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Item #: OP63D-902
A WALK IN THE SKY Nick Clinch 1982 1st ed Hardcover DJ Fine
By Clinch, Nick
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Seattle, 1982, 1st edition. 214 pp, b/w and color photos. Blue hardcover with dust jacket. Fine.

Of the 14 8000m peaks, only Gasherbrum (Hidden Peak) had an American first ascent. The small party in 1958 put Schoening and Kauffman on top. 

Of all the high mountains in the world, the highest are in the remote Himalaya. Even here there is a hierarchy: only fourteen peaks rise above an invisible ''magic line'' of 8000 meters (26,240 feet); they have been a magnet for mountaineers of every era. All of the Eight Thousanders were first climbed between 1950 and 1964, typically by large expeditions that were heavily subsidized and publicized, often with strong financial and political support from their respective governments.

By contrast, the only group of American climbers to first reach an 8000m summit Hidden Peak (Gasherbrum 1) in 1958 was small, informally organized, almost entirely self supported and comparatively unknown. Their remarkable success is told for the first time in this account by Nicholas Clinch, the expedition's director. Clinch brought together the parts and pieces over three years and several continents, and then watched as two of his climbing companions became the first Americans to stand atop the summit of an Eight Thousander.

That the Hidden Peak climbers remained good friends after the expedition's end is indicative of the companionship and almost naive joy they felt as this small band worked together toward the common goal. Of course there was some friction, caused by confinement, food shortages, route-finding concerns, weather and illness. But the climbers' basic respect for each other shines through in this eminently readable, often amusingly written account.

The efficiency of the low-key approach exhibited by the Hidden Peak expedition, in small numbers and limited porter support, has recently been rediscovered and is being used by the mountaineers from many countries who are now climbing in the Himalaya.

From the Introduction: Smothered beneath the layers of rationality in every human mind there lies the urge to attempt the impossible. In striving to accomplish this, the individual rises above petty annoyances and for a brief moment his character assumes the epic nature of the struggle in which he is engaged. That the objective- may be intrinsically useless is immaterial. The important thing is that it demand the last reserves of his physical, mental, and emotional resources.

To every mountaineer, neophyte or veteran, this desire for self-fulfillment usually is the unexpressed ambition to make the first ascent of an ''Eight Thousander,'' one of the fourteen highest mountains in the world over 8,000 meters (26,268 feet) high. For years these select peaks stood as symbols of invincibility, and the failure of expedition after expedition to climb them merely intensified their challenge. But the ascent of Annapurna (26,492 feet) by the 1950 French Himalayan Expedition broke the magic barrier of these hitherto inviolate summits and in 1953 the British success on Mount Everest and the German-Austrian ascent of Nanga Parbat reversed the previous pattern of failure. By using new techniques and new equipment, and in many instances by discovering better routes, expeditions began to climb these giants at the rate of more than one a year. The frontier of high-altitude mountaineering closed in with the relentlessness of a hydraulic press, and if one failed to act immediately, the opportunity to participate in the pioneering of these magnificent mountains would be gone forever. The only answer was to organize an expedition, a solution as difficult as it was certain.

Like most words, the noun ''expedition'' possesses a grandeur that is missing from the actuality it represents. The letterhead, the magazine article, and the book unconsciously inspire visions of supermen, backed by vast organizations, pitting themselves against the malignant forces of implacable Nature. The dimensions of everyday living seem to be lost in such titanic efforts, which obviously are beyond the powers of normal mortals. Even mountaineers who know that the only thing extraordinary about themselves or their friends is the desire to climb mountains tend to regard more famous climbers as being different and upon meeting such celebrities are surprised to discover that they too are just human beings. We forget how amazingly adaptable the individual is. In our world of reliable plumbing, automobiles, and other such benefits of a technical civilization, the contrast between our pleasant lives and the supposedly incredible hardships endured by participants of expeditions appears greatly increased. Yet the great mass of humanity exists without such comforts.

Expeditions are remarkable, not because they consist of ''heroes,'' but because they consist of ordinary men trying to achieve what to them appears almost impossible. Climbing expeditions are a dramatic demonstration of man's defiance of his destiny.

This is not the official account of the 1958 American Karakoram Expedition sponsored by the American Alpine Club, as there never was any thing very official about our undertaking. This is merely the story of how an idea, surviving many crises, became a few dedicated friends who struggled together to climb Hidden Peak, which at 26,470 feet was the second highest unclimbed mountain in the world.

''We continued to buck forward. We could look directly up at the summit through the high col between the ridge of Hidden South and the Urdok Comb. Ahead were a few undulating areas with large crevasses, but it would be only a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, at least as far as the final pyramid. We had found our way past the cliff bands and had turned the defenses of a great mountain. Through the years as we had clung to ice and rock, chopped steps, and dangled from pitons, we had dreamed of climbing an Eight Thousander. Now the culmination of our mountaineering careers was going to be a trudge through soft snow with heavy packs. Just a walk; a walk in the sky. It seemed ridiculously simple. Yet we could barely move. Soon it was my turn again. One step, again up to the knees, and I bent double over the axe, gasping. One does not sweat at high altitude, but I could almost feel the water in my body departing through my lungs every time I exhaled into the dry air. Part of me seemed to stand aside and revile the inert figure hunched over the axe. Don't stand there, take another step, take another step, NOW: But it was impossible to move until I caught my breath. Another step, more gasping, and a wave of remorse swept over me as I knew I was letting everyone down. Time: yelled Nevison, and as I sank into the slope the agony of failure was blunted by fatigue. Another hundred feet.
 
Pete Schoening climbed many fine routes in the North America (Rockies, Tetons and Cascades). He made the first ascent of Hidden Peak, or Gasherbrum I, the 11th highest mountain on earth (8068m). He also made the first ascent of Mt Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica. In 1974 he was nominal leader of the first USA expedition to the Pamirs. It was Pete Schoening's belay that saved the entire team from certain death in 1953 high on K2. Pete succumbed to cancer in 2004.

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