Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mountain Adventures, by Karl Lukan

Karl Lukan writes a mountaineering history for young adults in his Mountain Adventures. The book is a bit dated (1972), but it's still a decent reference. It's the only book I've read that starts the history of mountaineering in the Neolithic Period, stating that cave high in the Alps on a mountain with technically difficult access was found to have a fetish with cave bear skulls inside. He also mentions that at least one high Andean summit was climbed well before Europeans ever attempted to scale their heights. The rest of his narrative is fairly typical, with a discussion of Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, the Caucuses, and on up to the Himalaya. I appreciated his writing about the growing technicality of ascents in the Alps from the late 19th Century to his present, as well as the techniques of such gear-focused climbs. The book overall has a narrative format, focusing on the dramatic events in the history of climbing. The way the stories are told are often what dates the book, such as Walter Bonatti's controversial bivouac on K2 with the Hunza Mahdi or bringing up the dispute over Aconcagua's true height. Also, you might enjoy Lukan's assertion that if the first ascent of the Himalayan peaks were to take place in the 1980s, they would be done with aircraft. I enjoyed Lukan's coverage of the Eiger Nordwand, especially that he brought up both John Harlin's direct route and the later Japanese route. Also, it's nice to see North America included in a mountaineering history, with Lukan discussing the early history of Mount McKinley, Mount Logan, and an epic climb on El Capitan. Note: Lukan throughout the book mistakes Broad Peak for Chogolisa, AKA Bride Peak. It seems like he wrote much of this book from memory, as he gets little things mixed up here and there throughout the book.

Lukan naturally writes about Everest in his history. He focuses on the first ascent, even starting the book with Hillary and Tenzing's summit climb. Additionally, he covers the early history of its discovery, exploration, and first attempts. He includes some fictional figures in the Everest story, such as the first survey readings finding an average height for Everest of 28,730 or that the 1922 oxygen apparatus weighed 381 pounds per man! He brings up Sven Hedin, believes that Everest will never be accurately surveyed, and mentions the failure of the world's best mountaineers on the 1971 international expedition (and renewed attempt on the Southwest Face in 1972).

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