Monday, March 26, 2012

Naked Before the Mountain, by Pierre Mazeaud

Pierre Mazeaud writes about his early climbing years with an added chapter on the 1971 International Everest expedition in his Naked Before the Mountain. Mazeaud is often depicted as a firebrand in the books I've read, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I had trouble figuring him out in this book, as I hadn't read about his Alpine career before, and I wasn't sure if he was displaying false modesty, his honest perspective, or a carefully created version of himself. He seems like a pretty decent guy in this book, but the character I've encountered elsewhere seems more like the brash youth that he grew out of than the vibrant and companionable climber I found here. Many of Mazeaud's worst critics are women, and yet he tells of several climbs in the book he made (happily) with women. I'm honestly not sure what to think! The book contains a number of adventures, primarily in the Alps, showing his growth from a interested amateur to a first-rate climber who participates in a number of first ascents on formidable routes. His specialty is artificial climbing, and many of his climbing narratives focus on difficult overhangs, especially his first ascent on the Cima Ovest. He devotes a chapter to his epic on the Central Pillar of the Fresnay along with Walter Bonatti, in which half the party perished during the retreat. There's also an amusing interlude in which he claims a newly-formed island in the name of France, as well as a trip to North Africa to climb a virgin summit.

The Everest chapter tells the story of the 1971 international expedition from a perspective I've never read. All the accounts I've read so far have been from the Southwest Face crew (Haston's In High Places or Schlommer's Mein Welt, Die Berge) or the team doctor (Steele's Doctor on Everest), rather than the West Ridge team on which Mazeaud participated. There was an especially high level of vitriol between the members of this expedition---Mazeaud at least admits that he still bore a grudge against Don Whillans for stealing his route on the Central Pillar of the Fresnay. Mazeaud, however, depicts a mostly happy expedition which is marred by Harsh Bahuguna's death and then sabotaged at the last moment by the evil Southwest Face crew as Mazeaud and friends were preparing to go to the summit. He chides Dyhrenfurth for his lack of firm leadership and says that he and the Vauchers were dismissed from the expedition rather than their quitting. Overall, Mazeaud's story is quite a change from the other narratives, and I'm going to need a corroborating story before I give him too much credence. Perhaps Toni Hiebeler's Durch Sherpaland zur Chomolungma will shed some light on things!

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