Looking for a tale of adventure? Nothing will satiate that craving like one of the mountaineering books listed below. Incorporating all the tragedy, triumph and beauty that mountaineering can bring. Sit back and become absorbed in a different world. A harsher one yes, but also a simpler one, a more invigorating one. Above all, a more fulfilled one.
7 Years in Tibet
Though not a true climbing memoir as the others on this list, it is an incredible adventure tale written by a renowned climber. There was also a little climbing involved during this ordeal. 7 Years in Tibet follows the life of Heinrich Harrer as he and several fellow prisoners escape from an India prisoner of war camp, fleeing into the unknown kingdom of Tibet. Harrer established a life in Tibet at a time when few Westerners had been privy to the nation’s inner sanctum. He eventually became a friend and mentor the young Dalai Lama. Great read if you have any interest in adventure, culture or pretty much anything else in life.
Touching the Void
You’ve probably seen the absolutely brilliant film adaptation. Well, this is what inspired it. The ultimate story of human endurance, Joe Simpson is one tough bastard. The story follows Joe Simpson and Simon Yates as they make the first ascent on the west face of Siula Grande in 1985. That was all well and good. trouble is, they ran into some serious trouble coming back down. A storm kicked up, and Simpson fell on the ice, driving his tibia through his knee. His leg was a serious mess, and the pair tried to descend as fast as they could with the bad weather getting worse. I won’t give away the results, though you probably already know what happened.
The 7 Summits
What served as the inspiration for this 7 Summits Project. The adventures of Frank Wells and Dick Bass to become the first to climb the highest peak on each continent. It certainly struck a cord. It was a little different in those days however, and I’m only talking 30 years ago. Bass and Wells were blamed as 2 of the instigators in causing the explosion of commercial guiding on Everest and indeed on the other 6 as well. To me though, their journey was one of challenging themselves to a pursuit that was completely outside their comfort zones. They had already achieved tremendous success in life, this wasn’t about ego or bragging rights (well maybe a little.) It was a quest they both fell in love with and enabled them a new form of fulfillment in life. I can certainly relate.
The Goodreads Review sums this one up pretty well: “In 1950, no mountain higher than 8,000 meters had ever been climbed. Maurice Herzog and other members of the French Alpine Club had resolved to try. Their goal was a 26,493-foot Himalayan peak called Annapurna. But unlike other climbs, which draw on the experience of prior reconnaissance, the routes up Annapurna had never been analyzed before. Herzog and his team had to locate the mountain using sketchy, crude maps, pick out a single, untried route, and go for the summit. Annapurna is the unforgettable account of this dramatic and heroic climb, and of its harrowing aftermath. Although Herzog and his comrade Louis Lachenal reached the mountain’s summit, their descent was a nightmare of frostbite, snow blindness, and near death. With grit and courage manifest on every page, Herzog’s narrative is one of the great mountain adventure stories of all time.”
Being an Australian, I had to include a book written by Australia’s finest mountaineer; Andrew Lock. While Lock may not be a Hemmingway in his use of the English language, it’s a far better read than many of the works written by mountaineers turned authors. His dry wit and sarcasm blends well with the brutal reality of the life he chose to ensure over 2 decades. Perhaps no other mountaineering books I’ve read have adequately demonstrated the harsh and ruthless nature of high altitude mountaineering. At the end of each chapter, Andrew mentions what happened to the climbers mentioned throughout their subsequent climbing careers. There were few occasions where a death wasn’t the result.
No Shortcuts to the Top
For eighteen years Ed Viesturs pursued climbing’s holy grail: to stand atop the world’s fourteen 8,000-meter peaks, without the aid of bottled oxygen. But No Shortcuts to the Top is as much about the man who would become the first American to achieve that goal as it is about his stunning quest. As Viesturs recounts the stories of his most harrowing climbs, he reveals a man torn between the flat, safe world he and his loved ones share and the majestic and deadly places where only he can go.
A preternaturally cautious climber who once turned back 300 feet from the top of Everest but who would not shrink from a peak (Annapurna) known to claim the life of one climber for every two who reached its summit, Viesturs lives by an unyielding motto, “Reaching the summit is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” It is with this philosophy that he vividly describes fatal errors in judgment made by his fellow climbers as well as a few of his own close calls and gallant rescues. And, for the first time, he details his own pivotal and heroic role in the 1996 Everest disaster made famous in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.
In addition to the raw excitement of Viesturs’s odyssey, No Shortcuts to the Top is leavened with many funny moments revealing the camaraderie between climbers. It is more than the first full account of one of the staggering accomplishments of our time; it is a portrait of a brave and devoted family man and his beliefs that shaped this most perilous and magnificent pursuit” Taken from Goodreads.
K2: The Savage Mountain
The world’s second highest mountain is renowned for its consistently poor weather and very short windows of opportunity, which, in conjunction with the high technical difficulty, make K2 the hardest climb on the planet. More than a century of attempts have resulted in a small number of summits (in comparison to Everest for example), along with many dramatic retreats, the majority of which have become epics in mountaineering history and literature. It is a beast of a mountain, defeating many of the greatest climbers to ever live. The common thing conjoining all these stories is the frighteningly big loss of life. K2 is also one of the deadliest mountains. In the light of such inglorious reputation, the events endured by the 1953 American expedition and portrayed in The Savage Mountain must surely qualify as one of the greatest survival stories of all times.
Are there any classics I’ve missed that you’d add to this list? Let me know in the comments below…