I recommend K.Wielicki - Mountain Portal


"In Some Lost Place" - Sandy Allan

/ Mountain News

For those interested in this book it's unlikely that I need to introduce you to the story behind this ascent as that's been explained in magazines, reviews and articles all over the web. There is one advance notification, though, that I'd like to make public for clarity's sake. As a climber turned mountaineering historian I've been [almost exclusively] reading mountaineering books for well over three decades, and my personal interest has a special focus on the mountains of Pakistan, notably K2 and Nanga Parbat.

fot: facebook.com/bob.schelfhoutaubertijn?fref=photo

fot: facebook.com/bob.schelfhoutaubertijn?fref=photo

The first ascent of the Mazeno Ridge has been awarded a Piolet d'Or in 2013, in an unprecedented move, when the jury awarded all six of the nominated ascents with golden ice axes.

In the past people have withdrawn their nomination and others have simply refused to accept one to express their opposition for competition in alpinism. Whether or not a prize for the "best ascent" should be awarded is another discussion, but in my humble opinion you either award one to the best climb of the year, or you don't hand out a prize at all.

The other nominated ascents were all magnificent groundbreaking climbs of the highest degree, achieved by extremely skilled climbers. I don't want to take anything of the shine away from these other brilliant achievements, but with all that I know about the history of the attempts and ascents on Nanga Parbat, this first ascent of the Mazeno Ridge to me represented the climb of the decade. As such my bet was on a Piolet for this and this climb only. Having said that, it is clear that I was very much looking forward to reading this first-hand account from one of the people involved.

There are few adventurous activities, or sporting achievements, about which so many books have been published as mountaineering. The canon of mountaineering literature is a vast one and could simply fill several libraries with ease. Quite a number of these accounts follow a standard template; we focussed on a goal / peak / route and we assembled a team, prepared as best as we could, set off and made an attempt, we got to the summit / or not, this or that person got disappointed / hurt / killed, or maybe not, and we came home as friends / or not.
This is not such a book.

fot: facebook.com/bob.schelfhoutaubertijn?fref=photo

fot: facebook.com/bob.schelfhoutaubertijn?fref=photo

In several articles about this climb, and other reviews of this book, it has been repeatedly mentioned that Sandy and Rick aren't the youngest of climbers, and maybe that's just why they could be successful on this new route. Very few climbers can match their level of experience, fewer still can surpass their level-headed tenacity, both of which are so needed to see this adventure finally meet with success.

Apart from giving a detailed account of the climb, Sandy weaves earlier experiences into this story, and you can't help but be amazed about all the names that he mentions; the man really knows half the world and their mother! From the very start of the book, it is clear that the author is open and brutally honest with all the tales and anecdotes about private issues, earlier experiences, his own thoughts and opinions. That's a promising start.

As a team of six they are having a go at this long ridge, most of which lies at an extreme altitude which is a seriously hostile environment that really isn't something you'd want to spend too much time in. Yet the length and complexity of this ten kilometre long ridge makes it imperative that a prolonged time will have to be spent at an altitude that will sap your resources until you end up running on empty. Famous climbers have made serious attempts on the Mazeno Ridge, people with résumé's that rank amongst the most impressive ones, and yet the hadn't been able to complete the whole line and get to the main summit of Nanga Parbat. One section of the book - the climbing as far as Mazeno Gap - sometimes comes close to one of these "regular" climbing narratives, of which we've already read so many, but Sandy manages to keeps this down to an absolute minimum. What is absolutely clear from his story, up to reaching that point, is that four of the six members of the team have reached the end of their tether, and they decide to head down via one of the few routes available to get back to lower ground.

This may have come as a big disappointment to all six members, but Sandy knows from experience that sometimes it's inevitable that you have to deal with these, and he trusts his companions when they've made up their minds to descend. Having decided for himself to continue, together with his old mate Rick Allen, he is generous in heaping praise on the others for their contribution to, what in essence, is a team effort.

From this moment on you can see trouble brewing, as they have already spent a whole string of days at high altitude, and still have a long and arduous way ahead of them. For the way up and forward they only have very limited resources of food available, and yet they give it a go. What happens next is a nail-biting tale full of difficulties of all sorts, of situations that have the potential to be fatal, of forces waning, risks increasing and the likelihood of success steadily decreasing. Even when we know the outcome - meeting success and living to tell - one can not help but be amazed how these tough blokes manage to pull it off. One must not forget, though, that these are highly skilled professionals; it shows in the careful considerations and the approach to the whole decision making process, even under circumstances of utter fatigue and stress, or in perilous moments like a whiteout where coordination is non-existent and one mistake or even one single step could leave you tumbling down the void.

From one day to the next, from one scene to the other, more often than not, you really sense the seriousness of this remarkable epic, and you wonder how they still managed to keep going, even when debilitated by extreme dehydration and exhaustion, or when being plagued by hallucinations, which do form a funny part of the book, and I can well understand that at that very moment it was no laughing matter. It sounds like an absolute miracle that they survived their ordeal at all, but the strict discipline they maintained saw them through, like true professionals in every single aspect.

This most brilliant of climbs and the book are instant classics, not just for people who specialize in the history of this most beautiful of mountains. Sandy is not one to lose himself in jargon that people with no climbing experience can not understand, so armchair adventurers will enjoy this read as much as those in the know.

Not only do I devour mountaineering books for the tales of passion and the thrills involved, I'm also very fond of books as tangible objects. This edition, as published by Vertebrate, is not the first that I enjoyed for the quality of the book itself. The use of high quality paper and the hard cover binding, the perfect photography and neat printing, the overall design and eye for detail, it's all been just very well done.

There's only one little problem that I encountered with this book.

My kids are enjoying their summer holidays and the cat needs to be fed on a regular basis, else I would've finished this jewel cover tocover in one go. I cannot help but giving it five stars out of five.


One minor glitch - not part of the review!
p.45, footnote; Andrew Greig, "Summit Fear" should read "Summit Fever". And, where it says "Canongate, 2005" I'd like to add that the edition that I have is the 1997 Canongate SC edition, though the first edition appears to have been published in 1985 by Hutchinson. This typo - "Summit Fear" - also made it in to the index on page 184.


Disclaimer; "Muphry's law" may apply. [Yes, indeed, that law does exist.]
"Muphry's law is an adage that states that "if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written". The name is a deliberate misspelling of Murphy's law."

On a personal note;
The one problem I see for Vertebrate is that the main prize at Banff or the BT can only be awarded to one book, so I think it's feverishly in competition with John Porter's book. [The only miss in that one, I thought, is the lack of an index.]


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