Friday, August 24, 2012

Abode of Snow, by Kenneth Mason

Kenneth Mason writes a pretty thorough book in Abode of Snow: A History of Himalayan Exploration and Mountaineering. He published the book in 1955, a bit of a frustrating time to stop, as much of the early exploration was beginning to culminate in climbs of the big Himalayan peaks. However, his early publication could as easily be a blessing in disguise, as a lack of big news on the climbing front allowed him to focus on the many smaller expeditions that are left out or marginalized in later Himalayan histories, such as Osmastson's Bandar Punch climbs, Hunt's winter climbing in Sikkim, or Ruttledge's later surveys. The book is a great summary of Himalayan early history (including just about everything from the Jesuits to WWII), and a handy starting resource for the researcher. Mason clearly knows his material, and he not only summarizes but analyzes the many expeditions in the book, cutting the Workmans down to size, giving mixed reviews to the Schlagintweit brothers, and writing a diatribe against Fritz Wiessner. As the author is a surveyor, he is sure to point out the crucial role they play in the early exploration and later climbing of Himalayan mountains. (He also stumps on the ineffectiveness of aneroid altimeters on Himalayan peaks.) 

Regarding Everest, Mason writes the most interesting information on its prehistory. Though he gives plenty of room to the climbing expeditions (the licit ones, at least), the information is largely from official sources, mainly the expedition books, including Hunt's The Ascent of Everest. He credits Bruce over Kellas for the use of Sherpas on the Everest climbs, both because of his Gurkha affiliation and his role in advising and organizing the expeditions. The author provides tantalizing information about the aborted 1906 Everest expedition. I had no idea that the members, including Bruce, Conway, and Mumm, had actually been confident enough in their travel, that they had collected stores and headed for India before receiving notice that their plans were for naught. (Mumm had even looked into bringing oxygen.) As a consolation, an Indian national surveyor, Natha Singh, was allowed into Nepal to map the some territory along the Dudh Kosi near Everest, and the trio of climbers headed off to explore lower mountains in Garwhal and Kashmir. 

For a more up-to-date and (perhaps) scholarly history of Himalayan climbing, consult Isserman and Weaver's Fallen Giants.


  1. Hi there, I am hoping you can please help me... I think my Great Grandfather trekked the Nanga Parbat in 1938 ish. I have done a bit of research and there are a number of websites that lead me to this book, pages 236-237 (?). Unfortunatly the only way I am able to obtain a copy of this book is buying online.. but before I buy, I am wondering if you could please help... His name was Arther Kennedy Crookshank.
    From my understanding, he left Gilget middle of December 1937 and trekked to Lucknow (to marry my great grandmother). Then he returned at the end of January and she followed 4 months later 'tracking with the German Nanga Purbet expedition'.
    Are you please able to let me know if any thing about this is in this book?
    I would really appreciate it!
    Thank you!

    1. I don't actually own this one, but my local library does. Give me a couple days to get over there, and I'll see what I can find.

    2. The pages you cite are about the 1938 Nanga Parbat expedition, but there's no mention of your great grandmother. Best of luck in your research!

    3. You might try Paul Bauer's "The Siege of Nanga Parbat." He was the 1938 expedition leader, and he wrote a history of climbing the mountain after its first ascent in 1953. I don't have access to a copy, or I would look into it for you.