I love being outdoors. I love going on crazy adventures and having type two fun.
Adventures are great and all, but sometimes it’s nice to just curl up somewhere comfortable with a cup of tea and your nose in a good book.
Below is a list of my most treasured adventure stories. I hope you enjoy them!
One and Two
Psychovertical and Cold Wars by Andy Kirkpatrick
Andy describes Psychovertical as ‘a book about one climber struggling to make sense.’
This book weaves two stories together. The first is the story of Andy’s solo ascent of the Reticent Wall in Yosemite. The second is the more complicated story of Andy’s life. He writes about his childhood adventures in housing estates in Hull. He writes about balancing his mountaineering aspirations with his responsibilities as a father. He writes about the highs and lows of climbing and every day life.
I read the whole book by the light of my head-torch one night when I was camping in the Blue Mountains. It was a cold night, so I had pulled my head inside the sleeping bag. If any of my fellow campers had stayed awake long enough, they would have seen the whole sleeping bag jiggling about as I shook with silent laughter.
For months afterwards I forced the book on everyone I knew and told them to read it. Now I’m doing the same to you, dear reader.
Once you finish Psychovertical; put it down and read Cold Wars. If you finish both books and find yourself wanting more, check out Andy’s blog. Then hunt through youtube for his stand up comedy routines!
Space Below my Feet by Gwen Moffat
I came across this book through a beautiful film screened during the 2015 Banff Mountain Film Festival. It’s called Operation Moffat. You can watch the full film here.
In 1953, Gwen Moffat became Britain’s first female mountain guide. Before that she had deserted from the army at the end of WWII, climbed barefoot because she couldn’t afford shoes, lived off the land, raised a daughter and hitchhiked her way around the UK. Space Below my Feet is her own account of an amazing life.
Read it and be inspired to be as brave, bold and generally badass as this 92 year old lady from the Lake District.
The Burgess Book of Lies by Adrian and Alan Burgess
I mentioned earlier that Psychovertical had me giggling silently in my sleeping bag.
Well, the Burgess Book of Lies had me cackling loudly in coffee shops. I think I even said ‘OH GOD THEY DIDN’T!’ out loud, while sitting in the silent carriage of a city rail train.
Adrian and Alan Burgess are twins. They’re both accomplished mountaineers and they’re usually up to no good. Read this one for the climbing, the comedy and the bar fights.
Five and Six
The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev and G. Weston De Walt
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
12 climbers died trying to reach the summit of Mount Everest in May 1996. Most of them died high on the mountain, over the course of one disastrous night.
Everyone connected to Everest seems to have different explanations of what went wrong that season. Some point to the commercialization of Everest others point to poor planning, blind ambition, bad weather and range other factors.
American journalist, Jon Krakauer was a member of one of the commercial groups that season. He summited hours before bad weather struck and killed so many of his fellow climbers. His account is truly gripping.
Anatoli Boukreev is a Russian mountain guide who was working for another commercial group in the 1996 season. His book, The Climb, is partly a response to Krakauer’s book which placed a lot of blame on the commercial outfits.
They’re both telling the truth as they saw it, but they’re both telling very different stories. For another perspective again, you should check out this 2014 documentary, showing Everest through the eyes of the Sherpa community.
Seven and Eight
Three Cups of Tea by David Oliver Relin
Stones to Schools by Greg Mortenson
Greg Mortenson is a mountaineer who lost his way in the glacier fields below K2. He stumbled into a small village called Korphe dehydrated and disoriented. The locals nursed him back to health and he returned to the United States.
A few years, Mortenson returned to Korphe and helped the community to build a school. He then established a not-for profit organization called the Central Asia Institute. Their mission is to ‘empower communities of Central Asia through literacy and education, especially for girls’. They build schools, train teachers and support students to continue their education.
For a time, these books were at the top of the reading lists in the US military and in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency courses around the world. They fell out of favour for a time in 2011 when Jon Krakauer published a book called Three Cups of Deceit. Krakauer claimed that Mortenson fabricated large sections of the books and mishandled funds donated to the Central Asia Institute.
Putting that drama aside, the books are fascinating. They’re well written and they show a snapshot of life in a part of the world that I don’t usually hear about. Read it if you care about climbing, education, international relations, aid and development, terrorism or the empowerment of women.
The Mountains of my Life by Walter Bonatti
Walter Bonatti was an Italian mountaineer who achieved some outrageous things on big mountains in the between the two world wars.
This book is a collection of Bonatti’s memoirs and essays that have been translated into English. It is old school mountaineering literature at its best. It will inspire you… and make you feel guilty for climbing today with all our modern technology!
Wind, Sand and Stars – Antoine de Saint Exupéry
The Little Prince is my all time favourite book. I like to think of Wind, Sand and Stars as the non-fiction prequel.
In this book Antoine de Saint-Exupery writes about his life as a pilot for Aeropostale in the 1930s. He describes what it is like to fly between mountains over open oceans and into the dessert.
It’s short, sweet and really beautiful. It’s small and light enough to stuff into a pack if you’re hiking somewhere. The descriptions are vivid enough to take you to beautiful places, even when you can’t escape into the wild yourself.
The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer
Heinrich Harrer tells the story of the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger in 1958 and the failed attempts that went before.
The book is named after an ice-field high on the mountain that is shaped like a spider. Climbers had to climb this ice field to reach the summit, while dodging blocks of ice and rock that constantly tumble down.
Dirtbagjens told me that I had to include this book in the list. He said that most books don’t really convey how shitty mountaineering can be. They don’t tell you what it’s like to be truly cold, to be truly hungry, to truly suffer.
What did I miss?
I’d love to hear about your favorite tales of exploration and adventure.
Post a comment below to tell me what I should read next.