Classics like Into Thin Air, Annapurna and Scrambles Amongst the Alps have thrilled and inspired countless readers over the years. If you enjoyed these celebrated works, check out our list of lesser known – but equally awe-inspiring – climbing titles.
Minus 148° by Art Davidson
Originally published in 1969, this harrowing tale chronicles the first wintertime ascent of Denali. The expedition seemed doomed from the start when one team member perished within the first few hours. Then, upon descent, the remaining climbers encountered 130-mile-per-hour winds and were forced to dig an ice cave to survive. Gardner (one of the three surviving team members) illustrates every detail of the climb with gritty realism and emotional depth.
Choice Passage: “Looking out into the unbroken darkness which surrounded us, I was seized by the sensation that nothing at all was out there, that the night was empty and there remained only our three headlamps in the blackness.”
One Man’s Mountains by Tom Patey
Though he didn’t live to see his fortieth birthday, Tom Patey is considered one of the most eminent climbers and mountaineers of the last century. In this collection of essays, the Scotsman reveals himself to be a masterful writer of grace and wit. The material isn’t always light-hearted; in one of the collection’s most memorable passages, he recalls the death of climber Bill Stuart, who perished during a climbing expedition in 1953.
Choice Passage: “It was a cruel twist of fate to overtake such a brilliant young climber, and for many of the ‘faithful’ it soured the love of the hills that they had shared with him. The numbers dwindled on the Saturday bus and the crags shed much of their glamour; the majority of the old brigade took to hill walking and skiing, where they could forget unhappy memories and still enjoy the camaraderie of the hills.”
On the Ridge between Life and Death by David Roberts
David Roberts is well known in both the climbing community and among literary circles; his first two published works, The Mountain of My Fear and Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative, are considered standard reading for all novice climbers. In this 2005 essay (which was actually written in the mid-1980s), Roberts explores the deep crevasses of the human mind and poetically ruminates on topics like fear, fate, and the afterlife. It’s heavy stuff, but Roberts knows his material – he witnessed three separate fatal climbing incidents early in his career.
Choice Passage: “I took two deep breaths, then started climbing… for the next eight or ten minutes, I concentrated so hard on the sandstone beneath my feet and hands that the rest of the world vanished. I made each move with an exaggerated, stodgy caution, hesitating before I dared transfer my weight. I could not afford the slightest misstep.”
The Six Mountain Travel Books by Eric Shipton
Eric Shipton was one of the 20th century’s great adventurers. Long before Sir Edmund Hillary came along, the Englishman led expeditions near Mount Everest with a young sherpa named Tenzing Norgay. He also climbed numerous peaks throughout Asia and Africa, and crossed the Southern Patagonia Ice Field in less than two months at the age of 53. This anthology contains his six best known works: Nanda Devi, Blank on the Map, Upon That Mountain, Mountains of Tartary, Mount Everest Reconnaissance Mission 1951, and Land of Tempest.
Choice Passage: “He is lucky who, in the full tide of life, has experienced a measure of the active environment he most desires. In these days of upheaval and violent change, when the basic values of today are the vain and shattered dreams of tomorrow, there is much to be said for a philosophy which aims at living a full life while the opportunity offers.”
The Villain: A Portrait of Don Whillans by Jim Perrinn
The late Don Whillans was one of the most iconic rock climbers of his generation, but he was also known for cracking numerous jokes at the expense of his peers and drinking himself into oblivion. He was nearly knighted, but the ceremony was called off indefinitely after he had engaged in a fistfight with several policemen. Jim Perrinn – one of Whillans’ contemporaries – manages to illustrate every side of the infamous climber in this 2005 memoir.
Choice Passage: “What Don brought to his rocks and mountains, it seems to me, was an approach more narrow and constrained, focused more nearly on reward than delight, and in that lies his individual tragedy, if we wish to see it that way.”
By Brad Nehring