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Chronique Himalayenne, L'âge d'or, 1940-1955

Chronique Himalayenne, L’âge d’or, 1940-1955, by Marcel Kurz. Zurich: Fondation Suisse pour Explorations Alpines, 1959- 441 pages, including index, 69 photographs, 16 maps. Price 75 Swiss Francs.

(Editor’s Note: Fortunately this work is being translated and will appear in English, probably in 1961. The editor has already found this volume the most authoritative book on the period and invaluable in the preparation of this Journal. It is only to be regretted that M. Kurz and the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research have found it impossible to publish the entire three volume series in which this was originally planned to be Volume II.)

The history of Himalayan climbing during these 15 years is narrated, documented, and superbly illustrated. As might be expected, the account is a detailed one, and is carefully prepared. It is also replete with interesting discussions by the author, and with anecdotes and special information concerning the various expeditions. The treatment of certain matters of international significance is careful and judicious. The presentation of an account of Himalayan climbing in a sequential narrative, rather than as a series of episodes which we are accustomed to reading year by year, is imposing and noteworthy. The subject matter is divided in four chronological periods, each of which is subdivided geographically, and more than two-thirds of the space is devoted to 1952-1955.

Among the sequences is the part dealing with Everest: the Houston reconnaissance in 1950; Shipton’s expedition to Cho Oyu in 1951; the Swiss climbers on Everest with Tenzing in 1952; and the British success in 1953. Fine tributes to Shipton and to Hunt are paid by the author. Probably of more interest, however, are the accounts of less-known expeditions that have not been described in this Journal.

Since the golden age ended in 1955, we are not given a description of the Swiss ascents of Everest and Lhotse, or the ascents of Manaslu, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum II, Chogolisa and Hidden Peak; the Mustagh Tower and Machapuchare. But perhaps some future volume will similarly chronicle those great years that have followed the period selected by the author. And so let us quote J. B. Flecker’s lines which follow those which appear on page 122:

White on a throne, or guarded in a cave There lives a prophet who can understand Why men were born; yet surely we are bold Who take the golden road to Samarkand.

One wonders about the future of this strange and awe-inspiring land. Today, climbers bring back photographs of refugees fleeing southward through the country of the Himalayas.

The book is carefully planned, well written, and tempting to read. It will be welcomed in the libraries of those who are interested in any aspect of Himalayan climbing as a source both of information and of references.

Thomas H. Jukes