public at home who eagerly followed their exploits, as conveyed through newspaper articles, expedition books, and the new medium of film. Military officer John Noel was a key figure both in launching the post-war British push on Everest, and subsequently in popularising the effort; a pioneering filmmaker, he accompanied and documented the 1922 and 1924 expeditions. Of the resulting films, Climbing Mount Everest (1922), and The Epic of Everest (1924), Davis writes, they ‘fed into a greater quest, embraced readily by a tired and exhausted people, to show that the life and death of an individual could still have meaning, that the war had not expunged everything heroic and inspired. The image of the noble mountaineer scaling the heights, climbing literally through a zone of death to reach the heavens, high above the sordid reality of the modern world, would emerge first from the imagination and through the lens of John Noel.’

Mallory would come to epitomize the image of the death-defying mountaineer embracing a noble end; hence his inclusion in the subtitle of Davis’s book. But what is striking about this Everest history is Mallory’s absence until Chapter 5 (entitled ‘Enter Mallory.’) Indeed, until the narrative reaches the 1924 expedition, nearly 500 pages in, Mallory is often a subsidiary character in the unfolding drama. That this is the least Mallory-centric history of Everest in the 1920s yet published works to the book’s advantage for it creates room for such crucially important but often neglected figures as Alexander Kellas (student of high altitude physiology, champion of the Sherpas), and George Finch (champion of the use of bottled oxygen), to come into their own.

Davis seems at times a little irritated with Mallory’s shortcomings in the practical skills of exploration, even as he acknowledges his stellar abilities as a climber. In 1921 Mallory repeatedly missed seeing a key landscape feature, the mouth of the East Rongbuk glacier that would provide the expeditions of the 1920s and beyond a route to the North Col, and potentially the summit. Instead, as Davis shows, it was his fellow Canadian, Edward Oliver Wheeler, the expedition’s mapmaker and topographer, who correctly read the mountain’s secrets, while Mallory floundered around pursuing dead ends. Wheeler’s journals and personal correspondence, uncovered and employed to good effect by Davis, will be as crucial to future accounts of the 1921 expedition as Mallory’s papers have been in the past.

‘The challenge from the start,’ Davis writes in a detailed bibliographic essay that follows and supplements his narrative, ‘was to go beyond the iconic figure of George Mallory...’ He has succeeded splendidly in meeting that goal.


(Reprinted from the American Alpine Journal 2012, with kind permission of the reviewer and the editor)



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MOUNTAIN TRAVELOGUES. By Vijay Prakash Singh. Pp. 260, no maps or illustrations, 2012. (Pilgrims Publishing, Varanasi, India, Rs. 395).

The author describes the Himalaya as his spiritual home and he seeks divinity as the purpose of life. Travelling is the moving force and inspiration in his life and so he undertakes various trips to the Himalaya. Reading Himalayan travel is also his passion. During the course of his travel, he observes destruction of nature since the turn of 20th century and laments the same. The author has emphasised this aspect again and again in various sections while writing this book to bring before the reader the urgency of preserving Himalayan ecology and culture. He hopes that his research will generate the awareness about traditional culture of the Himalaya and pleads with all visitors to this region to safeguard the flora and fauna and stop its destruction. The book is divided in two parts - in first part it covers Garhwal, Kumaun, Sikkim, Ladakh and Nepal. The second half exclusively deals with Tibet.

While writing the book, various aspects were looked into such as history, mythology, social fabric in the region, local customs and political events etc. However, separate chapters should have been written on different regions of the Himalaya as has been done with Tibet. Also, the author appears to have relied heavily on certain books which were written quite recently. As compared to that, travelogue on Tibet is widely covered and very well written. While writing on Tibet, both the phases in Tibetan history i.e. up to 1950 and post Chinese annexation were taken into consideration. The author mentions in his preface that each travel writer has a unique outlook as well as some commonalities of perception. His purpose is to show this diversity and in the process unfold the canvas of the region. He succeeded in fulfilling the last goal but the canvas needs to be broader and thicker.




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COLD WARS: CLIMBING THE FINE LINE BETWEEN RISK AND REALITY. By Andy Kirkpatrick. Pp. 276, 2011. (Vertebrate Publishing, £ 20.00)

Cold Wars is the second volume of autobiography from Andy Kirkpartrick, whose first, Psychovertical, won the Boardman Tasker prize in 2008. Title apart, (and the subtitle of this latest is no better), Psychovertical was a tremendous book, chronicling the author’s climbing escapades through his 20s, and formed around a series of chapters describing his ascent of Reticent Wall, one of Yosemite’s hardest multi-day aid climbs.

‘But you are so young’, comments a German lady at a publicity event for Psychovertical, clearly unconvinced that at such a tender age there can yet be enough to say. Andy hasn’t got the nerve to inform her that he plans not only a volume two but a trilogy.

