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Mountains of the Pyrenees

Mountains of the Pyrenees. Kev Reynolds. Cicerone Press, Milnthorpe (Cumbria), 1982. 151 pages, 72 black and white photographs, 17 sketch maps, bibliography. £10.00.

Not a guidebook but a general introductory work to the high borderland peaks between Spain and France, this book was designed to offer a “picture of those mountains in the light of their exploration … a survey of the range through the activities of its pioneers and … some items of practical information which might aid the climber and walker in planning to explore the Pyrenees for himself.” Those who expected a compendium of routes and itineraries are referred to some of the 156 titles listed in the bibliography, of which at least 20 are modem guidebooks.

The Pyrenees run along the French-Spanish border from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean for some 400 kilometers and reach their greatest height in the Pico de Aneto (3404 meters). Mountaineering there began as early as 1276, when King Peter III of Aragon soloed Pico de Cánigo (2785 meters) and reported the existence of a lake on top and also a dragon emerging from its waters. The golden age of both pyreneisme and pirineismo began in 1802, when two Frenchmen and a Spaniard ascended Monte Perdido (3352 meters). Difficult routes were introduced in 1889 and technically-aided climbs in 1926, while challenging winter climbing was not initiated until 1960. Today, the range receives year-round activity.

Author Reynolds, a Briton, has organized his work into an introduction and two major parts, “Pioneers” and “The Mountains.” There are also appendices on instructions for climbers and hikers, wildflowers, Pyrenean terms and a bibliography. Part Two, The Mountains, is impeccable, with useful detail interestingly exposed. Part One, Pioneers, suffers by comparison. It concentrates heavily on the history of French pyreneisme and reduces its Spanish counterpart to even less than a bare minimum—an unacceptable occurrence, since the greater part of the range, including the highest peaks, falls within Spain. The index lists the names of over 110 French mountaineers, while only 9 Spaniards are included. Neither the remarkable surveys of Carlos Ibañez (who, in 1874, had already begun to chart the range in a scale of 1:50,000) nor the exploits of, say, Julio Soler or Jaime Oliveras, receive any mention whatsoever—a curious defect for a book of this quality.

For English-speaking readers, however, this book will certainly be a first-class introduction to the Pyrenees. Good pictures in abundance, both contemporary and historical, complement an interesting text. The sketch maps are useful and there are lists of available French and Spanish maps. The author is also to be commended for his prose style: direct and efficient and, at the same time, pleasant, even elegant.

Evelio Echevarria