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2010. We’re here. There’s no denying it and though I’ve stayed clear of new year’s resolutions, I do feeling like posting a bit more this year. There hasn’t been enough random associations as of late. So to start us off:

Top 5 Mountaineering Books

Ever since I first clambered through the Polish Tatra at the tender age of 19, I’ve had a thing for mountains. Perhaps it’s the fact that I grew up in the Netherlands, a country whose very name evokes an utter lack of heights. I hail from the north, which is the flat part of the country, contrary to the hilly south whose highest peak is the downright vertiginous 322m Vaalseberg. So for the fellow armchair mountaineer, here’s my top 5 of dizziness-enducing books:

5. Touching the Void – Joe Simpson (1988)

One of the great controversies of mountaineering (and there’s quite a few of those) is at the heart of this outstanding book. Simon Yates and Joe Simpson are the first to climb the west face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. On the descent things go horribly wrong. Connected to each other by a rope around the waste, Simpson slips and falls over the edge of a precipice. Yates digs in his heels and holds onto the rope. As time passes and Simpson is unable to climb back up, he takes out his knife and cuts the rope. Was he right or not?

As a tale of human persistance in the face of despair there is no equal. The book was made into an award-winning documentary in 2003. Joe Simpson survived to tell the tale and is now a speaker much in demand at corporate events around the world.

4. The Ascent of Rum Doodle – W.E. Bowman (1956)

For those who’ve read it all, it doesn’t come more satisfying than the epic ascent of Rum Doodle. Bowman takes every cliche of mountaineering, mulitplies it by ten and ads some absurdity for good measure. The book chronicles a motley crew of dapper adventurers, under the intrepid leadership of Binder, an Englishman of the stiff upper lip type. Their goal? The ascent of the legendary 40,000 foot Rum Doodle. On their way they face more obstacles from their companions than the elements. A navigator who’d get lost in his own living room, an army of porters ¬†who outnumber and outclimb the mountaineers and the faithful cook whose attrocious concoctions form the greatest motivation for the climb upward.

A classic in mountaineering circles, it has given it’s name to a bar in Kathmandu and a peak in South America. Frequently out of print, it’s worthwhile to try and get your hands on a copy. It was recently rereleased with Bill Bryson’s blessing.

3. The Crystal Horizon – Reinhold Messner (1982)

To many Reinhold Messner is the greatest mountaineer of all time. He was the first to climb all fourteen eight-thousanders (peaks higher than 8,000m above sea level). Always controversial and headstrong, he advocated the alpine style of climbing, which favors light-weight equipment and quick ascents over the more traditional expedition climbs which use porters and multiple high-altitude camps to assault a summit.

The Crystal Horizon is Messner’s personal account of his solo ascent of Mount Everest from the Tibetan side, generally considered to be the single most daring act of mountaineering. Apart from the hardships and ecstasy of the climb itself, what comes across is Messner’s obsessive personality in which mountains are everything, a place where he can experience a zen-like high, and for which all else, including human relationships, must give way. A fascinating insight into the mind of a master.

2. Annapurna – Maurice Herzog (1956)

Annapurna was the first eight-thousander to be climbed and the book which describes the French expedition that succeeded remains the great classic of moutaineering literature. It has all the elements of an epic adventure story and is irresistible to any man who’s still a boy at heart. A near impossible mission, a long trek through exotic lands, from jungles to white mountain peaks (no helicopter rides in those days). There’s treachourous uncharted routes, ¬†scenes of a brilliant beauty and unimaginable suffering.

At one point Herzog drops his gloves and sees them roll off the mountain side as if in slow-motion, fully aware that he will lose his hands to frostbite. And that’s just the start of his trials. Mallory once said in response to why he wanted to climb Everest, Because it’s there. Read Annapurna and decide for yourself if it’s worth it.

1. Into thin air – Jon Krakauer (1996)

At number one is Krakauer’s riveting book on the 1996 Everest tragedy. A page turner if ever there was one, the book relates how Krakauer joins an expedition to write an expose on the increasing commercialisation of the Everest climbing scene. When a storm sweeps in it turns into a blow-by-blow thriller as a large group of climbers are caught out attempting to summit. A scramble begins to get the tourists and their guides safely off the mountain, but the death zone got its name for a reason.

What follows is a tale like no other: heroic, tragic, miraculous and existential as every decision becomes one of life and death. Like any great mountaineering book this one also has its fair share of controversies and several of the climbers present that day in May have published their own, sometimes differing, accounts. Among them are Anatoli Boukreev’s The Climb and Beck Weathers’ Left for Dead. Footage of the events can be seen in the Everest imax movie.

Happy Reading!

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