Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sturm auf die Throne der Götter, by Rudolf Skuhra

Rudolf Skuhra's Sturm auf die Throne der Götter is a fairly easy-to-find book if you live in Germany, but it's a rare find near me. Skuhra's work is a history of expeditions to the 8000-meter peaks, but because of its relatively early publication, the book includes expeditions only to Everest, K2, Kachenjunga, Nanga Parbat, and Annapurna. This book has several editions and updates, and at the library I found his second-to-last edition, published in 1953, encompassing the years 1921-1950. His final edition includes climbs up to the year 1953, including the successful climb of Everest, and I'd like to read it some day. Skuhra separates out the expeditions by mountain and by year; expeditions to Everest occupy approximately half the book.

Skurha does a good job of turning the Everest expedition accounts into short, but enjoyable reads. He gets his facts straight, and generally keeps opinions to himself (except for one humorous bit about the Cognac shared by climbers on the 1922 attempt had to be non-alcoholic, because everyone knows alcohol is detrimental to acclimatization). He inserts some dialogue that I don't remember from the original books, but since his other information is good, I'm starting to doubt my memory. I'll be reading Ruttledge's 1933 account soon, so I'll have to go back and check what the dialogue says for that year. I found it interesting that the author includes the 1921 reconnaissance, but only gives a quick mention to the 1935 second reconnaissance.  There isn't really any analysis or interpretation in this book, so there's not a good reason to read this book if German is not your primary language. 

This is overall a trustworthy and enjoyable account of the early expeditions to Everest. If you're looking for something similar in English about the early Everest expeditions, I would recommend Eric Shipton's Men Against Everest. If you want to read something much more thorough and analytical about the early (and later) expeditions to the 8000-meter peaks, I'm big fan of Isserman and Weaver's Fallen Giants. Happy reading!


  1. I noted in Ruttledge's "Everest 1933" that Smythe and Wood-Johnson both participated in the 1930 International Kanchenjunga Expedition. I went back and read the chapter on it in Skuhra's book. The effort was led by Gunther Dyrenfurth (his son would later lead the 1963 American Everest expedition), and they attempt the North Face of the mountain. One Sherpa is killed in an avalanche after days of toil and a couple thousand feet of ascent, and they retreat and climb a couple smaller peaks. Smythe was there as both a climber and a "Times" correspondent, and he soon after wrote a book, "The Kanchenjunga Adventure." I was hoping to see Wood-Johnson in action, since he spends most of the 1933 Everest expedition incapacitated, but he is dragged off by Dyrenfurth as a translator in an attempt to find more reliable porterage. He does, however, handle a lot of tense negotiations with the porters and ends a porter strike on the trek in.

  2. I admit, Skuhra wins! In Mallory's account of their 1922 climb, found in "The Assault on Everest 1922," he clearly states regarding the drink shared high on the mountain: "It is logically certain therefore that the Brandy contained no alcohol."

  3. After reading Calvert's biography of Smythe, "Smythe's mountains," I get the feeling that I did not get nearly as much out of the Kanchenjunga section as I should have. The story of the 1930 climb is more complex than I assumed, and Wood-Johnson actually spent a considerable amount of time on the mountain. In addition, the "smaller peaks" they climbed included Jonsong peak, the highest yet climbed!