Following on from last month’s snowing in of Ken Priest, it is my turn to seek refuge with my eight carefully selected tomes. I have limited my choice to those currently sitting on my bookshelf, otherwise this could have taken some months.
My first selection is a paperback copy of Soldiers on Everest by Jon Fleming and Ronald Faux. This book tells of the joint Army Mountaineering Club with the Nepalese Army attempt on Everest in 1976. This is a cracking tale, easy reading and full of detail. One of the party was Brummie Stokes, and in 1977 he had the honour of speaking at a Rowley Regis College assembly, with certain students hanging on his every word. From this event probably stems my interest in mountaineering. The copy sitting on my shelf is inscribed “Happy 18th birthday Pete”
At this time reading any mountaineering book seemed good experience, and once at work I avidly devoured all I could lay my hands on. I enjoyed delving back into history, and reliving climbing adventures of the 1960s in the company of Chris Bonnington, Don Whillans, Joe Brown and Hamish McInnes. My second choice is Portrait of a Mountaineer - Don Whillans. With the snow reaching white out condition, this book would keep me engrossed for a few hours. It details how Don Whillans got into climbing. I was thrilled by their enthusiasm, amused by their escapades and left with a longing to visit those big mountains.
Third choice – Eiger Direct by Peter Gillman and Dougal Haston. This relates the epic of the first ascent of the North Face by the Direct route, now called the Harlin Route. This was a winter ascent, and tragically was achieved after the death of John Harlin. My first trip to the Alps to climb was in June 1980, where our obvious destination was Grindelwald. I never contemplated the Eiger, but Ken, Pete and I did Monch, which lies immediately next to the Eiger. Another link for me, relating to this book is that my first ski instructor in Bareges – Jean-Dominique was in the French Army Winter climb of the Harlin Route. He spent 20 days on the route. He was an excellent mountain guide, and a good friend too, sadly no longer with us.
Number four - Gwen Moffat’s Space below my feet. Gwen moffat became in 1953 the first female mountain guide in the uk. she climbed in wales, scotland and the lake district, and like so many others ended up in the alps. the book covers the late 1940s and 1950s, and offers another perspective on the early climbing scene, from a rather individualistic female. whilst rock climbing has never been a huge part of my life, i enjoy reading about climbing, and particularly in Snowdonia, an area I feel I know so well.
Number five – assuming that I will need to make my escape from this mountain hut in wintery conditions I feel it will be wise to ensure I am competent in winter skills. A small paperback, Modern Snow and Ice Techniques, published in 1976 by Cicerone Press will be my guide. It covers crampon technique, ice-axe use, step-cutting and kicking. It’s been a long time since I originally learnt these skills at a week- long course in Grindelwald on a glacier. This book won’t take long to read, but could save my life. Number six – after all this reading my eyes will enjoy feasting on the beautiful colour photographs found in Lakeland Fells – WA Poucher (1985). Reminders of happy days spent walking in the Lakes
Number seven is Freedom to Roam by Howard Hill which covers the struggle for access to the mountains and moors of the UK in the late nineteenth and twentieth century. It is something we take for granted, but this book reminds me that people fought to win us the right to walk, and the setting up National Parks.
Number eight – by now I might be feeling lonely so will need reminding of my mates. Only one book will do this: West Bromwich Mountaineering Club – The First 50 years. I feel no further comment is necessary. As to my perfect mountain day, I will go back in time to 12 October 2007. This is my son’s 21st birthday and he chose to spend it in the company of his parents and Debbie and Steve Redding, also choosing to ascend the Taillon, in the French Pyrenees. This is a 3,000 metre mountain, gained by ascending from the Col de Tentes through the Breche de Roland, across a small glacier, a scree slope leading to an exposed ridge, thence a gradual ascent to the summit. On this day it was dusted with some fresh snow, and a little ice. The perfect blue sky and sunshine made it a day to remember. I’d love to repeat it.
Now, the book I’d save – it would have to be the Club book as I believe this is now out of print. The challenge of selecting eight books is not as easy as it seems, as once picked up I found it difficult to put the books down without reading them. It was fun though.