Home > Profiles

Five Climbing Books for the Holiday Season

There’s no better way to spend your down time this season than with some new climbing literature.

And just in time for the holidays, here’s a list of five climbing books published this year.

Cinema Vertigo: This is David Smart’s second novel, based in Chamonix and the French Alps during the Second World War. A once-proud country shrinking under occupation – a washed-up director scraping for one final chance – armed partisans retreating to the high mountains as a last refuge – and a singular movie script with an unheard-of restriction: it must be shot on location in fabled Chamonix and the glaciers of the Alps.

Far from German-controlled Paris, the cosmopolitan actors and film crew disembark into the hard hands of the mountain guides and begin filming a story that will challenge them to see the beauty and power of nature and the simple grit and strength of the mountain people and give them – and France herself – a chance at redemption against their oppressors.

“In Cinema Vertigo David Smart returns to the rich crossroads where fascism and alpinism meet, terrain he explored so ably in his first novel, Above the Reich,” said David Stevenson, author of Warnings Against Myselfand the award-winning Letters from Chamonix.

“This time he imagines the rigours of alpine filmmaking as conducted in occupied France during the war. If you’re unfamiliar with European bergfilme of the early twentieth century, think Casablanca but set in the Aiguilles above Chamonix. Smart is such a fine storyteller the amount of pure research he must have done feels natural, almost invisible. Every thread of this story, and there are many, rings true.”

Published by Imaginary Mountain Surveyors. You can purchase here.

Karakorum: Climbing Through the Kashmir Conflict: Big mountain climber Steve Swenson writes evocatively of his naiveté on his first visit to Pakistan for an attempt on Gasherbrum IV, during which he faced the teeming, bewildering streets of Islamabad and new challenges of dealing with a confusing array of bureaucrats, hiring hundreds of porters desperate for work, as well as the business of attempting to climb a towering peak just shy of 8,000 metres.

By 2015 when he invited climbers to join him on an attempt of K6, Swenson had become the old-hand; it was his familiarity with the region that got them through the planning, the trek, and the climb. Karakoram is Swenson’s personal story of adventure in one of the most dangerous mountain environments on the planet. His love of climbing led him to these summits; his deep respect for the rugged landscapes and local people inspire his return.

Published by Mountaineers Books. You can purchase here.

The Push: A Climber’s Journey of Endurance, Risk, and Going Beyond Limits: Tommy Caldwell’s first book is a fantastic read. This engrossing memoir chronicles the journey of a boy with a fanatical mountain-guide father who was determined to instill toughness in his son to a teen whose obsessive nature drove him to the top of the sport-climbing circuit.

Caldwell’s affinity for adventure then led him to the vertigo-inducing and little understood world of big wall free climbing. But his evolution as a climber was not without challenges; in his early twenties, he was held hostage by militants in a harrowing ordeal in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Soon after, he lost his left index finger in an accident. Later his wife, and main climbing partner, left him.

Caldwell emerged from these hardships with a renewed sense of purpose and determination. He set his sights on free climbing El Capitan s biggest, steepest, blankest face the Dawn Wall. This epic assault took more than seven years, during which time Caldwell redefined the sport, found love again, and became a father. The Push is an arresting story of focus, drive, motivation, endurance, and transformation, a book that will appeal to anyone.

Published by Penguin Books. You can purchase here.

The Climbers: For nearly two decades, professional photographer Jim Herrington has been working on a portrait series of influential rock and mountain climbers. The Climbers documents these rugged individualists who, from roughly the 1930s to 1970s, used primitive gear along with their considerable wits, talent, and fortitude to tackle unscaled peaks around the world. Today, these men and women are renowned for their past accomplishments and, in many cases, are the last of the remaining practitioners from the so-called “Golden Age” of 20th century climbing.

Herrington’s images—the result of his own passion for climbing—allow us to study the faces of climbers who were driven to do the impossible for no other reason than the challenge. In these portraits we find people who ascended bold, visionary lines, often in remote regions, away from the media spotlight and without any hope for reward. Yet in many ways the severe routes these men and women established outshine today’s ascents due, in part, to the fact that rope and other gear were so strikingly inferior to today.

And often our pioneering predecessors were climbing into a malevolent unknown—if compromised or injured, the only people in the world likely capable of initiating their rescue were the climbers themselves. Innovation emerged frequently and in unlikely ways. In these images, Herrington has captured the utter humanity of obsession, determination, intellect, and frailty.

Published by Mountaineers Books. You can purchase here.

The Art of Freedom: Voytek Kurtyka remains one of the greatest alpinists of all time. Born in 1947, he was one of the leading lights of the Polish golden age of Himalayan climbing. His visionary approach to climbing resulted in many renowned ascents, such as the complete Broad Peak traverse, the “night naked” speed climbs of Cho Oyu and Shishapangma and, above all, the alpine-style ascent of the West Face of Gasherbrum IV. Dubbed the “climb of the century,” his route on G IV, as of 2016, has yet to be repeated. His most frequent climbing partners were alpine legends of their time: Polish Himalayan climber Jerzy Kukuczka, Swiss mountain guide Erhard Loretan and British alpinist Alex MacIntyre.

After repeated requests to accept the Piolet d’Or lifetime achievement award (the Academy Award of the climbing world), Kurtyka finally accepted the honour in the spring of 2016. A fiercely private individual, he continues to decline countless invitations for interviews, lectures and festival appearances, but has agreed to co-operate with internationally renowned and award winning Canadian author Bernadette McDonald on this long-awaited biography.

Certain to be a major event in the climbing world, Art of Freedom will appeal to all readers who dream of mountain landscapes and those who long to touch the sky.

Published by Rocky Mountain Books. You can purchase here.