Some people like to read on a hike. Others like to read up on mountaineering experiences before going on one. You’re probably either one or both of these groups of people, and that’s a wonderful thing. Why? It’s like going on another adventure while you’re currently or about to go on one. Reading about the amazing experiences of other hikers also enriches your appreciation of the outdoors and helps enhance your survival skill set. Ah, the merits of reading.
By the way, some of the titles that are reading list-worthy were not included below as they already have movie adaptations (e.g., 127 Hours, Into the Wild), which thus gives you the option of watching them instead if you’re pressed for time and need to pack a lot in within a short timeframe.
Let’s get on to the books now, shall we?
“Following Atticus” (Tom Ryan)
“If you like dogs, if you do like nature writing (particularly if you’re a fan of the White Mountains), and you like an inspiring tale that doesn’t slobber all over you with cuteness, then it’s all right here,” said a review of the book written by the former editor of The Undertoad, a Newburyport paper.
The author’s restraint in heaping sentimentality upon the subject of the story is admirable. This is considering the fact that the book has an already adorable canine, who accompanied Ryan through 48 high peak climbs, all done during 90 days of winter. Pet lovers, especially those who bring their furry friends along on hikes, will find this tome an inspiring read.
“A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush” (Eric Newby)
Not having a Newby title on this list is unimaginable, especially this one. It’s not considered one of the greatest travel books of all time for nothing. Its English author, who is one of the greatest travel writers who ever lived, has written numerous books of his travels, and “A Short Walk” is just one of them.
In this autobiographical account, he writes, with much humor, about how he blundered his way through the Hindu Kush and the mountains of Afganistan. “Newby reminds us that even a valid passport is inessential to traveling. All you really need is to be game,” said one review.
“The Snow Leopard” (Peter Matthiessen)
Matthiessen, in this award-winning book, essentially reveals “the heart of why we go to the mountains.” It also tackles the subject of death, as his wife died of cancer before he left for his Himalayan climb — which is the setting for this memoir — as well as how he rose above his grief. He, together with an adventurer friend who is also an eminent naturalist, George Schaller, make the trip to learn more about a rare species of Himalayan sheep. If they get lucky, they might as well see find the Yeti, otherwise known as the snow leopard. Beautifully written and revelatory.
“K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain” (Ed Viesturs)
Would you get a book written by the only American who has climbed all 14 eight-thousander mountains in the world? Viesturs is that man – he’s also summitted Mount Everest 7 times too, by the way.
Despite his impressive experience in high altitude mountaineering, he considers his K2 climb the most haunting of them all. He not only writes about his own K2 experience but also those made by others in the past, including the tragic 2008 expedition. He makes his point in this book that K2 teaches a lot of lessons: “risk, ambition, loyalty to one’s teammates, self sacrifice, and the price of glory.”
“The Mountains of My Life” (Walter Bonatti)
Anything from the pen of “the greatest alpine mountain climber of his generation” who also happens to be “one of the finest writers on climbing” is definitely worth adding to any mountaineer’s reading list. Which is why this classic title by Bonatti is on this list.
“The Mountains of My Life” is a compilation of his memoirs and essays, translated from Italian, and “reminds us that the antisocial impulse pushes many climbers uphill and that they often do their best work in isolation.” A definite must-read account from a legendary mountaineer.