Andy has the ability to conjure up a character in a couple of lines. This is something that did not strike me so forcefully with Psychovertical. On the other hand, what’s missing here is the awareness of place, the sense of wonder at the natural world that was so well conveyed there. Reading his chapters on Reticent Wall one could feel the grainy texture of the granite, the fine detail of the exfoliations up which he hooks, the mind concentrated and focused in the most microscopic way by his fear.

It is inevitable, as Andy well knows that Cold Wars will be compared to its predecessor. Something that I don’t recall in the first volume, but that irritated me here, is his impressionability vis-à-vis ‘names’. This may be a technique of course. The book dovetails seamlessly with Psychovertical, beginning with Andy back in camp hours after topping out on El Cap, where he is now deemed enough of a success to hang out with the other top dudes. And so it continues, sporadically, throughout the book; a social climbing which, given Andy’s hair-raising performances, is no more than his just deserts and which introduces us to a succession of apparently celebrity climbers – ‘apparently’, because this reviewer had never heard of half of them, and none came over as nearly as interesting as the author.

As I say, this may be technique, as may Andy’s supposed dire incompetence – forgetting things, dropping things, getting in a mess generally. There is no doubt that this makes the book more gripping and entertaining than it might otherwise be, just as it has always struck me that climbing films would be so much better if the stars weren’t all so damned good. Mild VS (just, for a few feet) climbers on E4; now, there’s entertainment. But I was on the Boardman Tasker panel when Psychovertical was discussed, and we all wondered whether, the book’s structure being so brilliant, it mightn’t have had significant input from a very experienced editor. Andy has since assured me that this was not so, that he did it all himself. We must believe him, of course, and do the same here: assume the incompetence is genuine. In any case, if it is exaggerated that only makes his climbing successes all the more remarkable, and his cleverness as a writer all the more impressive.

Not only does this volume follow Psychovertical seamlessly in time, but the climbing is also much the same. Here is a series of adventures, each of which contains at least one epic, that are geographically quite narrow-minded – mainly the Dru and Patagonia - and always played out in winter. Andy is driven by an urge to reach the top of the game that requires him to attempt the hardest climbs in the most punishing conditions that is reminiscent of Joe Tasker. He does not succeed in conveying just how hard his climbing escapades are, and perhaps this is the drawback of the stand-up comedian that he is, the slap-stick humour that infuses every page – it just becomes impossible to credit that things are really as serious as they appear to be. But he does convey the sheer cold. I found myself shivering on several occasions – a remarkable achievement. And the man is genuinely funny.

Andy loves to play the clown, but though I suppose even here I’m open to his formidable persuasive talents, I don’t believe he’s in any way the dimwit he likes to portray. The whole book just smells too strongly of talent. It is wonderfully entertaining, almost un-put-down-able.

Even so, if it was just a book of climbing adventures I would have been satiated well before the end. After all, we’ve all done these sorts of things; felt these sorts of things, if at a less exalted level. What raises it into a different league is that it’s not ultimately about hard climbing at all – it’s about escaping from it. Andy is a father and husband, and gradually the psychological forces at war in his head – and this, not climbing, is the real cold war of the book – begin to turn in favour of his children. This was all there in embryo in volume one, so there is nothing entirely new here, but that is precisely why it’s so effective, and why Psychovertical and Cold Wars really form a single piece of work. What we are seeing over the course of both volumes is a gradual realignment of competing forces. The metamorphosis takes several years – for Andy to climb down gracefully – but something of its inevitability infuses every chapter. Perhaps the best, the most poignant, describes his ascent of the Lesueur route on the Dru with a partner he doesn’t know but who comes strongly recommended. And the man’s a guide, after all. After a shaky start, this stranger - who seems not to have quite the right gear, to be oddly lacking in confidence, to have weird gaps in his expertise - just gets stronger and stronger, and has emerged well before the top as the climbing hero, with Andy very much the junior partner. The writing is almost frighteningly honest here.

‘I can’t do it,’ I said, looking back at him. ‘I can’t do it. Please will you lead it?’ I felt shame saying those words but they came easily enough. I’d have given everything I had not to lead that pitch.

Not only that, but Andy has by this time discovered a misunderstanding, and the explanation for those weird gaps: the stranger – who’s never named - is indeed a qualified guide, but a walking guide. Andy has taken him onto a route way beyond anything he’s ever done ‘On paper he was going to die. In reality he had found his calling.’

Whilst for Andy, by this time, in the end, the children have won, and soon he’s skiing the sun-kissed slopes, not slogging up to the Dru for yet another epic. The vignettes of his family are without exception moving. There are others too that have nothing directly to do with climbing but paint a picture wonderfully – that of being a film-set extra brings the glamour of that world nicely down to earth. And anyone who thinks being a professional speaker is glamorous should perhaps read his description of the Alpinist magazine party in Colorado, which came over as a yearningly empty, lonely experience.

