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Climbing The World's 14 Highest Mountains: A History of the 8000-Meter Peaks

Climbing The World’s 14 Highest Mountains: A History of the 8000-Meter Peaks. Richard Sale, with photo editing by John Cleare. Seattle: Mountaineers Books, 2000. 192 pages. $29.95.

This is the first large-format illustrated guidebook to describe the exploration and mountaineering history of the 8000-meter peaks. Starting in the Alps, the author opens with an introduction to climbing history and continues with early exploration of the Himalaya. Each 8000-meter peak is then described in a distinct chapter. For each peak, he covers the history of the mountain, early explorations and climbing attempts, and first ascents of various routes. Photos illustrate the climbing and routes on the mountain. This book is the first I’ve seen that has gathered so many factual sources and compressed them into one volume.

I am happy to finally see an 8000-meter reference book make it into print. (Louis Baume’s Sivalaya, the standard reference for the 8000-meter peaks, is out of print.-Ed.) Unlike other 8000-meter books, such as those written by Messner, Kukuczka, or Wielicki, where only one or two routes on each mountain are described, this book covers all the routes attempted or ascended. The information is fairly up-to-date as well. I liked the way the author presents his view of climbers reaching a false summit versus the true summit. It was interesting to read about Herman Buhl using drugs on Nanga Parbat, something that is excluded from other publications. The statistics regarding ascents, attempts, and fatalities at the end of the book are interesting, but what is the source of this data, and can it be independently confirmed?

Although the concept is good, the book is unfortunately not researched, edited, or produced very professionally. The grammar is consistently poor throughout the entire book. Run-on sentences abound. Reading some sentences will leave you more breathless than breaking trail up K2. To whit: “In 1996 Japanese climber Masafumi Todaka soloed the original route (though there were several teams on the line at the same time and on the same summit day) after he had failed to solo the 1986 Kukuczka/Piotrowski route and a Japanese team repeated [sic] of the 1994 Basque route on the south-south-east spur, twelve Japanese reaching the top after fixing 4 km (2 1/2 miles) of rope.” The author repeats or contradicts himself several times throughout the book.

Much of the factual data is wrong. The author correctly states that “Sagarmatha” is a name for Everest invented by the Hindu government of Nepal for political reasons, but he mistakenly calls it a Sherpa name. Chomolungma is, in fact, the Sherpa name (Sherpas speak a Tibetan dialect). In the Cho Oyu section, photo captions mislabel camps on the mountain. In another account, the author states climbing Sherpas were used in the Karakoram on a 1997 Japanese expedition for the first time since 1938, where, in fact, Scott Fischer’s 1995 American Broad Peak expedition included three climbing Sherpas. The author asserts that Jean-Marc Boivin carried his hangglider to the summit of GII, yet it’s well known that “Little Karim” carried the hangglider to the top. One doesn’t have to look hard to find factual errors in this book.

The book is a collection of stories from various mountaineering sources. It is quite obvious the author included these accounts with little editing. Stories take on different writing styles. Unfortunately, the author includes more gossip about expeditions than the actual conditions and terrain found on the mountains. It’s difficult to use this book as a guide for a particular route. In fact, the AAJ is a better, if less convenient, source of information about climbing on the peaks.

I can’t recommend this as a good coffee table book of beautiful and intriguing climbing photos and picturesque panorama photos of the Himalaya. The photo selection and reproduction is often extremely poor. Many photos are washed out or not worthy of being published. The photo of Lhotse at the beginning of one chapter is printed backward.

A current book cataloging the 8000-meter peaks is long overdue. Unfortunately, the information and presentation in this offering leaves a lot to be desired. I hope the author comes out with a second edition after some serious editing and research have been completed.

Christine Boskoff