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La Connaissance de la Montagne

La Connaissance de la Montague, by Paul Payot. 127 pages. Bonneville: Imprimerie Plancher, 1944.

This little volume was published as a compendium of the instruction material used at the Centre á l’École des Cadres. Although directed principally at the more youthful mountaineer, it can be read with profit by all. It is unfortunate that, owing to the wartime conditions under which it was published, eight chapters and some 48 illustrations had perforce to be omitted. These chapters, “Mountain Conditions,” “The Alps and the Pyrenees,” “Weather Fore casting,” “Orientation in the Mountains,” “The Evolution of Technique, Artificial Aids,” “Alpine Bibliography,” “Principles of Mountain Photography,” and “Some Alpine Terms” would have made the book more complete.

One would not expect to find within the confines of this slender volume the wealth of material contained in the two-volume Manuel d’Alpinisme of the Club Alpin Français, but M. Payot has done an excellent job of condensation and has placed the essentials of the craft of mountaineering before the beginner. That the book is principally directed toward the beginner is borne out in the contents of the first two chapters which cover “Descriptions of Mountains” and “The Appeal of Mountains, the Value of Mountaineering.” The latter chapter is a rather brief apologia for climbing and seeks to justify the sport from the standpoint of health and character building. Perhaps such justification was needed in France under German occupation; but few climbers, at least, will concede that such justification is necessary.

Discussion of equipment is divided into two chapters, one on personal equipment and one on climbing equipment. Only about three pages are devoted to personal equipment, and of this amount a page and a half are devoted to a list of the equipment needed by either a mountaineer or a skier-mountaineer. This chapter is not, therefore, likely to start any lively controversies on the type of equipment recommended, but conversely it offers little assistance to the beginner. The other chapter on “Matériel and Its Use” is rather more complete but covers a mere five pages. We were glad to see that woven ropes were discouraged.

“Alpine Dangers” are rightly accorded considerable space, although many will complain that snow avalanches are not fully enough discussed.

The next four chapters on “The Organization of a Climb,” “Leading a Climb,” “Roped Travelling,” and “Shelters, Huts, and Bivouacs” cover the general functions of a leader and give much valuable information on the technique of travelling in the mountains.

As might be expected, the principal emphasis is on the technique of rock climbing. To this phase some 16 pages are devoted and many illustrations. Despite this, the treatment is neither intensive nor extensive. The fundamentals are briefly covered but such things as the layback, for instance, are not too well described for a beginner. There is no mention of the various piton manoeuvres that come under the title of rock engineering, an omission which will be received by many with surprise.

The chapter on ice and snow also briefly covers the fundamentals of snowcraft but omits many of the refinements. Very soundly, indeed, both this chapter and the preceding one devote considerable attention to belays.

Winter mountaineering is covered quite briefly as is also hygiene. Considerable space, however, is devoted to “Accidents and First Aid” and “Mountain Rescues.” While the latter is distinctly worthwhile, the former appears rather too extensive for the rest of the book yet not sufficiently extensive to be a good first aid manual.

The format is extremely good and the paper rather better than might be expected of a wartime book. The printing, however, is not well done, and the reproduction of some of the pictures leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately, the binding is poor, a single stitch in the center sufficing to hold it together—for a time.

While the book will not be used as a reference work, it is written in easily understandable language; and we can heartily recommend it to those who wish to acquire a mountaineering vocabulary in French and considerable information at the same time.

K. A. H.