To Kiss High Heaven: Nanda Devi, by J. J. Languepin. Translated from the French by Mervyn Savill. London: William Kimber, 1956. 199 pages ; 9 ills.
This is an unusual mountaineering book for several reasons: it is emotional as only the French seem able to write; there is little description of actual technical climbing which dulls so many climbing books—only 76 of the 198 pages are devoted to the actual ascent. The people, the country and the mountains are sensitively, often poetically described, and the dialogue is well done, giving an air of vitality to the book.
Traverses of peaks and arêtes are often grander than summit climbs. The French determined in 1951 to climb 25,645-foot Nanda Devi (first climbed in 1936), cross the mile-long ridge, and descend over East Nanda Devi (24,390 feet). This is a heroic plan more because of altitude, uncertainty of Himalayan weather, and length of ridge than because of technical problems. Duplat, expedition leader, was so obsessed by the grandeur of the plan that some of his party believed he would rather die in the attempt than fail. The attempt took place in June 1951 and Duplat and Vignes were last seen close to the summit of Nanda Devi. No trace of them was found, the presumption being that they perished from exhaustion on the long climb or fell from the ridge. The expedition was well conceived, congenial, and well run. Far too little time, however, was spent acclimatizing (Duplat spent only five days from Base Camp to accident, and the others only ten). Too little attention was paid to the experiences of their predecessors, and the porter caravan was unnecessarily large and complex. Despite these minor shortcomings, it was a good expedition, unusual because it ended amicably.
The book has been translated clumsily, and the original French idiom is often obscure. There are many avoidable mis-spellings and a good many mis-statements of fact which could easily have been avoided by a little research. A good map and technical appendix would have added greatly to the book’s value to climbers. It is, nevertheless, a very readable book, lively, sensitive, vivid, and refreshingly different from most mountaineering records.
Charles S. Houston