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At Grips with Jannu

At Grips with Jannu, by Jean Franco and Lionel Terray. Translated by Hugh Merrick. London: Victor Gollancz Limited, 1967. 192 pages; 60 photographs.

“When Jannu huffs, nothing is left. That is why there are no longer any Yetis in the area. That is why the men of Khunza never go near him.” Thus Tensing warned Jean Franco, the leader of the French expedition to Jannu in 1959. Jannu, at 25,300 feet, is one of the great peaks in the Himalaya: Franco describes it as looking like three first-class alpine faces, one on top of the other, set on a base 10,000 feet high. In the first half of the book, Franco tells the story of his expedition, of the journey to Jannu, and of the purification that took place as the expedition traveled from the squalid plains of India to pleasant Darjeeling, to the ice and rock and thin air of Jannu itself. The expedition encountered difficulties without letup above 18,700 feet, and Tensing’s warning nearly came true as the expedition narrowly escaped an avalanche that swept the entire west face of the mountain. The 1959 expedition failed to reach the summit when Franco went snow blind, and Magnone and Paragot were forced to turn back 1000 feet beneath the summit by deep snow and bad weather.

Terray led the next French expedition to Jannu in 1962. Several months before the expedition was to leave, Terray fell thirty-five feet off a practice cliff near Paris and was injured so badly that his doctor said that it was unlikely that he could take an active part in the climb. Terray felt weak and depressed during the first part of the expedition, and he sensed that he was slowing down the rest of the team. But by the time he had reached Camp V he found himself regaining strength: “... to my great surprise ... I was not only keeping up successfully with my younger team-mates, but was actually showing signs of wanting to move more quickly than they. After 25 years of wearing myself out on the high peaks of three continents, it was comforting to find myself ‘still going strong’!”

The final summit ridge of Jannu was so narrow it had to be climbed à cheval, and every member of the expedition except one made it to the needle-sharp summit.

While Jannu was a remarkable climb, as the many photographs in the book testify, the book itself is not particularly outstanding. One has the feeling of having traveled the route many times before in other books about Himalayan expeditions.

Dennis Eberl