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Best Mountain Climbing Books

Updated on December 22, 2011

For a lot of people mountain climbing is a sport, for me it means living unique experiences in the mountains. At first, I started trekking them. Ascending to huts and climbing the occasional summit whenever it was possible to do it without any technical knowledge. After some time I started to do courses and training to reach even farther. However, only going to the mountains was not enough and because I am an avid reader, I think that I started reading about mountaineering well before I started to climb. During those years I read a lot, both technical and adventure books. So here is the list of books that most impressed me when reading them. A couple of them are rather technical, but overall most of them are suitable for armchair mountaineers too.

Mountaineering: the Freedom of the Hills - by Mountaineers

If there is a climbing book that we can call essential for mountain climbers, it is without doubt this one. It nearly covers all the basic aspects that any serious mountaineer or climber has to know: equipment, navigation, climbing techniques in rock, snow and ice, weather, safety, first aid, rescue techniques, mountain geology, leadership, etc. Of course, in a general book as this one, there can only be a limited space for any single topic, so the book lacks depth in some subjects. Nevertheless, it is an excellent introductory book for novice mountain climbers or to use as reference material for more experienced climbers too.

Touching the Void - by Joe Simpson

Touching the void by Joe Simpson is a highly recommendable mountaineering and survival book. When I read it several years ago, the suspense of the story kept me interested from the very first page, even though I knew what had happened to him. Simpson and Simon Yates made the first ascent of the Siula Grande a Peruvian difficult summit miles away of any inhabited spot. When they were going down of the mountain, Simpson broke his leg leaving him with few possibilities of survival and Simon with a horrible dilemma. But the inconceivable can happen sometimes especially if you never give up and keep trying. Worth its while.

The Conquistadors of the Useless - by Lionel Terray

Lionel Terray was one of the most important French alpinist of his generation. He took part in the daunting first climb of the Annapurna in the fifties, although he was not in the summit team. During his career he made many first ascents, some of them of incredible technical difficulty at the time, like the Chacraraju in the Peruvian Andes or the Fitz Roy in Patagonia. The conquistadors of the useless is his climbing autobiography. In the book Terray told his climbing adventures all around the world in a way that is compelling to the reader from the very first page.

Into Thin Air - by Jon Krakauer

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is a gripping account of the tragic events that happened in the spring of 1996 when several climbers of guided tours died in a storm trying to climb Mount Everest. Krakauer has a gift for storytelling and in this book he makes the story so vivid that you feel you are climbing the mountain with him. A highly recommended book not only for climbers, but for all the people interested in real-life adventures. Definitively, Into Thin Air is a book worthy of its fame.

Eiger North Wall
Eiger North Wall

The White Spider - by Heinrich Harrer

The White Spider is one of the classic mountaineering books of all-time. Heinrich Harrer, most known by its book Seven Years in Tibet, tells us the history of the North wall of the Eiger. A Swiss 3970m high peak, which its north face was considered one of the last climbing problems in the Alps in the late thirties. The book begins describing the earlier attempts to climb the wall, tragic attempts that took the lives of several climbers. It continues with the epic story of the first summit climb in 1938, in which Harrer took part. And it ends with several more disastrous attempts of climbing the face well into the sixties.

Extreme Alpinism - by Mark Twight & James Martin

Even though I am not a follower of the fast and light trend in alpinism, I think that Extreme Alpinism by Mark Twight, perhaps the most important exponent of this philosophy, is a great read. The book gives you fascinating insights about mental and physical preparation, gear, and ways for climbing and going down of the mountains, following the maxim that going fast is actually safer than to be exposed to the risks of the mountain during the time that a traditional climb demands. As a word of caution, Twight is writing about techniques used by those on the leading edge of the sport. So following this philosophy up to the end can be dangerous for those not completely prepared.

Annapurna - By Maurice Herzog

Annapurna by Maurice Herzog is perhaps the most famous and riveting book in mountaineering until today. Herzog tells the story of the first ascent to an 8000m high Himalayan summit in an epic way that manages to draw the reader completely into the story. The book starts slow but it rapidly gains your interest turning into a true page turner at the end. There is a lot of controversy about the veracity of the story that Herzog chose to tell: a team of self-sacrificing climbers working together to achieve their goal under his leadership. But, notwithstanding these critics, the book continues to be a must read for anyone interested in mountaineering and its history.

Sicherheit und Risiko - By Pit Schubert

Sorry guys, no English translation of this book that I am aware of. But the book is a must read for anyone interested in mountain climbing. I read the Spanish translation several years ago and found it fascinating. Pit Schubert, perhaps the most important expert in mountaineering safety, analyzes in the book numerous cases of alpine accidents trying to find out their causes and the way that they could have been prevented. Of course, a book of this characteristic, full of methodic and exhaustive analysis, runs the risk of being boring. Fortunately, this is not the case. Each chapter answers a question (like: Can carabiners break?) through several anecdotes and examples turning it into a gripping and at the same time really useful book.


The author of the photo of Eiger north wall is Terra3, who had the courtesy of sharing it through a Creative Commons Share Alike License.


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