Skip to Main Content
Fallen Giants

Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes

Maurice Isserman
Stewart Weaver
With Maps and Peak Sketches by Dee Molenaar
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 592
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Fallen Giants
    Book Description:

    The first successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa teammate Tenzing Norgay is a familiar saga, but less well known are the tales of many other adventurers who also came to test their skills and courage against the world's highest and most dangerous mountains. In this lively and generously illustrated book, historians Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver present the first comprehensive history of Himalayan mountaineering in fifty years. They offer detailed, original accounts of the most significant climbs since the 1890s, and they compellingly evoke the social and cultural worlds that gave rise to those expeditions.

    The book recounts the adventures of such figures as Martin Conway, who led the first authentic Himalayan climbing expedition in 1892; Fanny Bullock Workman, the pioneer explorer of the Karakoram range; George Mallory, the romantic martyr of Mount Everest fame; Charlie Houston, who led American expeditions to K2 in the 1930s and 1950s; Ang Tharkay, the legendary Sherpa, and many others. Throughout, the authors discuss the effects of political and social change on the world of mountaineering, and they offer a penetrating analysis of a culture that once emphasized teamwork and fellowship among climbers, but now has been eclipsed by a scramble for individual fame and glory.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14266-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: A Fallen Giant
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE When Men and Mountains Meet
    (pp. 1-32)

    One hundred and twenty million years ago, the geologists tell us, the Indian landmass broke free of the colossal Mesozoic continent of Gondwana and began to drift northward at the astonishing average speed of sixteen centimeters a year. About 45 million years ago it crossed the equator and collided with the submerged edge of Eurasia along a front of about 1,500 miles. Much of the dense ocean floor north of India plunged into the earth’s mantle and disappeared beneath a line of now-extinct volcanoes. But as the inexorable collision continued and completely closed the intervening sea, the lighter sedimentary rocks...

  5. CHAPTER TWO The Age of Empire, 1892–1914
    (pp. 33-82)

    The first experienced Alpinist to visit the Himalaya was the Hungarian Maurice de Déchy, who went out to Sikkim in 1879 equipped—in what became a standard practice before the “discovery” of the Sherpas—with a Swiss guide, Andreas Maurer of Meiringen. He hoped to climb some great peak in the vicinity of Kangchenjunga. But no sooner had he reached the prominence of Phalut on the Singalila Ridge than he contracted malaria and had to withdraw, thereafter to content himself with the Alps and the Caucasus. Thus it fell to the English barrister William Woodman Graham, whose Alpine record embraced...

  6. CHAPTER THREE “Because It Is There”: George Mallory and the Fight for Everest, 1921–1924
    (pp. 83-126)

    Armistice Day—November 11, 1918—found First Lieutenant George Herbert Leigh Mallory comfortably behind the lines with the 515th Siege Battery between Arras and the Channel coast. All the fighting of late had been farther south, and Mallory had suffered only the routine tedium of life in a quiet sector of the western front. Still, he had been on the Somme in 1916, had lost friends in plenty, had seen and endured the Great War at its worst, and he had every reason to feel surprise at finding himself a survivor. “The prevalent feeling I make out, and in part...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR “A Random Harvest of Delight,” 1929–1933
    (pp. 127-164)

    News of her husband’s disappearance and death reached Ruth Mallory in Cambridge on June 19, eleven days after the fact. By then the 1924 expedition had withdrawn from the mountain, leaving a memorial cairn to Mallory, Irvine, Kellas, and the seven lost Sherpas of 1922 behind. “We were a sad little party,” Norton later recalled; “from the first we accepted the loss of our comrades in that rational spirit which all of our generation had learnt in the Great War, and there was never any tendency to a morbid harping on the irrevocable.” But the tragedy was “very near,” he...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE “Himalayan Hey-Day,” 1934–1939
    (pp. 165-222)

    A legend in Kumaon tells of a beautiful princess who long ages ago spurned the amorous advances of a Rohilla raja and thus brought war and ruin to her father’s kingdom. In fear for her life and virtue, the princess fled a battle at Ranikhet to the icy summit of a stupendous mountain revered as the birthplace of Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva, and surrounded on all sides by an impenetrable wall of precipitous peaks and ridges. Here she remained, inviolable and eternal, until she became one with the mountain itself, the blessed goddess, Nanda Devi. At 25,642 feet...

  9. CHAPTER SIX The Golden Age Postponed, 1940–1950
    (pp. 223-253)

    The May 1939 issue of the BritishAlpine Journalreported a number of recent mountaineering triumphs, or near triumphs, in the Himalaya. For those readers not distracted that spring by more ominous events elsewhere, the effect must have been heartening. Indeed, lacking access to any other source of news, a reader of the leading European and American climbing journals might reasonably have concluded that the great nations of the world coexisted in a spirit of cooperative harmony. The exploration and ascent of the great peaks in the Himalaya was an international enterprise in which climbers from the European continent, the...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN “Don’t Be a Chicken-Hearted Fellow”: Everest, 1950–1953
    (pp. 254-294)

    In his 1943 memoirUpon That Mountain,Eric Shipton reflected on the disappointments experienced by the British expeditions to Everest in the 1930s. He drew an analogy between the difficulties that his generation of climbers encountered on Everest and those an earlier generation faced in climbing the Matterhorn. In the mid-nineteenth century, the “Golden Age of Alpine Climbing,” the Matterhorn had defied repeated attempts by the best Alpinists of the era to reach its summit. Finally, in 1865, Edward Whymper led a party to the top. In a few years the mountain would come to be regarded almost, if...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT The Golden Age of Himalayan Climbing, 1953–1960
    (pp. 295-349)

    What next, indeed? The American reader who had asked James Ramsey Ullman that question the day the news broke of the first ascent of Everest would get his answer before the summer of 1953 was over, as yet another 8,000-meter peak saw its first ascent.¹ Two more would be climbed in 1954, another two in 1955, three in 1956, and one each in 1957, 1958, and 1960. In the same seven years there were repeat ascents of several already-climbed 8,000-meter peaks, plus first ascents of smaller but challenging Himalayan mountains. Expeditions from France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Austria, Japan, the...

  12. CHAPTER NINE New Frontiers, New Faces, 1961–1970
    (pp. 350-397)

    In 1961 Chris Bonington made the three-week hike from Kathmandu to the Solu Khumbu region on an expedition that would make the first ascent of Everest’s neighbor Nuptse (25,770ft/7,855m). “These were the days before trekkers and tourists,” Bonington wrote with obvious nostalgia a quarter of a century later. “There were a few little tea shops on the pathside for the porters carrying loads and trade goods, but all you could buy were cups of tea and perhaps a few dry biscuits.” Along the entire route to the mountain his party encountered just one other non-Nepalese vistor—Peter Aufschnaiter, Heinrich Harrer’s...

  13. CHAPTER TEN The Age of Extremes, 1971–1996
    (pp. 398-454)

    We entered the mountains as strangers,” Charlie Houston wrote of the members of the 1953 K2 expedition, “but we left as brothers.” As much as any venture in the history of Himalayan mountaineering, Houston’s expedition embodied the highest ideals of expeditionary culture. It was a true brotherhood of the rope; every member of the expedition owed his life to Pete Schoening’s famed belay at a moment of mortal danger.¹

    Many expeditions failed to achieve the ideal of fellowship displayed by the American K2ers. Nonetheless, at least through the 1960s, the notion of a brotherhood of the rope severed as a...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 455-538)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 539-564)
  16. Index
    (pp. 565-579)