Book Review: “Climbing Fitz Roy, 1968: Reflections on the Lost Photos of the Third Ascent”


Back in 1968, five friends set out from Ventura, California on a trip that would become a life-defining adventure. Those young climbers embarked on a six month long, 16,000 mile odyssey that would lead them into the wildss of Patagonia, where they would attempt the third ascent of one of the most technical and demanding mountains in the world – the fabled Fitz Roy. That expedition is the subject of a new book entitled Climbing Fitz Roy, 1968: Reflections on the Lost Photos of the Third Ascentan adventure which would eventually have an impact that would go far beyond the climbing  community. 

Stretching across parts of southern Argentina and Chile, Patagonia has long been a beacon for climbers, backpackers and other outdoor adventurers. That wild, rugged place features some of the most iconic landscapes on the planet, with serene lakes, towering glaciers and dramatic mountain peaks that permeate the landscape. It was the undeniable lure of that place that called out to this group of young men, who had dubbed themselves the “Funhogs.” The five members of that team included skier Dick Dorworth, filmmaker Lito Tejada-Flores, and climbers Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins and Chris Jones.

The men left California in a 1965 Ford Econoline van that would carry them 8000 miles south across Mexico, Central and South America before eventually reaching Patagonia itself. Their intent was to climb Fitz Roy which at that time had only been successfully summited twice before. The first ascent was completed by a French team in 1952 and in 1965 a pair of Argentine climbers repeated the feat. The Funhogs would have to live in ice caves for a month as they waited for Patagonia’s notorious weather to clear, but once it did, they managed to complete a classic new path to the summit that would eventually be known as the California Route.

The legacy of that climb went well beyond that bold new route however. The five men returned home with a completely new outlook on climbing, adventure, and life in general. Eventually two documentary films would be made about their climb, the classic Mountains of Storms and later 180° South. Furthermore, Chouinard would eventually found Patagonia, while Doug Tompkins would create The North Face, two of the biggest and most influential outdoor gear companies in the world. The expedition would also help to spur an environmental movement, in which the men are still very active today.

Climbing Fitz Roy is made up of essays written by each of the climbers, in which they share thoughts about that legendary expedition that would define the rest of their lives. These insightful notes serve as a memoir of sorts, offering insights not just on a climb that would inspire a generation of alpinists that followed, but also how the members of the team gained a new found respect for the environment which still plays an important part in their lives to this day. That expedition would also formulate the philosophies that would define the way they ran their businesses and lived the rest of their lives too, much of which springs from that same respect to the environment.

Also included in the book are more than 90 photos from the expedition, which give readers a very personal glimpse into what the five men experienced on their journey. The images were once thought to have been lost in a house fire, but were rediscovered years later only to play a central role in Climbing Fitz Roy. The photos are well shot, often quite beautiful and always interesting. They show a group of young men who were eager for adventure and on the cusp of dramatic changes in their lives. The old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words has never been more true than with this book, and it makes it feel longer than its 144 pages would typically seem.

This linen-bound hardcover book is of an extremely high quality. The pages are smooth to the touch and offer fantastic reproductions of each of the photos that are depicted therein. This is a book that is suitable to have on a coffee table and it makes a fine addition to any library. Furthermore, since it documents a piece of mountaineering history, Climbing Fitz Roy makes a fantastic gift for the alpinist or climbing historian in your life. With the holidays just around the corner, this is a gift that any outdoor enthusiast would be happy to find under his or her tree come Christmas Day.

Climbing Fitz Roy, 1968: Reflections on the Lost Photos of the Third Ascent is available from Patagonia Books with a cover price of $35, although it is available at Amazon at a reduced price. This beautiful book is well worth the price and will make a fine addition to your collection.