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Alpine Climbing

Alpine Climbing, by E. A. M. Wedderburn. 12 mo.; Manchester: Open Air Publications, Ltd., 1940.

The author has succeeded in producing a very valuable little book on mountain technique for those climbers who have served their apprenticeship in small mountains and wish to tackle the more difficult and varied problems of the Alps or greater mountain ranges. Although intended primarily for British climbers, it should be equally useful to Americans whose experience has been limited to easy mountains or small rock climbs. The general arrangement of the book is excellent, and on the whole can be recommended as a dependable guide to the climber of moderate experience.

In the first chapter there is an interesting definition of the aim of Alpine technique: . . to enable one to move securely among the mountains . . . and to enjoy to the full the contrast between apparent danger and real security.” This first chapter contains much excellent advice. The rule laid down with regard to the arrangement of climbers on a rope seems rather dogmatic and thought should always be given to the spacing and best order for the particular type of ground and circumstances encountered. It is worth pointing out that for the actual climb, two is usually the best number on the rope, and if this is not a sufficiently strong party, two pairs climbing independently but close together so as to be able to give mutual assistance make the ideal combination.

The chapter entitled “Equipment” seems very good. Mention might be made of the well-known fact that no single type of nailing is good for all climbing conditions. Americans who are used to carrying heavy loads in rough country should bear in mind that the remarks about the Rucksack are intended to apply to the light loads suitable to difficult climbing. A rucksack with a frame is, of course a nuisance on rock.

The chapter on rock climbing is sound and the general remarks at the beginning of the chapter are particularly valuable. While belays should, of course, be taken whenever possible on difficult ground, their absence over long stretches is quite usual on certain types of rock. The use of pitons, as described, will probably not appeal to old-fashioned climbers who look upon the piton as being justified only for emergency use to escape from a difficult situation or to save time in roping down.

Chapter four contains a good description of snow and ice technique, but the author seems a little optimistic in his statement about the degree of ice slope which can be climbed without step cutting. While there are undoubtedly ice climbers who have developed crampon technique to a point which makes it possible for them to negotiate 60 degree slopes, these are far too steep to be safe for the average climber and, in fact, can only be attempted by those who are extremely proficient in this sort of work. The climber for whom this book is intended would have to cut steps long before the slope attained anything like this degree of steepness.

Chapter five on “Ski” should be found very useful by the less experienced. However, for all except the most accomplished skiers, running roped down a glacier is anything but a pleasure and most ski mountaineers will prefer to avoid glaciers which require this method of descent. The skilled mountaineer who is reasonably good on skis can find his way quite safely down a surprisingly dangerous looking glacier without the rope and without undue risk.

The closing chapters on some of the common dangers and the choice of a route contain many useful hints. Climbers will be particularly interested in the methods of escaping from a crevasse. What appear to be defects to this reviewer are largely matters of opinion and most climbers will enjoy this little book and find it well worth the very modest price.

J. C. C.