Instruction sur la Practique de l’Alpinisme et du Ski, issued by Secretariat d’Etat à la Guerre. 325 pages, including appendices and index, and 259 line drawings. Paris: Editions Berger-Levrault, 1953.
This is a military manual for the training of troops in handling themselves on mountain terrain in climbing and in skiing. It is, on the whole, well conceived and well put together. The entire technique of climbing has been condensed and put into a simple form with little attempt at elaboration or description of alternative methods. This would naturally be expected in a manual of this sort where uniformity in operations was a desired objective. It is understandably more compact and streamlined than the very excellent Manuel d’Alpinisme, published by the Club Alpin Français in 1934, and as a consequence, will probably be found more adapted for use in the field. Perhaps the most striking thing in the book is the reduction of the number of knots mentioned to the overhand loop and the square knot, neither of which has been considered adequate by most climbers for some years now, and the latter of which has been found decidedly dangerous when used in nylon rope. The only other knot mentioned is the Prusik knot for rescue operations.
The book covers most of the standard climbing techniques and has a very complete section on rescue operations, which will be found useful and interesting by almost all climbers. A praiseworthy deviation from the usual in this book is the attempt at codification of rules for the use or non-use of certain equipment such as crampons, for example, according to the snow conditions and steepness of slope. While it might perhaps lead to generalizations which could be dangerous if followed without the all-important factor of human judgment, the idea has some merits, which might profitably be explored further by those interested in the teaching of mountaineering precepts.
In skiing, of course, the accent is on control and not falling, quite important when laden with a heavy pack. As a consequence some things, such as the use of the poles for braking and turning, which have been omitted from the ski manuals for many years, are mentioned, although briefly.
The appendices cover such things as preparatory physical training, organization of ski races, climbing and ski diplomas, and teachers’ certificates. The index is very brief but helpful in a checking of detail. The format is utilitarian and compact, and the size is small enough to enable the book to be pocketed, but large enough to allow good-sized figures in the drawings, which are very clear. A large part of the instruction work is carried by the drawings, and the text is thereby kept at a minimum. The book is not only an interesting illustration of French military mountaineering practice but can contribute helpful hints to experienced climbers as well.
Kenneth A. Henderson