American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing


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  • Publication Year: 1960

Rakaposhi, by Mike Banks. 238 pages, 36 photographs, and three drawings. Foreward by Sir Gerald Templer. Appendices by F. R. Brooke and E. J. E. Mills. London: Secker and Warburg, 1959. Price 25s.

This book is unusual in that it describes not one expedition but two, both to Rakaposhi, and both led by the author, Mike Banks. This double structure eliminates the padding one often finds in Himalayan accounts and allows the narrative, despite some irritating grammatical errors, to run along quite freely. With the aid of the included diagrams and photographs one can easily follow from camp to camp the progress of the two trips, and the interest often rises to a high pitch.

The outline of Banks’s account will be familiar to any reader of mountaineering journals, for Rakaposhi, at 25,550 feet, is a real Himalayan giant, with a well-documented history. The peak had been explored many times before Banks came along, among others, by Conway before the turn of the century, by Tilman in 1947, and by a Cambridge party led by Alfred Tis- sières in 1954. When Banks assaulted the mountain in 1956 with one British and two American companions he had good reason to believe he was undertaking a major project, and indeed he was. Despite an intense effort, the four-man party could come no closer than 2000 feet of the summit (still an admirable record). Two years later Banks returned with a large "combined services” expedition and made it to the top, a notable achievement in the history of Himalayan climbing.

The account of the 1956 trip is the more entertaining of the book’s two sections, perhaps because of the particularly enterprising nature of an expedition of four young men who fared creditably on a mountain which had discouraged more experienced mountaineers. The next trip was bigger and stronger, and it had Banks’s previous encounter with the mountain to draw from. This expedition was for the most part free from the tense situations— the thunderstorms and the slips on ice—which characterized its predecessor, and perhaps it is just because the trip went so smoothly that it makes for less interesting reading than the 1956 venture. The "Gendarme” and "The Monk’s Head” were familiar problems in 1958, and the unclimbed 2000 feet to the summit provided no comparable technical obstacles. Banks concludes with a few rather graceless words about "military operations.” He is on firm ground when he defends well-planned expeditions, but, whatever the reason, he cannot generate as much excitement about the carefully organized 1958 trip as about the somewhat chaotic one of two years earlier. But he does provide a clear account of both, for which all interested in the Himalayas will have cause to be grateful. There are many excellent photographs.

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