The Greatest Climber of All Time


Forbidden Kangchenjunga. (All rights reserved)

We’ve identified five great climbers to be among the Greatest Climbers of All Time.

5. Walter Bonatti;
4. Alison Hargreaves;
3. Riccardo Cassin; and
2. Jointly, Reinhold Messner and Jerzy Kukuczka.

So where does this journey end? Who do we meet on its summit?

Or rather, what do we see from this summit? What enlightenment has this journey brought us?

I sought to try to provide a little education for those less knowledgeable about climbing’s history. At the same time, I wanted to make some tough decisions about who are the best in order to stir conversation. It seems that I was successful.

However, at this moment, I feel like we’re approaching the summit of Kangchenjunga. Prior the mountain’s first ascent, climbing great Joe Brown and George Band had to seek permission to climb the sacred peak from the Maharaja of Sikkim. The Maharaja consented so long as they stopped short and did not set foot atop the actual summit. That has been standard procedure for the classier climbers ever since.

I think the question of Who is the Greatest Climber of All Time is equally sacred. It can’t be answered. It shouldn’t be answered. At least not with anything giving it authority or weight, like the American Alpine Journal or even this modest TSM blog.

There are too many styles of climbing, types of accomplishments, ways of meriting great-status, that to keep going mocks the things we love about climbing. It’s blank canvas, liberating qualities, ability to build bonds, and it’s comforting embrace for the restless… It’s all sacred.

So I am leaving the space of the Greatest Climber of All Time as undisturbed white space.

The greatest climber of all time is out there, and while there are benefits to naming five of the Greatest Climbers of All Time, crowning someone at the apex draws too much attention away from the the others that I featured.

I want to express my gratefulness to Bob Schelfhout Aubertijn, Caroline Cowan, Damien Gildea, and Katie Ives for their guidance, insight, knowledge and sometimes their ability to say both how enjoyable and foolish this quest has been without discouraging me.

To the rest of my readers, commenters and social-media followers, I’m humbled by your knowledge about these great men and women. Thanks for chiming in so frequently. It made a difference.

So what’s next on The Suburban Mountaineer? I’ve collected a backlog of posts and some have treats, like a set of beautiful photos from Jason Stuckey on a recent first ascent in Alaska.

I’ll also share with you my new project of tearing down and rebuilding my climbing library. Currently I have a lot of miscellaneous books that I have collected, before I understood my real climbing interests and what kind of library I want. The library will have classics, a focus on Alaska plus the American Northeast and a little of every type of climbing, not just alpine, which, as you know I admire the most. I should note that this is a traditional library with hardbound and paperback books; no ebooks here.

I also received some used climbing books with some engaging and sometimes mysterious notes in the margin from an interesting source — a climber we knew and who wrote a beautiful book himself. More on that shortly.

Well, thanks for stopping by and for following my series on Facebook and Twitter. There is a lot more to cover.

Thanks again for stopping by. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following The Suburban Mountaineer on Twitter and Facebook.


7 thoughts on “The Greatest Climber of All Time

  1. Thank you for this brilliant solution! A surprise but the smartest thing to come up with. Two thumbs up :-)

  2. I’m glad that you’re happy. I’m still waiting for the hate mail from the Frederick Cook zealots for not even considering him, especially after all his FA of ole Mt. McKinley. ;)

  3. Finally caught up after vacation, and I agree with Bob, that it’s the smartest solution. Comparing great climbers is like comparing apples and oranges. There are so many out there who’ve done astonishing things, past and present. Putting a number on one does diminish the others, but I enjoyed seeing who you chose for the four slots, and why. Although I questioned the choice of Alison Hargreaves, I can’t disagree. Thanks for an enjoyable quiz!

  4. Thank you. And I don’t mean to sound corny, but your feedback along with everyone else’s thoughts made it truly enjoyable — and a greater challenge — from my perspective. So thank you again.

  5. Borut, I typically presume I am being spammed whenever I receive messages only containing a link. I’m grateful that you’ve left feedback before or else I would have missed out on this mysterious short story.

    I have not read that before. It was magnificant. It also reminded me of some of the short stories I studied in college by Ha Jin, except with a more mystical take.

    I may have to dwell on it some more. Thank you again, Borut.

  6. Hello Andrew!
    I first read “The greatest climber in the world” (Le meilleur grimpeur du monde) in the early 1970s, in French, as it appeared in “La montagne & alpinisme”, a magazine to which B. Amy participated. The text was published by Glénat in 1993, and again in 2013 as part of Amy’s book “L’Alpiniste” (Attila, Paris). I further stumbled upon an on-line translation in English by Beverly Davitt, quoted by Ed Hartouni (link above). Note also that Bernard Amy is active through “Mountain Wilderness France” (presidency).
    Thank you for the link to B. Amy’s speech in Italy (

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s