With many people preparing to head off to the Alps, I thought write a short blog highlighting some inspirational reads. I've chosen these 5 books not because of the authors or the style of the writing but more about how they inspire me to climb in the Alps.
The Burgess twins are a right pair of Yorkshire Tykes from Holmfirth who climbed in the 70's and 80's. Tales of stealing cars and fuel to get to Chamonix for free. Climbing, drinking, partying and plenty of other stuff. They were part of a generation that was the rebirth of cool Alpinism. It's well written and just makes me laugh and reminds me that Alpinism doesn't have to be that serious.
Bonatti was the greatest Alpinist ever - EVER. He was operating in the 50's and 60's and climbed some of the greatest routes in the Mont Blanc Region of the Alps. A Mountain Guide by profession he knowledge of the Mont Blanc region was unsurpassed. Routes like the Bonatti Piller on the Dru (climbed solo) and he opened up the Grand Piller d'Angle and was involved in a horrendous storm and escape on the Freney Pillar of Mont Blanc, out of 6 only 2 came back. He was years ahead of his time in his climbing ability. His writing style is quite philosophical as opposed to the "climbed hard, didn't die" style of some of his contemporaries.
...I saw a poor butterfly, lured there by the days warmth, which fell helplessly to the snow a few feet away from me with a last beat of its wings. Poor living thing, what bad luck you had to find yourself about to die in this cruel world, whose existence you never even suspected! In that last beat of its wings I saw before me a human drama. Who knows, I thought to myself, with what terror your little eyes watched the last rays of the setting sun, the unexpected metamorphoses of their colours...Your tragedy is mine too; what I am searching for in the conquest of the Dru is similar to the intoxication which brought you here...
When I real On the Heights, it grounds me. Bonatti climbed so much with so little and I've climbed so little with so much. When it gets tough just ask what would Bonatti do?
Desmaison was the first 'Media Whore', when he climbed the Shroud on the Grandes Jorasses in winter he dragged a full camera up with him so that he could do interviews live. A controversial figure who was thrown out of the Chamonix Guides for Rescuing a team of climbers from the West Face of the Dru. He pioneered climbing the big north faces of the Alps in winter. Very much a fan of himself, he said what he liked and liked what he said - perhaps he had Yorkshire blood. He was however, a very very hard man. He survived an incredible 14 days stuck on the North Face on the Grandes Jorasses in the worst storms imaginable, his partners dead by his side - the Guides refusing to come to his aid. The book is a story of the power of the Human Spirit. I was once caught is a storm on the Matterhorn in winter and the memory of this book and Desmaison's struggles got my mind through it. The body will last through if your mind will.
...An icy hand clutched my heart; my blood drummed in my ears. A feeling of intense grief, nameless horror swept over me, and left me momentarily helpless. Serge had given up. I could see him not far away below me, a remote and motionless figure silhouetted against the whirling snow, resigned and apathetic before the assaults of the storm. I found it difficult to believe that this was really happening. It must be a nightmare...
This book came before Hard Rock and is just a brilliant Coffee table guidebook. Takes you to areas of the Alps you never knew existed and just reminds me that the Alps is not just Chamonix. 100 routes, each with a photos and an essay about an ascent of the climb. The photos may not be up to modern standards but the whole book is just loverly. It's quite rare though so one to look out for.