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Mount Everest, Formation, Population and Exploration of the Everest Region

Mount Everest, Formation, Population and Exploration of the Everest Region, by Toni Hagen, Günter-Oskar Dyhrenfurth, Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf and Erwin Schneider, Translated by E. Noel Bowman, Oxford University Press, London, 1963. (originally published in German in 1959 by Orell Fussli Verlag, Zurich) 195 pages, 25 diagrams, maps and drawings, 31 photographs.

The Mount Everest region has excited man’s imagination ever since 1852 when "Peak 15” was computed on the old Survey of India maps as the highest summit on earth. This book is a compendium of selected information about the natural and human history of this region and contains a summary of details nowhere else available under one cover. Included in its pocket is a copy of the superb 1957 map of Chomolongma-Everest, published by the German and Austrian Alpine Clubs and the German Research Association.

Four eminent scientists each contributed a chapter to this book, dealing respectively with the geology, ethnology, mountaineering history and mapping of the region. The geological section is the longest and most detailed. Undoubtedly, Mount Everest provides one of the most stimulating phenomena of geological consideration on earth, but it cannot be considered without a broad regional perspective. Dr. Hagen points out that the Alps and the Himalaya have similar origins, although the overthrusting is not in association with the classic view of recumbent overfolds, but rather with massive regions of layered rock (thrust slices) pushed southward from Tibet along gigantic thrust planes. The great height of Everest is a product of both horizontal stress and vertical uplift of the whole Mahalangur Himal. The alternating play between orogenic (horizontal) and epeirogenic (vertical) stressing is immensely complicated and still far from clear. (My work in the region in 1963 suggests the latter as dominant in recent geologic time.) Such is but one of the many unsettling factors which is shown to prevent a clear-cut understanding of the geology of eastern Nepal. Dr. Hagen exudes the excitement of a prospector after "colors” as he describes his search for new lithologie units, and the discovery of a "bonanza” could be no more exciting than his detection of a significant geological clue. His field work, covering eight years, involved 96 geological traverses across Nepal from the Gan- getic plain to the Tibetan border. This study bears out the importance of systematic observations over a broad region. Only by such an approach can the complication of large-scale thrust slicing be understood. A detailed expansion of this field method is necessary for solution of the main problems of Himalayan geology. Good use is made of sketch maps, schematic representations and tectonic profiles to illustrate some of the complex discussions. Some rather loose application of geologic terms is made, e.g., reference to the Cretaceous-Eocene Era. Also, because of the technical nature of some of the material, a glossary would have been valuable. The bibliographic references are not as complete as this reviewer would like. But such imperfections are minor in a very progressive and important piece of Himalayan geological literature. The contribution turns on the fact that the maps and discussions provide a basis for interpretation where none existed before.

Günter O. Dyhrenfurth, also a Swiss geologist and Himalayan explorer of stature, competently handles the history, chronology and description of the decades of exploration and mountaineering in the Everest region. His discussion embraces the mountain exploration of Mount Everest up to 1960 and his summary covers the chain of victories and tragedies on other major peaks in the Mahalangar Himal. Also included is a short discussion of the 1955 International Himalayan Expedition (led by his son, Norman), the scientific results of which resulted in the fine stereo-photogrammetric map appended to this book.

The ethnology section is ably handled by Prof. Christoph von Fürer- Haimendorf, who holds the chair of Asian Anthropology at the University of London. His contribution, dealing primarily with the Sherpas of the Khumbu region, was translated by himself and is substantially re-written from the original European edition. This is a serious professional account, based on field work carried out in 1953 and 1957. Nonetheless it is fascinating reading, and reveals that the Everest region is indeed fully inhabited and that its people, despite great differences in ethnic background and religion, strongly resemble the peasants of the European Alps, each depending on "Alpine husbandry, laborious agriculture, trade over the passes and acting as guides and porters.” The most significant discussions concern the structure of Sherpa society, the village organization, the codes of marriage and family life and the role of the Buddhist priest and monasteries. Here we have a most sophisticated society, with an exceptional social consciousness and surprising democratic overtones, in spite of the deep influence of religious mysticism and a strong clan structure. His work should be required reading for any foreigner anticipating activities in the land of the Sherpas.

In the last section of the book, Erwin Schneider describes briefly details of his terrestrial photogrammetric field work in 1955 and the subsequent plotting of the 1957 Chomolongma-Mount Everest map. This map produced at a scale of 1:25,000 uses for control the latest position and height of Everest, as determined by the Survey of India (1952-55) and fixed at 29,028 feet (8840 m.). The map is a masterpiece of reconnaissance surveying. The detail made possible by Schneider’s careful ground survey and the artistry of Fritz Ebster, who turned field sketches into the relieflike reproduction of bedrock, moraines and glaciers, is commendable.

Mount Everest, although covering too much too sparsely, is the best composite study on the region currently available. Neither a "popular” book to be read in one sitting nor a "scientific” book which demands wide background to understand, Mount Everest serves as an excellent compilation of significant selected material for all those fascinated, as I am, by this subject. It deserves a place in the library of every mountaineer with interest in the high roof of Asia.

Maynard M. Miller