American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Manual of Ski Mountaineering

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  • Publication Year: 1963

Manual of Ski Mountaineering, 3rd Edition, edited by David Brower. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1962. 224 pages, 40 photographs, 73 sketches. Price $3.75.

The third edition of this fine manual has recently appeared under the Sierra Club imprint. Originally written at the start of World War II for both military and civilian use to instruct in winter travel in the mountains, it was revised just after the war to include many techniques verified or developed by the military’s experiences. In the sixteen years since the appearance of the second edition, there have been many changes in the methods of travel, of winter camping, and of food preparation (to name just a few) either as consequences of new, more ingenious equipment or the changing habits and standards of mountain skiers. The present edition reflects many of these changes. The contributors have rejected attempts to cover the latest styles and models in equipment for “the basic principles last longer…,” and for the contributors, as for most of us, “fashion and its relation to ski technique… are beyond us.” Nevertheless, the important innovations, with a few exceptions, are included. No mention is made of the new alkaline-type dry cells that retain their ability to operate flashlights usefully in the temperature range far below 0°F and which have so many times greater capacity than the usual carbon-zinc cells. Neither are the new bottled gas stoves discussed which have now become so widely accepted among European mountaineers and campers nor (as noted in the review in Appalachia) do they discuss string underwear or plastic bottomed skis. The omissions are not serious, however, in view of the quantity of information included.

The book retains the nice balance of the earlier editions in the selection and discussion of topics that are directly and indirectly relevant to ski mountaineering. For example, it includes information on many phases of climbing: with snow-shoes, skis, skis with skins, nailed boots, cleated shoes, ice-axe and crampons, and with ropes, pitons, and slings. This last subject is by no means out of place for it illustrates the kind of problems and their solutions that might be encountered, although perhaps rarely, in ski mountaineering and the information is useful for background for the traveller. The section on artificial, or tension, climbing is somewhat out of date and, curiously, there is no mention of the techniques of technical rock climbing in winter. The table of contents suggests the wide range of topics covered: Body Warmth, Equipment, Climbers and Waxes, Water, Food and Cooking, Campsite Selection, Shelter, Camping, Snow Formation and Avalanches, Compass and Map, First Aid, Transportation of the Injured, Ski Mountaineering Test, Mountaineering Routes, Rock Climbing, Ice Climbing.

A serious error occurs in Chapter 12 in the section dealing with the treatment of frostbite. The modern method of fast rewarming of injured members is discussed and the instruction given to rewarm in water at a temperature of 55°C or 130°F. Two pages later it is remarked, inconsistently, that“… the frostbitten part should be protected from cold, but otherwise left alone to thaw slowly by itself (sic).” Both statements are incorrect and contradict a number of authorities.*

Although there are minor differences in the water temperature recommended by the various experts (viz., “110°F to 115°F”, “108°F to 112°F”, or “never have the water warmer than 112°F”) it is quite clear that the use of water at 130°F would cause serious further injury to a frostbitten member.

The new edition, in welcome contrast to earlier ones, is illustrated profusely with photographs of a high quality well known to readers of Sierra Club publications. It is a useful manual and has no serious competitor among English language books. It is a shame it lacks an index.

Henry W. Kendall

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