When I was younger, storybooks kept me company and were my only option of seeing the world. Although now I am finally able to explore the globe and go on real adventures I once only was able to secretly plot in my head, I still drift towards books, because reading is the best way of escapism.
Growing up in the eighties was so much fun. I didn’t have many toys except for Rubik’s Cube. If I needed to get someplace, I had no option but to walk. Our dial-up internet only arrived when I was 17 years old, took a very long time to start up and was only available at the school library at certain hours.
So, it was no surprise that I became a literature devotee. Reading books and learning about the world was my addiction. From paperback and hardback to storybooks and encyclopaedias’, I read them all. I read pretty much everything we had at home, Agatha Christie and Edgar Allan Poe including before I took advantage of what we had in the school library.
And in the process, I learned that books are inspirational. Sometimes scary and sometimes sad. I learned that books are wisdom, passion, and they are the best decorative pieces too.
My curiosity in high mountain climbing and a desire to dig deeper into alpine expeditions from an armchair perspective goes way back in earnest to the day I read Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer.
Ever since reading it, over the years my bookshelves became filled with mountaineering books telling the tales of courage, death, triumphs and friendships.
“The absolute simplicity. That’s what I love. When you’re climbing your mind is clear and free from all confusions. You have focus. And suddenly the light becomes sharper, the sounds are richer, and you’re filled with the deep, powerful presence of life. I’ve only felt that one other time.”
8+ Inspiring Mountain Climbing Books you should read
In this blog post, we’d like to showcase some of the best mountaineering books worth your time and money. Over the years we’ve read lots of books on this particular subject and enjoyed every single one immensely.
Pick any of our suggested books, and you’ll be instantly transported to a frozen world where dedicated mountaineers try to reach the top while being exposed to the harshest climates on earth. You’ll get a chance to read stories with emotional depth as well as epic tales of adventures.
#1. The White Spider, by Heinrich Harrer
The White Spider, written by an Austrian mountaineer tells a captivating story of the very first successful ascent of the Eiger which was achieved by the author and his team. The book also examines numerous other attempts (successful and unsuccessful).
I have yet to see the immense vertical wall of the Eiger North Face, famous for extremely unpredictable weather conditions in person and that’s what made reading the book even more exciting. The White Spider is beautifully described, well researched and exceedingly thorough.
I have admired Heinrich Harrer ever since I had a chance to read Seven Years in Tibet and ever since then I have admired the author, his writing style and his incredibly inspiring climbing adventures.
In the book, the author writes about several attempts, particularly from 1935 up to 1962. I especially enjoyed his graphic description of what it’s like to accent over on rock, waterfall and ice and how informative Heinrich was of his own attempt on the Eiger wall.
“We had learned on the North Face of the Eiger that men are good and the earth on which we were born is good.”
#2. Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival, by Joe Simpson
An award-winning book, Touching the Void follows Joe Simpson’s and his friends Simon Yates climbing adventures in Peruvian Andes and tells a fantastic story of survival and endurance.
The book behind the BAFTA award-winning film makes for a fantastic read to those interested in outdoors and mountaineering and anyone reading it will find a healthy dose of inspiration and motivation between its 224 pages.
Just like the rest of mountaineer books I’ve read so far, this one too is a mix of pain, joy, despair, tragedy and adventure. Just when the climbers reached the top of a 21,000ft peak in the Andes, disaster struck.
“He had sat numb, repeatedly questioning why his own tumble had been held on the same piton just before the Japanese leader had fallen and ripped it out. A day later he was his normal self again: an experience absorbed, shelved in his memory, understood and accepted, and left at that.”
#3. K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain, by Ed Viesturs, David Roberts
Edmund Viesturs is a high altitude mountaineer and the only American who has climbed all 14 of the world’s eight-thousanders. His book about the world’s most challenging mountain K2 that’s located in Karakoram Range of northern Pakistan is one of the best I’ve read.
One of the reasons why I picked up the book – not only it describes Ed’s ascent of K2 in 1992 but also chronicles the history of several other attempts on the worlds deadliest Mountain.
“Any “story” can be told in dozens of different ways. For that very reason, I believe, every time you go back and reexamine an important chapter in your life, you learn something new about it.”
#4. The Adventures of a Mountaineer, by Frank Smythe
The book jumped off the shelf at me when we visited Charlie Byrnes Bookshop in Galway. As I’ve never heard about Frank Smythe, I was eager to get my hands on this book that only cost 6 euros.
