Here are some of our staff’s favorite climbing books (plus one book that someone simply has on her “to-read” list!). From memoirs and histories of adventures in the big mountains to smaller stories on smaller cliffs to philosophies on climbing to incorporate into your own training, they cover the spectrum of the different types of climbing writing.
We hope you’re inspired to pick up one of the many great climbing books out there—whether one of these or one of the countless others. The climbing world has some incredible literature. Get readin’!
One Man’s Mountains
By Tom Patey
While I have lots of favorites, One Man’s Mountains, by the Scottish doctor/climber Tom Patey, has to take the cake for its admirable humor and humility, and because it influenced what I liked in climbing literature and even in the demeanors of other climbers.
Patey can draw a character—classics such as Hamish MacInnes or Don Whillans—with a line and an adverb. As to his images, please—who, could forget this scenario from the first winter traverse of the Cuillin Ridge, Isle of Skye, in which Graham Tiso accidentally ended up hanging upside down by one foot, his yells audible from two miles away?
“Up above, [Eric] Langmuir was in an unenviable position. It was obvious that some stirring drama was being enacted at the foot of the cliff, but the bulge concealed it from view…” Langmuir began prussiking with difficulty down a rope “taut as a guitar string.”
“His downward vista centred round the upturned sole of a Tiso Special Climbing Boot, behind which he could see the congested features of the leading Scottish distributor.”
Don’t forget the original ballads at the back. Oh the black humor in the chorus for “Twenty Tiny Fingers”:
“Chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, chop.”
Tom Patey was killed at 38 rappelling off a sea stack.
—Alison Osius, Executive Editor
Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rock Climber
By Steve Roper
Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rock Climber, by Steve Roper,is a must read for anyone who has climbed in the Valley or is aspiring to. It offers a historic perspective for todays climber.
Roper does a great job of making this history lesson anything but boring. Crafting detailed character development and play-by-play details of noted first ascents. Making the reader feel right there along side the event.
—Randall Levensaler, Art Director
Conquistadors of the Useless: From the Alps to Annapurna
By Lionel Terray
One of my favorite books of all time, and one that I’ve been plundering on and off for the past year, is Lionel Terray’sConquistadors of the Useless: From the Alps to Annapurna.It’s a trove of adventure and humor.
Some of the most memorable moments are when Terray is describing the “approaches” to the then-unclimbed Himalayan peaks. Approaches needs quotes because such things didn’t exist—the local Tibetans and Nepalese were not interesting in climbing the peaks. Rather, they were meditating below them, in the caves and such. Terray writes in exquisite detail about crossing large swatches of wild forests in the hope it leads them in the right direction; many of the villages he crosses are like lost Edens. He has an amazing respect for the local people, a type of observation and writing that is unfortunately out of style. It’s never just about the climbing for Terray, but about the bigger picture.
—Francis Sanzaro, Editor
The Tower: A Chronicle of Climbing and Controversy on Cerro Torre
By Kelly Cordes
The Tower: A Chronicle of Climbing and Controversy on Cerro Torre is Kelly
Cordes’ account of the the Cerro Torre: the controversial peak’s history not only inspires big alpine dreams, but also puts into perspective the difference between the romantic images we see and the reality in climbing dangerous peaks.
The Tower lays out the entire climbing history on Cerro Torre in detail. Cordes treats the history with journalistic objectivity, but still allows room for some reverence and mysticism.
Cerro Torre is one of the proudest peaks I can think of. It is in constant rotation on my desktop backgrounds. The account of Haden Kennedy and Jason Kruk’s ascent of the Southeast Ridge, sans compressor, only a few bolts clipped (and plenty more chopped) is so much more meaningful through Cordes’ storytelling. Worth a read and a prominent spot on the shelf afterwards!
—Tim Nooney, Retail Sales Manager
The Rock Warrior’s Way: Mental Training for Climbers
By Arno Ilgner
I cannot tell a lie… I don’t really read climbing books! I mean, it’s not that I don’t find other peoples’ climbing stories interesting or other climbers’ training advice helpful—I do. But if I’m going to read, I want to read a novel I can sink my teeth into or a memoir of a historical figure or something else entirely; and if I’m going to climb, I want to climb.
The two don’t overlap much for me. The The Rock Warrior’s Way: Mental Training for Climbers, by Arno Ilgner, is on my list… but not in the ever rotating top-three priority spots that are perpetually occupied by non-climbing books.
—Meredith Reitemeier, Winter Intern
Ego is the enemy
By Ryan Holiday
Ok, so it’s not actually a climbing book. But Ego is the Enemy helped me in my climbing career at a time when I really needed it.
One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.”
Looking back, the best moments of my climbing career were not the ones when I was on a podium or clipping chains; they’re the moments when I was consciously pushing my limit—-when I was so focused that every hold I grabbed became an experience in itself and no other thoughts were possible. I was never worried during those moments, and all self-critical expectations left my mind. There was only each hold and each foot and each movement. Winning or comparing yourself to others never brings that kind of experience.
—Delaney Miller, Spring Intern
Yankee Rock and Ice: A History of Climbing in the Northeastern United States
By Laura Waterman, Guy Waterman and Michael Wejchert
I read Yankee Rock and Ice bit by bit while living in Boston after college. I would read about Fritz Wiessner and Henry Barber and John Turner and other legends who put up many of the Northeast’s most famous routes—routes like High Exposure (5.5) in the Gunks, New York; or Jane (5.11a) at Crow Hill, Massachusetts; or Recompense (5.9) at Cathedral Ledge, New Hampshire—and then get to test my mettle on those same routes come the weekend. They are some of my fondest climbing memories, reenacting climbing history and imagining what it must have been like to forge those lines way back when.
I haven’t read the updated edition, with new chapters written by Michael Wejchert on Northeast climbing history from 1990 to the present. I can’t wait to dive in—though I might pass on trying to repeat the climbs he covers in this more recent era; I’m not sure I’ll be able to pull the moves on the astronomically-graded routes that have gone up since the early 1990s!
—Michael Levy, Associate Editor