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Das Buch von Nanga Parbat: Die Geschichte seiner Besteigung 1895-1953

Das Buch von Nanga Parbat: Die Geschichte seiner Besteigung 1895-1953, by G. O. Dyhrenfurth. 197 pages, with 133 photographs, 2 maps. Munchen: Nymphenburger Verlagshandlung, 1954. Price, D. M. 6.80.

The ascent of Nanga Parbat, July 3, 1953, was given comparatively few headlines in the world news. In spite of its being the highest mountain ever climbed and most frequently attempted, except Everest, and in spite of its spectacular history, its story was completely overshadowed by the Everest conquest.

But in Germany that final victory on the “Mountain of Fate” was a tremendous event. For the Germans, Nanga Parbat had always been “our mountain,” from the days of the Deutsch- Amerikanische Himalaya-Expedition of 1932 (which trip, by the way, with Rand Herron and Fritz Wiessner as important members, was the first major climbing expedition to include Americans). The ’53 attempt received great attention, from the beginning, and its success was welcomed with floods of material in all the German newspapers and periodicals. Now the books are beginning to appear.

Among them, Herrligkoffer’s volume in German contains the fullest account of this last expedition. Herrligkoffer, half-brother to Merkl, the ’32 and ’34 leader who died in the ’34 disaster, was its original organizer and leader, and called it the “Willy Merkl Memorial Expedition.” He himself, however, was not a climber —a fact which was a main cause of various difficulties his book refers to, in his relations both with climbing groups in Germany and with expedition members. Peter Aschenbrenner, the famous Austrian guide and member of the ’32 and ’34 expeditions, was taken as the climbing leader.

From the start, the party had to struggle with typical porter problems. Arriving in Pakistan, they learned that the Sherpas already engaged would not be admitted to the country. Hunzas were collected in haste and caused more or less trouble all summer. They were, however, kept working with at least some degree of regularity, and finally several were brought as high as Camp VI on the East Ridge—thanks to their masterly handling by Frauenberger, known as “the good Sahib.”

The most unusual and fascinating part of this book is Hermann Buhl’s own story of his 40-hour solo climb to the summit and back to Camp VI. An amazing and almost incredible tale of a combination of strength, endurance, and good luck, it is told very simply, and to this reader carried complete conviction. The climb was made practically without food and without extra clothing, and included a night out, spent standing on a rocky shelf at over 26,000 feet.

Among the various causes of this extraordinary performance were disagreements between Herrligkoffer and some of the climbers, with mutual recriminations which continued for some time in the public press in Germany. But, says Herrligkoffer, in a few years all that will be forgotten. What will be remembered is the German victory and the remarkable solo ascent of Hermann Buhl “which will probably remain unique.” And indeed it seems likely! …

The story is thoroughly covered, and occasional extracts from the accounts of other party members add interest. Some of the colored photographs are particularly beautiful.

The American edition is not merely a translation, but a different version. There is much additional material, with a third of the book given to the earlier expeditions, beginning with Mummery’s. Herrligkoffer’s story is frequently cut or rearranged, generally to its advantage, and several more quotations from the accounts of the other climbers are inserted. The translation is sometimes awkward, and has minor inaccuracies. But it does correct several mistakes in dates made in the German edition and in Dyhrenfurth—especially the use of June 30th as the date of the beginning of the 1932 attack, which actually began on June 24th. The photographs were apparently selected for dramatic or human interest, more than for mountain beauty, and are all in black and white.

A new appendix contains a valuable discussion of the problem of the use of Hunza porters, also considered in Dyhrenfurth’s book—an important question for future expeditions to the Western Himalayas. Both this volume and Dyhrenfurth’s reach the conclusions—borne out by my own observation and experience, and apparently also by the American ’53 K2 Expedition—that because of their particular temperament and attitudes, the Hunzas need very special treatment, but that given such treatment, they respond well and have good possibilities as mountain porters.

The English edition has practically the same text as the American and is only less carefully edited, but in format it is closer to the German, including the nine colored photographs.

Im Banne des Nanga Parbat is a book of beautiful photographs in black and white.

Dyhrenfurth’s small book covers clearly and dramatically the complete history of Nanga Parbat, with an evaluation of its climbing problems and interesting discussions of its disasters and their causes. It is a very satisfactory little volume.

Reviewing again the tragic and sensational story of this fine mountain, one cannot help thinking of the observation—that the best planned and organized expeditions are the ones least likely to have spectacular adventures.

Elizabeth Knowlton