Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Curious Interpretation of Detail

On page 177, Harrer quotes Jöchler’s account of his and Buhl’s climb up the Eiger’s North Face: “I was very nearly sick, but not quite, for it stemmed from our having had nothing to eat since four in the morning, nor had we had time all day long to think about our stomachs. That was the result of being continually hunted….” Harrer succeeds this passage with his own interpretation of what Jöchler meant by “hunted:” “‘Hunted’ is perhaps the best word to describe the feeling under which many climbers of the North Face have laboured. Hunted by stone falls, hunted by the chasing hours, hunted by the fear of a break in the weather.”

I was curious and surprised to see this particular interpretation of Jöchler’s diction. One of the distinguishing characteristics of that summit attempt was the number of men on the Face at once (9) and the extra pressures that that presented to the climbers. However, Harrer spent the few pages previous to the above quoted passages expounding upon the hot blood that ran through the veins of the European competitors, and how, though they spent part of their climbs roped together, the separate parties, by nationality, still felt that extreme drive of competition. Harrer even mentioned that (apparently according to his personal understanding and interpretation of the situation) “Buhl was not particularly pleased (at having multiple parties on the mountain climbing close to one another); he would have preferred his to be the only party on the climb.” Again, immediately after this Harrer attributes the anxiety to the mountain, alleging that Buhl was worried about the increased risk of being hit by falling stones because of more people on the mountain. I think that Buhl was indeed concerned with the safety issues of so many on the Face at once, but he was also feeling the spirit of competition and the national pressure to succeed. The same applies to Jöchler, in my view – this team of two were in the lead for most of their climb, and undoubtedly felt pressure to remain there, especially with someone like Gaston Rebuffát on their tail. This seems to me to be the most likely meaning of Jöchler’s use of the term “hunted” – the two men felt hunted not just by the danger aspects of their undertaking, but by their competitors following them up the mountain. This was a surprising blind spot for Harrer, who otherwise performed the part of third-party reporter fairly well.

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