WHAT I AM READING NOW…
Alpinist issue 42 and I’m simultaneously reading Halfway to Heaven: My White Knuckled — and Kuckleheaded — Quest for the Rocky Mountain High by Mark Obmascik.
RECOMMENDED BOOKS… For their special insights on climbing and the human experience with wilderness…
- On the Ridge Between Life and Death, by David Roberts (2005) Underappreciated among David Roberts’ other books, this is essentially his autobiography but told through a self-critical lens. He asks whether climbing, including the accomplishment and loss, was worth it, and the reader gains wisdom from his unique experiences and articulate observations about our sport.
- Beyond the Mountain, by Steve House (2009) This is the award winning climbing autobiography of the man Reinhold Messner says “climbs the right mountain at the right time when everyone is climbing Mount Everest.” It jumps immediately into the action of his ascents the way he climbs, completely committed to the prospects and the risks. Harsh at times, Beyond the Mountain allows us to enter the intense world of alpinism at the highest level that it is pursued today.
- Mountain, by Sandy Hill (2011) Appreciating art is part of alpine mountaineering, though most often it’s concerning only the style of the climb. Here, Hill shares the images of the mountains one page at a time, with minimal commentary, by the greatest mountain photographers and artists. The occasional reader will see beauty and art in a wonderful coffee table book; the climber will see beauty and opportunities in a archival record.
- The First Ascent of Mont Blanc by T. Graham Brown, FRS, and Sir Gavin de Beer, FRS (1957) This book conducts a thorough review of the ascent that kicked off the sport of alpine mountaineering, when in 1786 Paccard and a porter, Balmut, did what was mind boggling in that era: Ascend the flanks and glaciers of a major mountain, not to cross it out of survival, but mainly to reach the summit. While it is well forgotten today, there was some controversy about Paccard’s success too.
- Snowstruck: In the Grip of Avalanches, by Jill Fredston (2005) This autobiography of one of North America’s authorities on avalanches covers the science, exploration and personal interplay of avalanches, particularly on Alaskan communities. Fredston discusses how we learned about avalanche safety and why mankind often will continue to ignore the warnings.
- One Mountain Thousand Summits: The Untold Story of Tragedy and True Heroism on K2, by Freddie Wilkinson (2010) New England alpinist Freddie Wilkinson reviews the events where several lost their lives climbing K2 in late July 2008 from several perspectives, including the blogging world, journalists, the Sherpa people, the general public and mountaineering authorities. As a virtue of the book, he lays little judgment of his own and finds that humanity is complicated, even at altitude.
- Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer (1996) This curious story of Christopher McCandless’ journey alone across the country, including Alaska’s wilderness, and the curiosities of his outlook on life and how they drove his actions and ultimately his end. Whether McCandless’ life was one or freedom or being misguided only the reader can decide, but Krakauer pulls on his solo climbing experience to shed light on McCandless’ ways as a vegabond and an adventurer.
- The Last of His Kind, by David Roberts (2009) This shares the life of a man of action and an early explorer; if only more men and women were like him. It’s the biography of Bradford Washburn, one of the author’s mentors. As Roberts said of Washburn and his remarkable accomplishments in Alaska, “not only is he one of a kind, but as one of a kind they don’t make any more.” The book is a wonderful tribute to Alaska’s greatest mountaineer. Washburn was an explorer in Alaska, documentary photographer (though arguably his work was quite artistic) and the Director of the Boston Museum of Science.
- Mountain of My Fear by David Roberts (1966) Roberts’ articulates the climber’s heart and motivation better than anyone else. His haunting retelling of losing his climbing partner and the subsequent five-days alone on Mount Huntington in the Alaska Range does more than tell the story; he finds words for those flash-of-the-moment, come-and-gone thoughts of a risk-taking adventurer.
- Alaska on Foot: Wilderness Techniques for the Far North by Erik Molvar (1996)This is an excellent, insightful primer for navigating in the far north, including Alaska, the Yukon and places like Lapland. There is nothing else comparable to the far north and Molvar gives the basic knowledge about cross country travel as well as dispels the myth that the fastest route between two points is a straight line, among other concepts unique to Alaska and similar environments.