I didn’t start reading it right away and only picked up sometime in January. I was surprised to find out that the book was first published in 1940, is illustrated with seventeen beautiful photographs and tells many amazing mountain adventure tales, both in Europe and Himalaya.
Franks candid writing was unlike anything I’ve come across before, and it made for a terrific read. It’s certainly an old school, and I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in mountaineering.
In mountaineering, it is easy to climb many of the greatest peaks of the Alps with comparatively little experience when the weather is fine and the conditions safe; it’s when the weather is bad, and the conditions dangerous the lack of experience tells. Therefore, begin at the beginning with safe and easy expeditions under expert tuition and do not tackle the great peaks until the voice of experience urges that to do so is justifiable.
#5. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Everest Disaster, by John Krakauer
Krakauer’s controversial account on events that happened on Everest in May 1996 when two guided expeditions got caught up in a storm resulting in 8 deaths – the highest ever recorded in the climbing history – is intensely moving.
As an avid reader of climbing non-fiction, I love Krakauer and his books, he’s a damn good writer. Into thin Air is splendidly written, and I was never bored reading it, Krakauer was present during the climb and when the tragedy took place, making the story particularly compelling.
“It was titillating to brush up against the enigma of mortality, to steal a glimpse across its forbidden frontier. Climbing was a magnificent activity, I firmly believed, not in spite of the inherent perils, but precisely because of them.”
#6. The Mountain: my Time on Everest, by Ed Viesturs
Yet another fantastic non-fiction book that’s written by the living legend Ed Viesturs and his co-writer David Roberts. The Mountain takes a reader on the journey to the worlds tallest mountain Everest, providing insights on his own as well as on many other climbing expeditions.
The book is intensely interesting and offers a great overview of the history of Everest including Mallory and Irvine, Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s. Although I’ve read many times about the history of the Mountain, it was a good way to refresh my memory and in earnest – there can never be too many mentions about the successful first summit.
“The first time I tried to climb Mount Everest was in the spring of 1987. It was a very different mountain than from the swarmed-over scene it’s become today. By that spring, there had been only 209 successful ascents of the Mountain by 191 different climbers. A single person, the Sherpa Sungdare, had reached the summit as many as four times.”
#7. No Way Down: Life and Death on K2, by Graham Bowley
Three weeks ago I finally picked up No Way Down and devoured it couple of days. One of the reasons why I was eager to get my hands on this book; among the Dutch, Italian, Norwegian and American climbers was also an Irish mountaineer from County Limerick – Gerard McDonnell.
No Way Down is yet another gripping story and detailed account of one of the biggest climbing disasters on K2 known as the Savage Mountain. The book is skilfully written by New York Times reporter Graham Bowley and the events happen on August 1st, 2008 when 31 climbers from various countries are endeavouring to reach the summit of the second highest mountain on Earth.
It was interesting to read a book written by someone who wasn’t on the mountain during the time when disaster struck and 11 climbers died on the Himalayan mountain, located in Northern Pakistan, yet it does not detract from the story. If you get a chance, read the book yourself, you won’t be disappointed.
#8. The Ascent of Everest, by John Hunt
Interested in Everest and those that have climbed the mountain over the years, I couldn’t wait to read this book; after all, it’s the greatest adventure story of all time written by the expedition leader. What makes the Ascent of Everest an amazing reading material – it documents one of the most well known accomplishments in the history of Himalayan mountaineering.
Reading John Hunt’s memoir of reaching the summit of Everest in late spring of 1953 with his very detailed descriptions gives an insight into climbers lives, ambitions, dissepiments and shows how primitive their equipment was.
The book is beautifully illustrated with many photographs, maps and also includes a chapter written by Sir Edmund Hillary who reached the summit along with the Sherpa Tenzing.
“These two factors, the altitude and the weather, tend separately and together to defeat the climber. The height weakens, slows him down; it forces him to spend days and nights in the course of his assault on the summit; the weather, besides adding to the demands on his energy and moral fortitude, conspires to deny him the time he needs to complete his mission.”
More incredible mountaineering books to read:
- Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, by Donnie Eichar
- Blind Descent: Surviving Alone and Blind on Mount Everest, by Brian Dickinson
- The Tower: A Chronicle of Climbing and Controversy on Cerro Torre, by Kelly Cordes
- The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest, by Anatoli Boukreev
- Annapurna: First Conquest of an 8000-meter Peak, by Maurice Herzog
- Dark Summit, by Nick Heil
“One must always be careful of books, and what is inside them, For words have the power to change us.” Cassandra Clare
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Now, over to you!
Do you like to read mountaineering books? What’s your favourite?
Let us know in the comments below!