Rondoy, by David Wall. London: John Murray 1965. 176 pages, 35 illustrations, 3 maps, biographic notes and glossary. Price 30s.
In any comprehensive collection of mountaineering books the section devoted to the Andes will be relatively sparse. This volume, describing the London School of Economics Andean Expedition 1963, is a welcome addition. It is the account of the difficult first ascent of the true summit of Nevado Rondoy, 19,301 feet, which at the time was one of the highest unclimbed peaks of the Cordillera Huayhuash of north-central Peru. In the final days of the expedition success was matched by tragedy. The summit was attained but two of the eight-man expedition were killed in a fall from the dangerous summit ridge. This corniced, half-mile ridge connecting the north summit, 19,094 feet, with the higher south (true) summit had turned back none other than Bonatti in 1961. Thus the British expedition lacked neither boldness nor talent.
This expedition contained aspects which seem curious to those accustomed to different methods of expeditionary mountaineering. The organization was formal, complete with Leader, Transport Officer, Food Officer, Deputy Food Officer, Equipment Officer, etc. Since the climbing background of the eight members was not equally strong, there were those destined to be the summit party, and those relegated to the position of support party. And Base Camp seemed to be liberally supplied with both gin and cigarettes.
The author handles skillfully the difficult task of describing the sometimes complex events of the expedition, but the description is rather straightforward and perhaps a bit dry. Neither humor nor philosophy are to be found in quantity. Since many of the important events were known by the author only secondhand, the writing must have been even more difficult than normal. The restrained prose does reveal to this reader, at least, that it was the New Zealand component, Farrell and Walsh, who supplied much of the skill and drive necessary to success. There are a few small errors of fact, such as Huascaran at 22,180 feet (in fact 22,205 feet) being the second highest peak in South America (in fact at best fourth highest). Leif Patterson does not spell his name "Lief.” Nevado Siulá is misspelled as "Nevada Siula.” The Paine Towers are not the "Towers of Peigne.” Almost none of the Spanish is correctly reproduced. As one example, "Cerquita, acá no más,” appears as "Circita, aqua no mas.” Altitudes are not consistent. Different altitudes in meters are given for the same peaks in different places. The illustrations are often excellent, although the quality is not consistent. The reproduction quality, on the other hand, is no better than average. It is unfortunate that publishers are today seldom willing to undertake the extra expense of first- rate engravings.
Andean expeditions can today no longer be considered rare since there are now about two dozen a year. This energetic British expedition is one of the very, very few to have produced a book in recent years. Rondoy provides not only a necessary tribute to two lost and valiant companions but also provides an accurate description of the type of difficult mountaineering encountered in the Peruvian Andes. As such it can be recommended. But it is not destined to be the Andean Annapurna.