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Los Andes, 400 Años Después

Los Andes, 400 Años Después by Antonio Aymat. Madrid: Doncel, 1963. 340 pages; illustrations.

In view of the Spanish conquests of the sixteenth century, it is paradoxical to note contemporary Spain’s lack of involvement in mountaineering and exploration. Actually, Spanish mountaineering clubs have existed since 1876, but their field of activity has been limited to the Alps and mountain ranges in Spain. This changed in 1961 when a Spanish expedition climbed in the Andes of Peru, making 38 first ascents in the unexplored Nudo de Ayacachi and completing the first ascent of the northeast ridge of the Huascarán Sur in the Cordillera Blanca. Thus, after 400 years’ absence, Spanish conquistadores returned to Peru, though with intentions different from those of their predecessors.

The official account of the expedition was written by Antonio Aymat, from the notes and diaries of the expedition members. The writing is informative, but Aymat is telling the story second-hand and his style is restricted by this. A description of a snow-clad mountain in the distance loses much when it is told in the first person plural. The reader wonders if all the members of the expedition could have been thinking of the snow-clad mountain in exactly the same way! Although the individual personalities of the climbers suffer from being lumped together in this manner, a certain amount of clarity, often missing in expedition accounts, is gained. Aymat has carefully avoided (again perhaps for the sake of clarity) any technical description of the climbing. This is an annoying omission, common to many mountaineering books, perhaps as a concession to the general reading public. Certainly there is more to an expedition than the rating of the hardest pitch, but the technical side of climbing should not be omitted altogether. There are a large number of photographs, an average of one per page. Some of the climbing shots are rather spectacular, but the quality of the reproduction ranges from good to poor; one of the color plates in particular could pass as a surrealistic painting. Aymat includes much information not directly concerning the expedition. A history of Spanish mountaineering and a valuable summary of important ascents throughout the whole Andes range, are good examples of the extra research that went into the writing. The appendices seem complete. Except for the photography, the overall quality of Los Andes is good. It is especially effective as a document marking a significant step in the development of Spanish mountaineering.

Andy Lichtman