A Little About Me
"We yearn to see the mountains daily." - Henry David Thoreau
"I told him he must reform himself, for a man who believed in neither God nor glaciers must be very bad, indeed the worst of all unbelievers." - John Muir
Books: Perhaps the best climbing book (for quality of writing) is Starlight and Storm by Gaston Rebuffat [I read it in translation and am rereading it now in 2010]. Messner's stories are great but the writing is loaded with such arrogance that it is hard to read [in both German and English]. Whymper is good and provides more than just climbing. His cultural and historical insights are interesting as well. Krakauer is good but overrated perhaps. I enjoy his writing but am not inspired by it. Heinrich Harrer (if you read German) is amazing. Seven Years in Tibet is good but The White Spider is fascinating. It recounts every early attempt at the Eiger and is truly eye-opening. However, it is hard to find in English unless you want to buy it online. It also loses some of its power as the decades roll on and the attempts become more contrived. Somehow the "direttissima" is not as pure or inherently interesting as the real first ascents. Another fun book that captures the love of mountaineering in the early years, is No Picnic on Mt. Kenya - a true story that is worth ordering online if you have to. Reinhold Messner is arrogant and annoying in the same way many über-athletes are; he is the best and he knows it. The sad thing is that he has to remind us every few paragraphs (as if the climbing didn't speak for itself).
Here is a list of the (mountaineering) books I happen to have on my shelves at the moment. I know there are thousands of other great titles but you've got to start somewhere...
No Picnic on Mount Kenya by Felice Benuzzi (1953) - One of the most unusual climbing stories ever told. Italian mountaineers escape British captivity during WWII, attempt to climb the 17,000 ft Mount Kenya. In the end, most interestingly, they break back into the camp and live out the rest of the war as prisoners.
Ascent by Jeremy Bernstein (1965) - A short history of climbing subtitled Of the Invention of Mountain Climbing and its Practice. Withdrawn from the Mountaineers library in Seattle.
The Mountains of My Life by Walter Bonatti (1994 in Italian / 2001 in English) Italian climbers have often been at the forefront of the sport but Bonatti set the standard by climbing the north face of the Matterhorn in mid-Winter --- solo. This is a collection of his greatest climbs.
Last Climb by David Breashears (1999) - This large format book recounts in both words and pictures the historic climb (and deaths) of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine on Mt. Everest in 1924. Their efforts, though unsuccessful, predated the eventual achievements of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary by nearly three decades. The use of maps and photos really makes this book better than many of the others listed here despite the fact that the writing is not out of the ordinary.
Killing Dragons by Fergus Fleming (2000) - A good account of the origins of mountaineering in the Alps. Fleming covers a broad range, from history to geology, and doesn't limit himself to hero worship of the early climbers.
Sieben Jahre in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer (German Version; 1952) - Harrer's story of life in Tibet after escaping from a British P.O.W. camp. His relationship to the Dalai Lama is now world-famous. The climbing aspects of this story are secondary though not entirely unimportant. I only have the German version; I "borrowed" it from Barthold.
Die Weiße Spinne by Heinrich Harrer (German Version; 1999) - I loved this book. I only have it in German but I would recommend it to anyone who can get themselves a copy. It gets a bit tedious in the end as the summit attempts become more contrived but the first 40 years of Eiger history are amazing.
Annapurna by Maurice Herzog (1952) - Herzog's version of the first "successful" summit of an 8000m peak. "The epic account of a Himalayan conquest ~ and its harrowing aftermath."
High in the Thin Cold Air by Sir Edmund Hillary (1962) - Hillary wrote this book with Desmond Doig, the expedition's press correspondent. The book focuses on the whole expedition: the trek, the camps, the people, the culture, the fauna of the region. It is not simply an account of the summit success.
Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer (1990) - A collection of short stories from the 1980s. The collection pre-dates the more famous Into Thin Air and is less polished.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (1997) - An account of the terrible 1996 Everest disaster and the many deaths that season.
Berge Versetzen by Reinhold Messner (German Version; 1996) - Amazing photos, excellent maps and unparalled routes up the world's hardest peaks. Nonetheless, not a great book. Messer is unsympathetic.
Die Freiheit, Aufzubrechen, Wohin Ich Will by Reinhold Messner (German Verion; 1989) - Messner's arrogant autobiography. He is perhaps the greatest climber ever but he sure knows it and it shows in his writing. "Schade." I only have the German copy.
Überlebt by Reinhold Messner (German Version; 1999) - Messner's "summary" of all his 8000m peaks. It includes the first solo of Mt. Everest --- without supplimental oxygen.
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby (1999) - Newby was the kind of person who was not limited by any sense of reality. He drove a car from London to central Asia to climb in the Hindu Kush. He wasn't a climber and we learn, as we read the book, he didn't intend to let that stop him. It is very hard to get a good, affordable copy of this book.
Starlight and Storm by Gaston Rebuffat (1954 in French / 1956 in English) - Starlight and Storm is perhaps the best written mountaineering book I have read. The climbs, all famous north faces in the Alps, are not merely recounted from base-camp to summit as many other climber-writers have tended to do. They are infused with emotion. Rebuffat has managed to convey what it feels like to belong to the "Brotherhood of the Rope."
The Last Step by Rick Ridgeway (1980) - This is the story of the first American ascent of K2 lead by James Whittaker. A classic 1970s expedition.
True Summit by David Roberts (2000) - "What really happened on the legendary ascent of Annapurna." This book must be read by anyone who enjoyed or questioned Annapurna by Herzog.
Touching the Void by Joe Simpson (1988) - The "what if" scenerio that every climber has pondered comes true in this powerful book. Could you cut the rope if you thought there was no hope of pulling you partner back from the abyss? What if you new you'd die if you didn't? Simpson was that partner.
Conquistadors of the Useless by Lionel Terray (1961 in French / 1963 in English) - "Historic first ascents in the Alps, Alaska, Andes, and Patagonia and of Makalu, Annapurna, Chomo Lönzo and Jannu." This book is best as an inside look at the classic age of modern climbing. This book and this climber epitomize the greatest feats of that age.
On Mountains by Henry David Thoreau (1999) - I received this copy of Thoreau's writings relating to mountains (and hills) from Ahman Dirks who wisely sprinkled it with water from Walden pond. While Thoreau's "mountains" are not the glaciated giants of a true climber, he had the eye of one who did not merely travel through nature but in it. His hikes, and even his walks, were always true expeditions in the literal sense of the word.
Scrambles Amongst the Alps (1860-1869) by Edward Whymper (1871) - Whymper's 19th century adventures in the Alps were truly pioneering. His geology and history are not perfect but the fact that he is the father of mountaineering makes up for any factual weaknesses. The typical British spirit possessed by men like Whymper proves indomitable.
Some Latin: Scopus meus excelsior est (My goal is higher). Try the Longfellow poem titled Excelsior by clicking here.