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The Ascent of Dhaulagiri

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  • Publication Year: 1962

The Ascent of Dhaulagiri, by Max Eiselin. Translated from the German by E. Noel Bowman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961. 159 pages. Illustrated. Price $5.75.

This is an account of the successful double ascent of Dhaulagiri (8172 m.) in the spring of 1960, as told by the man who privately organized this predominantly Swiss expedition and led it in the field. Six previous expeditions had been repulsed by this giant peak, at various stages and on various routes, and at the time it remained both the highest unclimbed mountain in the world and the last 8000 meter summit available to Western climbers. On the whole, this rather short book presents, in a simple and engaging style, an eminently readable story of the organized confusion of events leading to the two climbs to the summit spaced ten days apart.

It is, however, a rather unusual story for a Himalayan ascent of major importance, and one that will probably disappoint those who are looking for another Annapurna. The unusual feature, which dominates the entire book and provides the only real excitement in it, is the use of a small, powerful airplane as the logistical focus of the entire operation. Eiselin’s original concept of using a ski-wheeled plane to land men and supplies for a full-scale expedition at 18,700 feet on the Northeast Col of Dhaulagiri was an enormously daring one, to which full credit should be given, particularly since it almost worked. But the use of this Pilatus PC-6 aircraft, christened the Yeti, created a sense of geographical diffuseness and uncertainty in all the logistics, and this forms the central theme of the book, rather than the ascent of the peak itself. In fact the reader gets the distinct impression that much of the time there were two almost independent parties at work in the area; the Northeast Col group, consisting of the strongest climbers, who were engaged at a remarkably early date in actually climbing the mountain, and the remaining supporting members, scattered from Dapa Col to Pokhara to the Mayangdi valley, whose chief concern was logistics and whose chief worry was the airplane. As expedition leader, Eiselin’s place was with the latter group, and we learn in considerable detail how the Yeti, after initially supplying both the Northeast Col and a lower acclimatization camp with men and goods, blew a cylinder near Pokhara and was repaired (involving the import of a new engine from Switzerland!), only to crash near Dapa Col immediately thereafter. More space is devoted to this crash, and to the subsequent escape of the two pilots down to valley habitation, than to the final push through four established camps to the summit. This last occupies, in a "quoted from the diary of …" format, about six pages at the very end of the book.

This reviewer also feels a twinge of regret that the advent of mechanization (even after it has perished) has the effect of drastically diminishing the feeling of remoteness from the outside world that is so much a feature of most Himalayan accounts. Part of the attraction in taking part in or reading about such a climbing trip surely lies in the feeling it provides of getting outside of the main stream of modern life for awhile, and of visiting a thriving mountain people (such as the Thakalis of the Tukucha area) whose traditional ways are in part preserved by their very remoteness. Very little of this comes through in Eiselin’s story.

Since much is made of the high altitude landing records established by the Yeti, it is a pity that the previous record by Terris Moore (see A.A.J., 1960, 12:1, p. 110) is not properly credited.

The format of the book is attractive, and the illustrations are plentiful and uniformly good. The few color plates are superb, both in photographic content and quality of reproduction. Though this will doubtless never become one of the classic pieces of mountaineering literature, it is an interesting few evenings’ entertainment, and deserves a reading by any devotee of the greatest efforts for the highest peaks.

John S. Humphreys

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