Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Den Bergen Verfallen, by Loretan & Amman

Erhard Loretan and Jean Amman chronicle Loretan's career of climbing the world's highest mountains in Den Bergen Verfallen (roughly "Addicted to the Mountains"). Loretan was the third person, after Messner and Kukuczka, to climb the fourteen 8000-meter peaks, finishing in the fall of 1995 by climbing Kanchenjunga. He wasn't in a hurry to climb them all, nor did he seek out a lot of media attention during his climbs. He therefore gained a reputation among other climbers for his difficult and often very fast ascents, but he's not well-known outside of Europe. To his credit are an alpine-style ascent of Dhaulagiri in winter, climbing three 8000-ers in two weeks in the Baltoro, a traverse via the long and high East Ridge of Annapurna (English readers can read about his Annapurna climb, along with Norbert Joos, in Viesturs and Roberts' The Will to Climb.), a new route alpine-style on the Southwest Face of Cho Oyu, and a number of other innovative ascents, such as climbing 13 Alpine north faces in 13 days in winter. He made a goal of climbing Everest in 40 hours, Cho Oyu in 30, and Shishipangma in 20 back in 1985, when such ascents were unheard-of, and accomplished it (or came very close, depending on how much of a stickler you are).

His Everest ascent was unprecedented. (He states that medical experts thought it impossible.) Along with Jean Troillet, who would become his regular climbing partner, he made a dash for the summit at the end of the monsoon in 1986 via the Japanese and Hornbein couloirs, climbing two successive nights with almost no gear from the Rongbuk Glacier to the summit while resting during the day. They climbed without the benefit of fixed ropes (as later speed ascents would rely upon), oxygen, sleeping bags, tents, or even much more than starving rations. Deep, unstable snow, caused them both alarm and difficulty. They were unsure if an avalanche had harmed their climbing partner Pierre Beghin, who had turned back at the Hornbein couloir, and they spent a good deal of their climb postholing. The snow aided their descent, however, with their traveling from the summit back to the glacier in just five hours mostly in a glissade. Until I read this book, I was unaware that Loretan's expedition had a less-than-auspicious start, wrenching his ankle in hang glider accident and then later lodging an anchor in his arm, requiring stitches. The best account I've found of this climb in English is in Fanshawe and Venables' Himalaya Alpine Style.

For German readers, this is a fun book. Loretan's writing style is quite a bit lighter than either Messner or Kukuzcka, alternating between humor and philosophy. Most of his ascents are exciting for the right reason, with his pulling off something unprecedented in an unbelievably short time. He does have some tragedies, with a climbing partner dying (slowly and painfully) on Cho Oyu and Benoit Chamoux expiring in a vain attempt to race Loretan to the honor of third person to complete the 8000-meter peaks on Kanchenjunga. I especially liked his first ascents in Antarctica that he climbed as a salve to an overcrowded Everest base camp after his Lhotse climb. His grand plans don't always work out, such as his attempt on the South Face of K2 in 1985, but he is not averse to a Normal Route ascent as a consolation prize. Hope you like it!

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