American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Alpine Tragedy

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  • Publication Year: 1949

Alpine Tragedy, by Charles Gos. Translated from the French by Malcolm Barnes. 282 pages, illustrations. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948. Price, $6.00.

Malcolm Barnes’ spirited translation of Charles Gos’ story of fatal mountain climbing accidents in the Alps is strangely fascinating. Though the accidents are very real, there is nothing macabre about the story of 24 separate disasters, many of them well known to climbers for three-quarters of a century and covering the period from Dr. Hamel to Alexander Burgener. The author’s exhaustive research, shown by numerous footnotes, does not affect his piquant style.

Though some readers may object to the imaginary conversations of the main characters, to me these seem justified by the color and reality which they bring to the individual narratives. The stories emphasize what can happen even to the finest climbers through lack of technique, carelessness, or mischance. The misadventures have been selected from a great number and are varied. For instance, there is the death of the Knubel brothers in a fall through a cornice on the Lyskamm, the fate of unroped Julius Elliott on the Schreckhorn, the strange disappearance of the Count of Villanova on Mont Blanc, and the sensational adventure of courageous F. W. Hill on the Dent Blanche after his companions had fallen.

I know of no other book which, with similar thoroughness, restraint and absence of moral reflections, treats so effectively these famous and sobering misadventures. It is sad to have to add that Charles Gos died at Martigny on 14 April 1949.

R. H. Bates

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