This notion that as a well-known climber Kirkpatrick would always disappoint is so wrong. He should forget – perhaps he already has – those celeb climbers who so impress him. He is both cleverer and more interesting than they. There is some unevenness, but Cold Wars confirms that Kirkpatrick is a writer, not just a climber who writes. It would be interesting to see him tackle a novel – a kid’s novel perhaps. Meanwhile, what has he got left to put into volume III? If it’s of the standard of its predecessors he will have created one of the most important of modern climbing autobiographies.


(Reprinted from the Alpine Journal 2012, Vol. 116, with kind permission of the reviewer and the editor)



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NORTHEAST TRIOLOGY. By Bhalla, Dipti and Verma, Kunal. (three volumes). Pp. 1294, many maps, several colour pictures, 2011. (KaleidoIndia, Gurgaon, India, Rs. 4500, post free in India).

Contact author on: “Verma Kunal”, for copies and post rates for abroad.

Vol. 1 East of Kangchenjunga (Sikkim, North Bengal, Assam and Meghalaya)

Vol. 2 Brahma’s Creation (Arunachal Pradesh)

Vol. 3 Children of Dawn (East Arunachal, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura and Mizoram)

Not much is known, even now, about the eastern part of India. It contains the Himalayan mountains, war history, unique tribal culture and much more. Still not a single comprehensive book of reference was available. This book covers it all. Supported by the Indian army the author couple flew all over the area. The book contains some superb aerial shots which are otherwise impossible to obtain. To see the Brahmaputra plains, Himalayan range and those thick forest from air is a treasure.

In the fast changing world information on culture will remain an important record for future anthropologists. Each volume of more than 400 pages, glossy and coloured, is divided into different areas and cover a variety of topics. Each volume has maps and an excellent Bibliography.

The first volume has striking pictures of Kangchenjunga and surrounding peaks. More to the east rises Chomolhari on border of Bhutan in a striking pose. But it is ‘The Plateau’ that takes the cake in the chapter on Sikkim. Gurudongmar lake, Kangchenjau, Chomo Yummo are rarely seen peaks now-a-days. To see them from a helicopter flight is even rarer. Other areas covered in this volume are Assam with its mix of Christianity, Islam and Hinduism and its tribes such as Chakma and Bodos. This is an extensive coverage in all aspects.

The second volume begins with a magnificent aerial shot of the Lohit river flowing like a snake near Hayuliang. This is matched by great pictures of the Siang Bend and lower Dibang. It is not only about mountains as many important Buddhist monasteries and life of lamas is covered. Doni Polo, the traditional religion finds a place. The Apatani Plateau consisting of Ziro and Daporijo and its unique culture and people gets plenty of attention. Then they travel in the central areas to the higher areas of Kameng looking at great peaks of Kangto and Chomo. These peaks looks stunningly beautiful from the air and give a very different perspective. I had walked 10 days to reach the base of these peaks and here the authors had a round in the morning and back for lunch! The volume ends with coverage of Hawai (not the US Hawaii with double ‘ii’ s!) the district that borders China. It suffered in the 1962 war but now a most beautiful area between Burma and China. The last picture shows Rima across the border and again the beauty of their pictures is staggering.

The third volume covers beautiful states of Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura and Mizoram. These areas are not only home to indigenous people, they are full of history. The book narrates ‘Kachar Levy 1835’ a para military force formed by the British to protect the area and the Naga Hill Insurgency. The historic episode of the Second War where fighting across a Tennis Court British defeated the Japanese to halt their progress to Assam are given in some detail. The siege of Kohima is called ‘Stalingrad of East’. It covers Lushai Expedition and march of the XIVth Army ably led by General Slim. They quote from his book Defeat into Victory. The book covers the 1971 Bangladesh war, with historic pictures, and its effect on the region. I found the coverage of ‘Loktak lake’ in Manipur fascinating. This is the largest fresh water lake in the region. It is unique ecosystem, perhaps only one of its kind globally. Called the phumdi, it is a heterogeneous mass of vegetation, soil and organic matter at various stages of decomposition. It gives the appearance of floating islands on the lake and the aerial pictures here bring out the beauty.

Finally the book covers ‘OP SRIJIGA’ where a platoon of the Indian army covered the unknown area from Miao to Chaukan Pass along the Nao Dihing river, a tributary of the Lohit. In face of the impeding threat of the Chinese invasion this area between Burma and China was brought under the Indian control on 27 November 1961. Historic pictures, maps and stunning images of the forest complete the book.

The only drawback of these three volumes is that they lack Indexes, making it very difficult to make proper references in such a vast coverage. The price, even in Indian rupees is steep but this private publication is offered post free in India. This is a record for posterity and anyone interested in eastern India should refer to it.



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