American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

The Age of Mountaineering

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  • Publication Year: 1965

The Age of Mountaineering by James Ramsey Ullman. Philadelphia:

J. B. Lippincott Company, 1964. 364 pages. Price $7.50.

The 1964 edition of James Ramsey Ullman’s The Age of Mountaineering differs little from its 1954 predecessor. The author has appended a chapter, “Mountaineering 1954-1964,” which summarizes the ascents of the eight-thousand-meter peaks during the post-Everest decade, but has made no other changes of note.

The book is a good review of the early history of climbing, a good introduction to the drama of high exploration, and a highly readable volume. But the author’s failure to elucidate the new mood of alpine climbing, the ongoing revolution in mountaineering philosophy and technique, and the changed status of the United States in world alpinism dates the present edition. In one chapter, for example, the reader is left with the impression that the North Face of the Grand Teton is one of the hardest climbs in North America. Peaks and remote areas which have been visited frequently in the past ten years are treated as though they have been discovered only recently. It may also be argued that too much of the book is concerned with Mt. Everest and the Himalayas.

The faults of the book are not only temporal, however. There are factual errors as well as errors of omission and emphasis. In general, Mr. Ullman seems to have profited little from reviews in this Journal of his previous editions. The author makes no pretense of giving us a definitive history of mountaineering, nor does he pledge to explore all the nuances of technique and philosophy. He commends the sport of mountaineering to us, not as a gruesome struggle of men against the elements, but as an opportunity to find beauty, truth and self-knowledge in the high peaks. He admits to the fraternity of alpinists all who climb for pleasure and challenge, whether on El Capitan or Mount Monadnock.

As an introduction to the world of climbing The Age of Mountaineering conveys a sense of purpose and excitement, of complexity and craft. Ullman puts it best when he notes: “Seen from afar a great mountain may appear to be a sudden upward prolongation of the earth’s surface; once approached, however, it becomes a world in and to itself.” The Age of Mountaineering gives the novice such a glimpse into the world of the mountains.

Samuel C. Silverstein

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