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Lonely Challenge

Lonely Challenge, by Hermann Buhl. Translated by Hugh Merrick. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1956. 318 pages; 19 ills.; 3 maps. Price $5.00.

Reading about Buhl’s amazing solo ascent of Nanga Parbat, many people have wondered what sort of person he is, and what was his previous training. Now he himself supplies the answer. Only a portion of the book deals with the Himalayan adventure. The rest contains Buhl’s autobiography as a mountaineer, relating many of his more interesting European ascents—from the Austrian Alps, through the Dolomites, to the Western Alps, and Chamonix. These are tales of magnificent climbs. They also give a vivid portrait of the man himself—a man driven and possessed to an exceptional degree by that familiar spirit of the mountaineer, the urge toward something always more and more difficult. Rock climbs famous for requiring teamwork he must tackle alone; snow routes renowned for their severity in summer he must conquer in winter; in weather considered impossible for climbing he must push through to the highest summits. Always he must drive himself to his limit, test himself at the very edge of the humanly possible. And always he finds intense enjoyment among the mountains—a keen pleasure in their beauties, a good-humored relish for their amusing hardships, and, above all, that strong zest for difficulty and danger.

Nanga Parbat is of course the climax of Buhl’s climbing life. Here he fills out with vivid pictures the account of his personal experiences and emotions already outlined in Herrligkoffer’s book. But he strangely omits some pertinent details of that story, and does little to clarify many of its puzzling features. Notably, one is still left in the dark as to how it happened that, when Buhl was staggering painfully down the ridge back from his victory, and was for more than an hour apparently in plain sight of the tent of his good friends, Frauenberger and Ertl, they seem to have awaited him in camp, instead of starting up to meet and help him. The book does leave us, however, with one very strong impression that Hermann Buhl’s survival on Nanga Parbat was a close thing at best, and that probably he would never have got himself down alive, if he had not had the rigorous training of those earlier climbs.

Elizabeth Knowlton