Two great mountaineering books

Over the holiday I read two classic mountaineering books. As I had time in between Christmas activities I have reviewed them both. Now, I know writers like Pete Boardman and Chris Bonington don’t need reviews, but I am mindful (as an author myself) of the value to potential readers of a considered view. So, if you like a book you have read, do share a review – on Amazon, Good Reads, or on your blog or via social media.

BoardmanSacred Summits covers three very different Boardman expeditions, to Carstenz Pyramid in New Guinea, Kangchenjunga and Gauri Sankar. The book includes very well written accounts of the trips, but more interestingly for me a very frank discourse on the dilemmas facing climbers. This covers the selfish motives they have, and the toll on friends and especially family. The author also considers whether climbers should even go to the summits of such very scared mountains. In fact, on Kangchenjunga they leave ‘the final few yards untrodden in deference to the inhabiting deity’. Boardman is good at illuminating the shifting inter-personal relationships on such expeditions, and also makes good use of the diaries and thoughts of other expedition members to counter-point his own views. He explains his ethical stance on climbing, but also notes that desperate situations call these ethics into focus. He records that to surmount one obstacle they had to:

stand on five rocks piled on each other. This would be seen as cheating on British rock, but I was too tired for ethics.

I have no idea if the conversations he details are real or made-up, but they do nicely draw you in to the atmosphere of the occasion. There were two disappointments for me with this edition of the book. There were a significant number of typos, particularly noticeable in the foreword. Secondly, the photos included were poorly reproduced at the end of the book. This may well be because it is a reprint of book first published many years ago (Boardman died in 1982). Overall though a great read, which is much more than a description of three climbing trips. I was particularly touched by Boardman’s moving account of his father’s death shortly after he came home from Gauri Sankar.

boningtonThe Everest Years is Part III of a series of autobiographical books by Chris Bonington. It is a very honest and human account of the period of his life that culminated in him finally summiting Everest at the age of 50, back in 1985. It also covers the details of the deaths of several close friends on climbs, which is always a hard read. He has chosen to have a reflective approach, as some of the expeditions have already had their own books written by him, and here he shows how the expeditions related to each other, and he to the participants on them. In the book Bonington admits his style of leadership is not to everyone’s liking, and he is good at highlighting the highs and lows of the inter-personal relationships, particularly on his smaller teams. This is a reprint, under a different imprint, of a book first published in 1986. It does unfortunately suffer from a number of typos, and hyphenations that do not survive different line lengths in the new setting. It is also disappointing that Bonington’s excellent photography is poorly reproduced in this edition. On the plus side it is great to have maps of expeditions, and some route overlays on some of the photos. Overall it is an excellent read, detailing some of the ground-breaking expeditions he led (or took part in, as he was not always the leader) in a period when he was arguably the highest profile mountaineer of his time.

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