You’ll notice that in this list of 5 books there are no books on technique, gear or conditioning. These are books about the climber’s life that I have found to be personally affecting, even transformative. It was like I discovered that I was not the only one to have felt that climbing was my life.
1. Pete’s Wicked Book, Tales of Climbing Madness
This is the funniest book on climbing I’ve ever read! Pete Takeda is now the Senior Contributing Editor for Rock & Ice, a very respectable position for a person who has led such a wild early climbing life that is contained in this book, from taking drugs and climbing in Idaho, to Yosemite, Everest and beyond!
I just thought it was a rollicking good read, and I could compare some of my early dumb decisions with Pete’s and realize that mine were (mostly) minor in comparison!
Out of print, but you can still find used copies in good condition.
2. Tilting at Mountains
Although Edurne is more of an alpinist than a rock climber, I still count this among the transformative climbing books I have read. The love and obsession with mountaineering is similar to rock climbing.
Edurne is famous for being the first woman to have climbed to the summit of the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000 meters. The book displays a somewhat tortured soul looking for the cleansing absolution in pursuit of high altitude climbing. This is all in the midst of her experiences with depression and grief.
I think of it as a sort of precursor to Steph Davis’ High Infatuation book.
3. Climbing Free
Really great read from one of the best climbers in the world! I enjoyed reading about her life in Yosemite and the Camp 4 scene, her love affairs, being the first to free the Nose, and of course the other major defining event – surviving her fall from the top of a pitch.
4. High Infatuation
Steph’s book reminded me in some ways of the Edurne Pasaban book – her relationships both to the mountains and rock climbing, as well as with the men in her life. Also her single-minded pursuit of certain peaks – nearly to the detriment of her partners!
There’s a thin line in making dangerous decisions – to stay and conquer, or leave to live to climb another day, that is not always so clear when you become obsessed with the objective. On some of her Patagonian climbs for example, there were many weather-related failures, and when the opening came for a clear shot at the summit you could tell it was difficult for her to turn back, sometimes over the objections of her partners! Made for a really good read.
5. Trad Climber’s Bible
You might think this is a how-to book on how to climb trad, and by the title I could see how you thought that. But if you are looking for more of a manual then you should probably look elsewhere. It’s written more in the form of anecdotes and stories that illustrate the history and the experience of trad climbing, with boxes that go over tips that the narrative illustrates.
It’s full of memoirs and the experiences of the climbers. It’s not heavy on the skills department, but more on the inspiring stories and photos department.
So many good books on climbing, but if I had to point someone to transformative books, the list would include these 5 books. I find books like these more life changing than skills teaching, and that’s what these books all have in common.
Reading about how they navigated their lives while continually taking up the reins of climbing is inspirational in a way a user guide on the technical aspects of climbing will never be.
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