American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Karakoram—The Ascent of Gasherbrum IV

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  • Publication Year: 1962

Karakoram The Ascent of Gasherbrum IV, by Fosco Maraini. Translated from the Italian by James Cadell. New York: The Viking Press, 1961. 320 pages, 108 illustrations (many in color) on 80 full pages, maps and sketches. Price $10.00.

This is a splendid account of certainly the most difficult climb above 23,000 feet yet made. The author has a remarkable memory for detail. The illustrations, particularly those of the actual climbing from 23,000 to 26,000 feet, and the description of the climax of the ascent combine to make a vivid picture. Like the successful Italian K2 expedition of 1954, this was a "heavy" expedition. And like the massive effort on K2, success this time was barely achieved, by a powerful party, mostly professional career mountain men. The leader, Riccardo Cassin, almost fifty, could not go above 23,000 feet, but three years later he climbed Mount McKinley by the most difficult route yet made on it, without undue trouble other than from the cold.

The illustrations, many full-page, and the sketches and maps with routes shown enable the reader to follow the party’s movement in detail. A feature of the book is the references to other expeditions and climbs, such as K2, Mustagh Tower, Hidden Peak and others. Generous and friendly comment is made as to Nick Clinch’s party in 1958 and the spirit of friendly rivalry of the successful British and French parties on Mustagh almost simultaneously by different routes in 1956, and their cooperation in getting a man with badly frozen feet out afterwards.

The book must be read at leisure and the pictures looked at again and again if one is fully to appreciate this perhaps greatest of all high climbs and its worthy recording by Fosco Maraini. The fact that the text was printed in Great Britain and the illustrations in Italy explains why the book could be sold in this country at a price to keep it within the means of a large enough public to make its publication here practicable at all.

The tendency in such books today has often been to give a general overall impression to the reader unencumbered with too much detail. To this there have been a few notable exceptions. Maraini’s (at least as translated) gives detail, always interestingly, which we have missed from many recent expedition accounts, as well as more about the local people, their history, their background and reasons for reacting as they do to parties of westerners. The story is occasionally a little hard to follow when the narrative changes from one group of climbers to another. Colonel Ata Ullah with the 1953 American K2 expedition is referred to as the grand seigneur because he understood better at all times the problems involved than most of the officers accompanying more recent expeditions.

A few comments as to the upper thousands of feet are interesting, such as: "the terrain was turning out to be more extensive, more complicated and more hostile all the time." And again: "Never before at such a height had such risks been taken,” and also: "Karakoram snow at one moment can be as hard as baked or frozen mud and the next can powder to nothing, like- fine ash.” Oxygen gave some help for sleeping, but the climbers all felt that the benefits were more than offset by its weight on the often very difficult climbing up the last 3,000 feet by the great northeast ridge of G4.

This book is one of the best on a high mountain expedition ever to be published and should be read and preferably owned by all who have followed the Golden Age of Himalayan mountaineering of the last fifteen years.

Henry S. Hall, Jr.

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