American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

La Conquête du Fitz-Roy

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  • Publication Year: 1955

La Conquête du Fitz-Roy, by M. A. Azéma. 8vo., 225 pages, with 16 photographs, maps, diagrams, and sketches. Paris: Flam- marion, 1954. Price, 600 Fr. francs.

The ascent of Fitz-Roy in 1952 ranks with the great A1pine north-face climbs of the 1930’s. The ascent is the more remarkable because of the remoteness of the area and the difficulty of the climbing involved. Fitz-Roy had been tried previously by various European parties; the successful French party was prepared for a difficult time and, in most respects, had one. One climber, Jacques Poincenot, was lost in a freak stream-crossing accident which is worth noting. A guide rope was stretched across the river and anchored to either bank. Poincenot was attached to the rope by a carabiner. He lost his footing, pulled loose one end of the rope, was swept downstream and down to the loose end of the rope. He could not unsnap the carabiner in time, and drowned.

From a climber’s point of view, the “official” account of the expedition is Terray’s account, “Die Eroberung des Cerro FitzRoy,” which appears in Berge der Welt for 1952 and contains a straightforward presentation of the relevant facts. Dr. Azéma’s book is intended for a wider audience but is more difficult to read because of its rather patchwork style. There are also some minor manuscript and printing errors. Whether or not one has read Terray’s account, the effort of reading Dr. Azéma’s book is well worthwhile, chiefly for frequent passages of very beautiful writing, some where the beauty is due to the French language and some where it arises from Dr. Azéma’s own gifted expression. The general description of Patagonia is a masterpiece of style. The account of the summit climb is both exciting and free from the distressing clichés of understatement or overstatement which mar so many accounts in the first person. There are some post-Everest apologetics addressed to the lay public. Not much detail is found regarding personalities involved, but there is some interesting content about matters to which mountaineering literature has yet to do justice, a candid report of the thoughts of a climber frustrated in his desire to be one of the summit party. The reader is made to feel how complex some apparently simple decisions are and how morale can fluctuate radically even among good climbers.

In general, Dr. Azéma makes the reader feel that, though FitzRoy is less than half as high as Everest, men were pushing some sort of limit before “Pour la première fois, les harpes du FitzRoy ont vibré sous les doigts des grimpeurs.”

David Harrah

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