Thursday, June 28, 2012

Peaks, Passes and Glaciers, edited by Walt Unsworth

Walt Unsworth pulls together a range of stories and essays from the history of (mostly) British mountaineering in Peaks, Passes and Glaciers: Selections from the Alpine Journal. Unsworth, author of Everest: The Mountaineering History and Hold the Heights: The Foundations of Mountaineering, picks highlights from the long history of the publication, with articles submitted by Whymper, Dent, Mummery, Young, Irving, Diemberger, Clough, Harlin, and several others, showing more than anything the development of technique and attitudes. His choices include such classics as Whymper's "The Fatal Accident on the Matterhorn" and Young's "Mountain Prophets," to a bit of fun with Carr's description of the proper food and attire for an Alpine climb, circa 1900. I appreciated reading Band's description of the last bit of climb on Kanchenjunga, as my focus on Everest has provided me only basic knowledge that historic climb, and Ian Clough's and Mick Burke's contributions, as I've only known them from the writings of other climbers. (Both perished on Bonington expeditions.) I have trouble getting into some of the early history of climbing, but the articles Unsworth includes are some of the most entertaining I've read.

Although there is only one article specifically about Everest (Hillary's "The Last Lap," about his climb to the summit along with Tenzing), quite a number of Everest climbers contribute, including Smythe, Mallory, Angtsering (who happened to be the last surviving member of the 1924 expedition---an interview with him late in life is found here), Strutt, Diemberger, Band, Burke, and Fyffe. The articles by Smythe and Mallory are classics, with Smythe describing a terrible climb in the Alps in which he was struck by lightning, and Mallory reminiscing about his climb of Mont Blanc while stuck in the trenches during the Great War. I had never read the Mallory essay in total before, and it reminded me quite a bit of Joyce, with much of the drama taking place internally. It's the essay with the famous lines "Have we conquered an enemy? None but ourselves." Angtsering describes his survival of the 1934 Nanga Parbat disaster, Strutt mouths off about crazy Germans on the Eiger, and Diemberger describes a favorite climb. I truly enjoyed Clough's writing and was pleasantly surprised by Allan Fyffe's article, a stalwart but underrepresented character in both Bonington's Everest: The Hard Way and Grieg's Kingdoms of Experience. Burke's article is fun, describing a winter climb with Haston on the North Face of the Matterhorn, and it reinforces my impression of his personality from Haston's and Bonington's writing. Hillary's contribution is as expected, quite similar to his other summit tales, though a bit more equal-minded, with both he and Tenzing gasping like fish at the top of the Hillary Step.

1 comment:

  1. Note: Mallory also makes an appearance (unnamed) in Young's "Five Years with Recruits" as one of his first young climbers.