American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Zum Dritten Pol, Die Achttausender der Erde

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  • Publication Year: 1954

Zum Dritten Pol, Die Achttausender der Erde, by Günther Oskar Dyrenfurth, with contributions by Erwin Schneider. 286 pages, 47 photographs, 2 drawings, 2 geological profiles, and 8 maps. Munich: Nymphenburger Verlagshandlung, 1952.

In a year in which two of the fourteen mountains over 8000 meters in elevation, Everest and Nanga Parbat, have been climbed, and three others, K2, Manaslu and Dhaulagiri, attempted, a book dealing with these very peaks cannot fail to arouse our interest. Dr. Dyrenfurth has for the first time systematically described all the “eight-thousanders” (mountains higher than 8000 meters or about 26,000 feet) and the attempts made through 1951 to climb them. The author begins with a discussion of the possibility of other higher peaks and tells how both Minya Konka and Amnyi Machin were for some time suggested as being higher than Mt. Everest. The bulk of the book is devoted, however, to the real eight-thousanders, of which Everest, K2, Kangchenjunga, Annapurna, and Nanga Parbat naturally receive the greatest attention.

The description of each mountain is divided in turn into the five following sections: the name or names by which it has been, or now is, known, its altitude, exploration and attempted ascents (the actual ascent in the case of Annapurna), estimates of possible routes of ascent, and the geology of the region. In the case of Mt. Everest all available data on the “abominable snowmen” are given as well. Also included are three excellent tables which give the name, altitude, altitude reached by climbers, latitude and longitude, region, and remarks on all the eight-thousanders, the seven-thousanders (roughly mountains over 23,000 feet in altitude), and the unsuccessfully attempted seven-thousanders. Dr. Dyrenfurth states that the bibliography is not intended to be complete. The only obvious omission of an important work on the eight-thousanders that I noted was Miss Elizabeth Knowlton’s Naked Mountain.

Dr. Dyrenfurth has for many years been a careful student of Himalayan affairs. He himself led two expeditions to what he calls the “Third Pole,” in 1930 to Kangchenjunga and in 1934 to the Karakoram. He has obviously done an enormous amount of further research which is reflected in this volume. There are few places in which we can quarrel with the facts. However, Paul Petzoldt may be surprised to find himself a German-American. Also, the second ascent of Nanda Devi cannot be definitely confirmed since the ill-fated members of the expedition were not seen after they disappeared above their high camp, heading toward the summit. Moreover, there are details about the 1939 American expedition to K2 which some informed people will deny as factual. To be sure, very little has been published about this climb, and the available information is often confusing, if not contradictory. The author has not presented both sides of the question. In general, however, the material is accurately and well presented. In addition to stating fact, Dr. Dyrenfurth does not hesitate to pass judgment on the course of action taken by the various expeditions. Although the author speaks with authority, readers will not always agree with him. For instance, he criticizes the Americans on K2 in 1938 for wasting time on a reconnaissance which had already been completely carried out by the Duke of the Abruzzi. Careful examination of the material published by the Duke’s expedition shows that they recommended no route and declared the mountain unclimbable. Though high in his praise of the personnel and organization of the 1938 expedition, he feels that they did not take enough risk with the weather in not pressing on further with the limited supplies they had available. His opinions regarding the nearly fatal Annapurna expedition are of the greatest interest. The climbers did not seem mentally alert and the author attributes their many irrational acts to the Maxiton pills which they took to ward off the effects of fatigue. He rightly criticizes the use of these highly dangerous drugs. I was surprised that he was not critical of the violent massage given the climbers’ frostbitten hands and feet, a practice now long condemned.

Here is certainly the most complete, brief record of what is known about the world’s highest mountains. Excellently presented, systematic, and useful for reference, it is at the same time highly readable and interesting to the casual reader and the mountain specialist alike. It is well printed also. The many excellent photographs are beautifully reproduced. In short, the book is well worth reading and owning.

H. A. C.

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