A Royal Robbins Biography and More Mountain Lit News

Mount Riesenstein, British Columbia (All rights reserved)

Hi, everyone! Yep, here I am posting. And it is despite me being in my busy warm-weather season (i.e. kids’ sports and the Habitat building season). So, you know, I think this is worthwhile. In fact, we might be turning a corner.

In the last five years, Vertebrate’s Adventure Books, Rocky Mountain Books, and The Mountaineers Books have been releasing nearly 100 local guidebooks, covering hiking trails, foraging and nutrition, and cycling, but very few narratives. There has been a drought of narratives, particularly new biographies and memoirs of climbers on the market, seems to be coming to an end, or at least a break.

Perhaps the pandemic disruptions to publishers and writers were the reasons. There is certainly enough anecdote from the publishers to suggest that. I suppose the prolific writers were jostled, too, like the McDonalds and Smarts out there. The expected death of the late Great David Roberts hasn’t helped either. It stinks to be mortal. (Then again, the point of life is that it ends, isn’t it?)

Well, there are two in the narrative vein soon to be released. Also, one researcher, who you may recall from a contribution to Alpinist 57 in spring 2017 and this T.S.M. post, is putting a book out on how we really looked at mountains before climbing became a sport, and how what we think what we believed then is flat wrong. Let’s go…


David Smart wrote another biography, and this one is about Royal Robbins. It will be titled Royal Robbins: An American Climber, which is both true and nuanced: Smart is Canadian and has most recently written biographies of Austrian and Italian great alpinists Paul Preuss and Emilio Comici. Smart and his publishers choose the titles carefully so I am interested in the perspective.

My background knowledge of Robbins of relatively wide; he’s instrumental in the history of American climbers and Yosemite in particular. He’s part of so many climbing stories I’ve read, and you probably heard in Climbing Magazine (and now on Climbing Online,) and other books and documentaries. I love the clash between his purist view, and later his own transcendence of that limited perspective, of how to climb big walls. I am looking forward to whether Smart will shed any new light on this, or, just as importantly, give the story a firm written record through this biography.

It will be available for purchase in September 2023. I think I will be getting an advance copy, so look out for my review beforehand.


Graham Zimmerman has written his first book, A Fine Line: Searching for Balance Among Mountains, and will be released on October 1, 2023. Zimmerman is an accomplished climber and savvy in today’s visual communications on Instagram and short, well-conposed videos. Zimmerman fascinates me: I watch his videos with a sincere appreciation but grimmace at his confident portrayal that has a smug quality, yet trying to be knowing instead. He is experienced and qualified, but maybe too young to speak as he does. Even the publisher’s book description says he’s only in his 30s. I think that disclosure is both necessary and notable; his adventures are “legit.”

I am not confident whether this book is an autobiography, a memoir, or a reflection. I’ll call it a reflection for now, since that suits the description from the Mountaineers Books. I am going to review this book too and look forward to it. I suspect his tone in his videos will translate better to reflection in writing and may come across as sincere, interesting, and mature. I am sincerely hoping for the best from Zimmerman.


If you dont remember or know the name Dawn Hollis, you should, and you will. She did her PhD. dissertation on how mountains were thought of before Modernity and the Alpine Club created the climbing game focused on reaching virgin summits or by new lines, preferably as challenging as reasonable and as manly (womenless) as possible. She contributed a piece to Alpinist 57 in spring 20017. I also wrote this reflection her on T.S.M.

Dawn Hollis is in the process of submitting her full-out book to her publisher . It will be published in 2024.

I had the chance to read a manuscript. This book will rock some perspectives and refresh our view of how we, even as climbers, can enjoy the mountains. Alpine Club members attached to the old summit game (my term, not Hollis’) will feel unsettled and attack her findings, and others, like me, will see that the grandness of mountains was indeed heavenly, and always has been. Watch out for it because it’s going to change things for us.

That’s all I had to tell you for now. I’m going back to building homes and getting my kids to the course, courts, and camps, and such. The winter is just more conducive to reading and writing more.

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