Not many things are as good as rock climbing but reading about it certainly comes close, especially when the world’s most outrageous ascents and most talented climbers are involved.
Here’s a selection of five books that any climbing bookworm will want to find under the tree this festive season.
The Push, Tommy Caldwell, 2017Although The Push is a very conventionally written autobiography, Caldwell is a far from conventional individual. From his early childhood, through the kidnapping incident to his El Capitan exploits, Caldwell takes the reader on an intimate journey of his ups and downs.
Thanks to its candid style, reading The Push feels like getting to know a friend. It’s a simple yet beautiful book written without unnecessary grandiose or egotism: an achievement almost as unlikely as free climbing the Dawn Wall.
Art of Freedom - The Life and Climbs of Voytek Kurtyka, Bernadette McDonald, 2017McDonald has a long-standing interest in the Polish climbers who dominated the world’s highest ranges during the Cold War era. After writing Freedom Climbers, often referred to as the most acclaimed book of mountaineering literature, she went on to tell the story of Voytek Kurtyka, an individual as visionary as he is reclusive.
Awarded the coveted Piolet d’Or award for lifetime achievement in 2016 (after multiple requests to accept), Kurtyka remains one of the world’s most prolific mountaineers. Throughout the seventies and eighties, he established numerous outstanding climbs around the globe, including on the Gasherums and Cho Oyu. He then went on to astonish the Polish climbing community by soloing a 7c+ sport route in 1993.
Rock Queen, Catherine Destivelle, 2015One of the world’s first professional rock climbers, Catherine Destivelle shot to fame thanks to her uncanny knack for soloing and advances in climbing filmmaking. In the mid-eighties she gained attention by being the first woman to sport climb 7c+/8a, but her attention quickly shifted from cliff faces to the high mountains.
In Rock Queen, the reader follows Destivelle on daring ascents all over the world, most notably a solo of the north face of the Eiger. Her matter-of-fact style and an interesting take on what constitutes a dicey situation almost obscures the magnitude of Destivelle’s achievements.
Alone on the Wall, Alex Honnold, 2015In a manner similar to Destivelle, Alex Honnold narrates his autobiography in his typical, no-big-deal style. For all non-climbers, Alone on the Wall dispels the myth of Honnold as an adrenaline junkie. Detailed passages covering even more detailed preparations for most of his ascents prove that Honnold is as far from a death-wish as any normal person. He just happens to be capable of remarkable things.
Although Alone on the Wall may not be counted among the classics of climbing literature, it offers a fascinating peek into the mind of the world’s most talented soloist and one of the sporting world’s most remarkable feats. As such, it is a must-read for any climber (especially as Free Solo, a movie documenting Honnold’s ropeless ascent of “Freerider” in Yosemite, hits UK cinemas on 14 December 2018).
The 9th Grade; 150 Years of Free Climbing, David Chambre, 2015First came Reinhold Messner's The 7th Grade, published in 1974. Then in 1987 there was Jean-Baptiste Tribout and David Chambre’s The 8th Grade (only in French). After another 30 years of climbing development came the moment for the next installment: The 9th Grade.
It is both a fascinating chronicle of the history of sport climbing and a beautifully published coffee table book. From the sport’s beginnings in the interwar period (illustrated with rare archive photos) to “La Dura Dura” and beyond, it traces the greatest achievements that define our discipline. Pairing detailed information with great design, The 9th Grade will make a great addition to any climbing book collection. (Just a fore warning, its only flaw is a few somewhat sexists remarks that the authors managed to make toward women, which are likely outdated by now).
About Zofia Reych