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Nanda Devi: 3e Expédition Française à l'Himalaya

Nanda Devi: 3e Expédition Française à l’Himalaya, by J.-J. Languepin and L. Payan. Photographs by J.-J. Languepin, L. Gevril and A. Barbezat. 72 pages of illustrations of which ten are in color, with 19 pages of commentary in French. Paris and Grenoble: Arthaud, 1952.

This attractive volume presents a vivid and exciting pictorial account of last year’s tragic French expedition to the 25,660-ft. Garhwali peak. In the first of three sections M. Payan briefly describes the overall plan, the approach, the attack on the main peak, in which Roger Duplat and Gilbert Vignes disappeared, and the ascent of the East Peak. In the main portion the pictures speak eloquently for themselves. Of extraordinary beauty, often highly spectacular, they are extremely well reproduced and give a clear impression of the region and of what the expedition actually did. In the final pages M. Languepin fills in many details with brief commentaries on each photograph and with diagrams.

The expedition followed in the footsteps of the British-American Himalayan Expedition which in 1936 successfully climbed the main peak. The French climbers were even plagued by a coolie strike at the identical spot where the 1936 group had been. Camps on the mountain were established apparently in the same sites as previously. Finally, on June 29th, Duplat and Vignes left Camp IV, heading for the summit, never to be seen again. To one familiar with the mountain, their plans seem overambitious if not foolhardy. Carrying the barest essentials for a bivouac, they hoped to climb the main peak, to traverse the two-mile-long ridge leading to the East Peak, all of which lies above 22,750 ft. and presents climbing difficulties, and to descend from the East Peak to Longstaff’s Col along the route used by the Poles in 1939! A support party established a series of camps above Longstaff’s Col, pushing on continually higher in hopes of finding the climbers, until on July 6th they finally made the second ascent of the East Peak and realized that their companions were not to return. Throughout the pages of the book you admire their courage but do wonder whether the French are carrying on the unfortunate do-or-die attitude towards mountaineering of the prewar Germans.

H. Adams Carter