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Aconcagua: South Face

Aconcagua: South Face, by René Ferlet and Guy Poulet. Translated from the French by E. Nowell Bowman. London: Constable, 1956. ix, 209 pages; ills.; maps. Price 25 s.

The climbs of Fitzroy, Huantsan, Chacraraju, Taulliraju, and Aconcagua establish the French as pre-eminent in Andean mountaineering. The sevenday ascent of Aconcagua is undoubtedly one of the great climbs of all time, both for the difficulties of the face itself and for the classic simplicity of the party’s techniques: Alpine techniques on a "Himalayan" problem.

"We seek not the ever higher but the ever more difficult." "Thirst for battle and victory is the leitmotiv of climbing." Only such a spirit could have won such a victory, yet it is remarkable how few statements like the above occur in this book. Unlike some of the accounts by Nazi and Soviet Russian mountaineers, this story conveys not only the feeling of commitment, the tense refusal to compromise, but also the saving humor and ef- facement that elicit sympathy as well as admiration.

Ferlet writes the introductory section, including a useful summary of important ascents of Aconcagua. Poulet writes the story of the climb and its aftermath. His section is beautifully written. It contains much useful information on travel and climbing in the area, whose peculiar horrors include wind, dust, and rotten rock. Apparently a sine qua non is large quantities of liquor. The translation is generally good but irritating at some points, especially in the rendering of idioms and slang. For "cordée" one should use either "rope-team" or "rope," depending on the context.

On page 107 the translator, in citing an "error" in the account of a rappel, is himself in error. Nevertheless, it’s exciting and enjoyable reading.

David Harrah