Las Montañas de México, by Miguel Guzmán Peredo. Mexico City: Costa-Amic Editores, 1968. 232 pages, 2 photographs.
To portray the three ice volcanoes of Mexico – Iztaccihuatl, Popocatepetl and Orizaba – as they were seen by Conquistadores, poets, scientists and travellers, is the purpose of this book. The selection is generally good, offering in all 75 pieces of descriptive narrative and some poetry. A good many of them refer to Popocatepetl, the sacred mountain of the Aztecs, and its first ascents by Spanish soldiers in 1519 and 1522. The account of Francisco Cervantes de Salazar, written around 1575, is particularly attractive. It contains much that would interest a mountaineer: the description of the first attempts, Hernán Cortés’ harangue to encourage the climbers, the carrying of sulphur (for gunpowder) from the crater of the volcano, and the descent of the soldiers from a glacier.
There are however some detects in this book, which are all too evident. The pieces of narrative seem to have been thrown in at random, any form of sequence or unity seems to have been disregarded. At times, too, the constant repetition of some themes makes dull reading. Furthermore, no accounts of modern ascents to the volcanoes were included in this anthology, a surprising omission, since the author is himself a mountaineer and a very active member in the mountain rescue units of Mexico. A few more modern accounts (i.e., of the first ascents of Iztaccihuatl and Orizabain the mid 1800’s and of technical routes on Popocatepetl) would have been welcome additions.
All in all, this is a pleasant book to read. But one cannot close it without the feeling that perhaps it could have been better.