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To the Untouched Mountain: The New Zealand Conquest of Molamenqing

To the Untouched Mountain: The New Zealand Conquest of Molamenqing, Tibet. Warwick Anderson. Reed, Wellington and Alpenbooks, Seattle, 1983. 242 pages, 12 color plates, maps. $18.00.

At 7703 meters, Molamenqing is the world’s forty-fifth highest mountain and, in 1981, it was the third highest unclimbed peak. It is situated about one hundred kilometers northwest of Everest and is just a few kilometers east of its better- known neighbor, Xixabangma. The usual logistical and financial problems of an expedition were compounded by the total absence of useful maps or photographs of approaches.

Using what is becoming the well-documented approach via Beijing, Chengdu and Lhasa, the eleven-member team was abruptly deposited in the “dust bowl” when their truck could go no farther. After long days of humping loads across unpleasant moraines to establish their camps, they reluctantly accepted the fact that their direct-approach route was not reasonable. They then retreated to a relocated Advance Base Camp and began the much longer, but known, approach via the flanks of Xixabangma. Here, they encountered a Japanese women’s expedition descending; later Reinhold Messner and team, also intent on Xixabangma, moved in and up behind them.

Their final route was nontechnical and the team’s equipment modest; the author’s low-key style is thus most appropriate. There are few desperate moments and only brief mentions of internal dissent. Of greater interest are the clever use of discarded Japanese food and equipment; their interactions with the Japanese, the Chinese and Messner; and the tantalizing glimpses of nearby unmapped peaks. The three successful summit efforts somehow seem less memorable than the ready compassion and assistance provided to those team members inflicted with frostbite and other assorted ailments.

While the expedition was a success and the narrative is well told, this book is not likely to ever become a mountaineering classic. But it does provide an enjoyable and illustrative example of how a modestly-financed and mutually cooperative group can reach an untouched summit.

John Pollock