I thoroughly enjoyed John Edwards’ article some time ago about choosing a selection of mountaineering books, where he alluded to the Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs. Having enjoyed this programme for many years, I would like to encourage members to put forward their selection of mountaineering literature. Unlike some pastimes, we are blessed with a plentiful selection of books, and over the years I have both enjoyed and been inspired by climbers’ exploits from nearby Wales to the far away Himalayas.
So to set the scene: imagine you have travelled by yourself to a remote mountain hut, but as soon as you arrive the mother of all snowstorms cuts you off from the outside world. All paths are blocked, there’s no phone signal or internet connection, and you’re stranded with no hope of escape or rescue. Fortunately the hut is well stocked with food and water, so there’s nothing to do but to wait for the snow to melt, and get reading...
The hut you’re stranded in has a full set of maps. <em>Which books would you take with you and why?</em> For example: was this the first book that introduced you to mountaineering? Does it remind you of a coach meet you did once? Did it introduce you to a new area, or a new activity such as Munroe bagging, scrambling or climbing?
For one day only the storm subsides and you are able to choose your favourite day out on any mountain on any route anywhere in the world. <em>What day out would you choose and why?</em>
Unfortunately, while you were out enjoying your day trip, the melting snow has leaked through the roof and ruined your books! All apart from one, which you had kept safely under your bed. <em>Out of the books you’ve listed, which one would you save and why?</em>
Being stranded in a remote mountain hut with a plentiful supply of food and drink, presumably a wood burning stove and a choice of reading material sounds like a really good relaxing break.
The difficult part is choosing the books. We are lucky in our pastime in that there is a plentiful supply of books covering all sorts of adventures and activities from Victorian explorers to modern day activists. When I look at my bookshelf I am daunted at the task of selecting just 8; there are so many iconic books all with their separate memories of my journey and past in mountaineering.
I will start with those which were contenders but didn’t make the cut:
• Everest the Hard Way, Bonnington
• Hands of a Climber (Colin Kirkus biography) SteveDean
• White Spider, Heinrich Harrier
• Learning to Breathe, Andy Cave
• The Spirit ofthe Hills, FS Smythe
• Physco Vertical Andy Kirkpatrick
• 100 routes in Mont Blanc Gaston Rebuffat
My journey started following a logical progression of hill walking in Spring/summer, moving into the winter, then scrambling, rock climbing, winter climbing and finally trips to the Alps. This was heavily influenced by MOUNTAINEERING by Alan Blackshaw, an early manual, giving instruction and loads of good advice. My copy is so well read that it has been taped together more than once.
Another inspiring book I obtained early in my progression and inspired us to go to Scotland was MOUNTAINEERING IN SCOTLAND and UNDISCOVERED SCOTLAND by WH Murray. One of these was written in a prisoner of war camp and I imagine kept him going through some dark times. His description of a still, frosty morning with gleaming snow and ice was the reason Pete and Sue Goddard and I first went to Scotland in search of some of these magical places full of history and adventure.
Compendium books must surely be allowed and for this reason I really must have the Eric Shipton SIX MOUNTAIN TRAVEL BOOKS covering Nandi Devi and the reconnaissance of Everest. These adventurous trips were financed on a shoestring and travelled through all sorts of lands and peoples in search of mountains in days of poor communication and basic early equipment. Shipton was really unlucky in not being chosen on the 1953 Everest expedition as he had spent many weeks studying the best approach routes.
My bible for climbing in Wales would keep me reading for hours and this is RON JAMES, SELECTION OF CLIMBS. His descriptions of each pitch are excellent and full of tips, like “take your wrist watch off for this crack.” My copy, which cost 75p second hand is annotated with dates and names of all the climbing partners I have shared a rope with over the years and re-reading this would evoke many happy memories.
CLASSIC ROCK and COLD CLIMBS are two must haves for their photography of iconic climbs throughout the UK and their suggestions of the best routes both rock and winter. Both of these have inspired me to seek out the best of climbs in many different areas including sea cliffs in Cornwall to the ice of Ben Nevis and the narrative by different famous climbers on each climb cannot fail to inspire you to at least go take a look and give it a go.
The Wembley stadium or Twickenham of Wales must surely be Cloggy on the side of Snowdon, and my copy of THE BLACK CLIFF sits proudly on my shelf; it is now out of print and worth a bob or two! This book by Ken Wilson, Pete Crew and Soper covers the history of exploration of this crag and reads like the who’s who of the British climbing scene, as over the years all of the hard men have put up new routes pushing the grades. Some of the descriptions of repeated attempts in far from ideal conditions with rudimentary gear makes you realise how talented these early climbers were and sometimes the risks they took.
On a similar vein, BEN NEVIS by Ken Crocket narrates the history of early Victorian climbers up to the present day modern style ice and mixed climbers putting up some unbelievable routes. The history of the Charles Inglis Clarke, CIC hut is also covered from its inception to construction. This book again covers all of the climbers pushing the limits and trying their skills on the Ben’s north face routes, a great read.
The hardest bit of all come now: which one would I chose to keep? All of them have inspired me down the years, but from a pragmatic level, the SHIPTON compendium would keep me going longer and it evokes a bygone age of exploration with rudimentary maps and a spirt of adventure.
My chosen day out is also a very tough choice; there are several routes in the Alps I would like to do, but it seems right and proper to stay in Wales, where it all started. Winter routes on the Black Ladders or Snowdon spring to mind or a long rock route on Cloggy or Tryffan.
Chosen day out:
CENTRAL TRINITY gully takes you right to the summit of Snowdon and that would do for me.
Book I would save:
ERIC SHIPTON Compendium