Mountaineering Books Reading List I

“Herzog took his gloves off and laid them down to open his pack. Catastrophically they slid away down the mountain, so he had to continue bare-handed, not thinking to use the spare socks he had with him. Latter, Terray and Rebuffat found out that Herzog’s frostbitten hands were horrifying, whereas Lachenal feet were seriously frostbitten. Herzog and Lachenal went through similar circumstances at the summit, and both had severe cases of frostbite. However, still, they perceived their victory over Annapurna differently. Both achieved a historical feat of being the first to climb the Annapurna; Herzog shared that he ‘Never have I felt happiness like this, so intense and pure.’ On the other hand, Lachenal only felt ‘a painful sense of emptiness’ “. — Annapurna.

If you enjoyed reading this masterpiece “Annapurna” or “Into thin air” and want to read books with similar themes on mountains, mortality, and adventure. In that case, you are reading the right blog. My goal with this blog series is to categorize books into various buckets with mini-reviews so that it’s easier for you to pick the right ones.

1996 Everest Disaster

1996 was supposed to be the year for guided mountaineering. More than ten separate expeditions with a single motive to summit the world’s highest mountain were camped in both Nepal and Tibet basecamps. But the 1996 season turned out to be one of the devastating where eight people died on the summit. Many books describe the events leading up to the disaster, but I have to admit “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer is the page-turner of them all. Krakauer points out some names in the book that he thinks were responsible for the events that led to the disaster. Still, I suggest you read other climbers’ accounts before deciding your verdict.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.

Jon was a prolific mountaineer in his early life, which justifies this book as captivating and consuming. Jon successfully teleported the readers to the freezing mountain slopes using his familiarity of beauty, loss, tragedy, and success in the mountains. The book narrates the first-person view of the disaster and highlights the logistics of climbing 8000m peaks. If you have dreams about climbing Mount Everest, reading this book will force you to second guess your ambitions; else, you will be clearly informed about the expedition process. Note, secure around $80,000 before you start booking your next spot on an adventure company like Mountain Madness or others.

The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev.

Jon Krakauer thinks Anatoli (Lead guide for Mountain Madness group) was one of the people to blame for the 1996 mount Everest disaster. In this book, Anatoli describes his obsession with mountains before the Soviet Union’s collapse and how Scott Fischer made him the leader of that expedition. Reading Anatoli’s accounts of the events, I felt just criticizing Anatoli for the disaster was not fair. I sincerely respect Anatoli for his heroics by saving those lost and stranded, including Sandy Hill Pittman above camp IV.

Left for Dead by Beck Weathers

During his heroic moment above camp IV, Anatoli left out Beck Weathers as he thought he was dead. Everyone there felt the same. But no. With some miracle, the one who was left for the dead came back to life in the death zone and went through a gruesome descent with blind eyes to get off the mountain. This book is more about the family of mountaineers and what the family has to sacrifice for its member to fulfill their dream of climbing mountains. This story is about hope, magic, and not giving up.

Ultimate High by Kropp Goran

The solo climber who cycled from Sweden to Nepal was the only one who decided to stay at base camp that season for the weather window of May 10th. Not choosing to summit on the first weather window was one of the best decisions on the mountain that season. Only second to the IMAX team’s decision to nearly jeopardize their documentary by allowing the rescue team to use their resources at camp IV. Ultimate high inspires anyone and everyone that we definitely can if we set some aspirations in our mind to accomplish.

The Other Side of Everest by Matt Dickinson

Matt was on the North face of Everest during the infamous 1996 disaster. Matt’s climbing resume was not to par compared to elite mountaineers on the mountain. Despite everything that happened on the other side of the mountain, he persevered and wielded his willpower to climb despite all the tragedy that occurred. The author was brutally honest about the expedition, the events surrounding the disaster, and about himself. Mountaineers often say that particular expedition changed them. Still, Matt was unique in the sense that he said Nothing really changed in his life after he climbed Everest.

High Exposure by David Breashears

Along with Mountain Madness and Adventure Consultants team, another high-profile team dubbed “IMAX team” was at the base camp. The team was planning to film a documentary on Everest highlighting 76-years of climbing expeditions with Jamling Norgay, son of Tenzing Norgay, who, along with New Zealander Edmund Hillary in 1953, was the first to reach the summit of Everest. Along with Tenzing, Araceli Segarra, Ed Viesturs, and David Breashears were the prominent faces of the IMAX expedition. This team was beneficial and gave away their mountaineering equipment (Oxygen cylinder and others ) to assist Beck Weathers and other survivors.

After finishing these books, hopefully, you will have a good idea about the logistic of expeditions and different routes on Mount Everest. Also, you will understand that climbing a mountain in itself is a tedious and repetitive process. Move from one camp to another to acclimatize for a month. If the weather opens up, play Russian roulette for a chance to be on the top of a pile of rock for a few minutes. There is a big philosophical question about why people climb mountains, and I wrote an essay about it. He is the link to the essay if you are interested.“Why do we climb mountains?”. For now, if you liked the books on the 1996 Everest disaster, then you will surely enjoy reading about the 1967 American expedition to North America’s highest peak, Denali.

America’s Most Tragic Mountaineering Expedition

Joe Wilcox and Howard Snyder combined the Denali expedition of 1967 is the most tragic expedition in America’s history as seven expedition members were never found. Based on the accounts written in different books, the expedition was doomed even before they reached Denali. They combined two separate groups with varying philosophies of climbing. The group unification was forced due to Denali National Park’s rule to have more than four members. Back in the day, the park believed that more members in the team were proportional to the safer expedition. But at the end of the expedition, all three members from the Colorado group were alive along with Wilcox and Schiff, and other members from the Wilcox team disappeared. No one had a clear idea how.

White Winds by Joe Wilcox

I was lucky to read White Winds, signed by Joe Wilcox himself, donated to BYU library. He was the leader of a 1967 expedition to Mount McKinley in which 7 of the 12 climbers died on the mountain. He wrote White Winds some 12 years after the event and six years after Snyder, who survived, wrote The Hall of the Mountain King. Snyder’s book largely blamed the deaths on Wilcox’s poor leadership, plus poor preparation and mistakes by Wilcox’s fellow climbers. Understandably, White Winds is entirely defensive in tone. The book tried to justify that the disaster on the mountain was solely due to weather discounting the leadership problem.

Forever on the Mountain by James M. Tabor

This book is well-written and informative, keeps the reader interested in the fate of the participants, before and after the central events, and ends up being more about leadership, personality, and ego. Beyond describing the ordeal of twelve men (seven of whom died) while struggling to conquer Denali (Mt. McKinley) in Alaska, the author’s intent is to repair the skewed and incorrect perceptions that developed concerning the tragedy. There are not too many heroes in this story, but I think the author shows that the climbing party was experienced and fairly well-prepared; mistakes, even small ones, can have cumulative and deadly results. Ultimately, however, there will always be deaths in mountaineering.

The Hall of the Mountain King by Howard H. Snyder

It is an enthralling, infuriating, and shockingly tragic book that addresses the ill-fated Denali climb of 1967. It is a haunting story of how bad luck can come together with wrong decisions to tragedy. It is sad to reflect on the high hopes these young people set out on what they thought would be a grand adventure and how a series of wrong steps led them to disaster. It’s a worthwhile read that’s an absolute must for those interested in mountaineering. It has undoubtedly influenced the likes of Krakauer and more.

Hopefully, you will all enjoy reading these excellent books. Next time, I will be back with another blog listing classics mountaineering literature. Enjoy reading!

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