Volume , Issue

With summer here across the northern hemisphere, one of the tried and true features that every magazine or newspaper features is a list of the “Best Beach Books” or something similar. But what if you do not go to the beach? What if you are obsessed with the high places in the world and want to read about your favorite pursuit, your passion, while enjoying time in the mountains? If this is what you want to read about during your time away from the hospital, clinic, or university this summer, then this list is for you.

If you are like most of the climbers that I know (myself included) then you are obsessed about the weight that you carry while in the mountains. Every piece of gear has a purpose and its utility is literally weighed against the space it occupies in a small pack, as well as the pain involved in the additional pounds placed upon the shoulders and hips.

All measurements aside, a book, or more likely for me an e-reader, is a constant companion on trips to the mountains. With the plethora of options for e-readers and the increasingly nominal price, taking, losing, or breaking one is not the tragedy of the pocketbook that it once was. As with all technology, you take the risk of staring at a cracked or gray screen while piled amongst your companions in a tent high in the mountains. So perhaps the low-tech paperback might be the best choice? No matter the type, having something to read on the journey to, the down times during, and the return trip is an essential for many mountaineers. With that in mind, lets review some of the best options.

Recent Medical Literature:

We will start the list off with a few journal articles from across the globe that deal with medical issues for mountaineers. From foundational documents, such as the Wilderness Medical Society Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Acute Altitude Illness, to recent case reports of accidents in the mountains, these articles are easy to print or transfer to your device of choice and can assuage your guilty conscience of leaving work or school behind. So here are some of the many great reads in climbing medicine literature today, presented in no particular order:

1) Wilderness Medical Society Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Acute Altitude Illness: 2014 Update - Luks et al. Wilderness & Environmental Medicine (2014). 

2) Pulley Injuries in Rock Climbers -  Schöffl et al. Wilderness & Environmental Medicine (2003). 

3) Medical Knowledge and Preparedness of Climbers on Colorado’s 14,000-Foot Peaks - Brandenburg BS, Davis CB. Wilderness & Environmental Medicine (2016).

4) From Matterhorn to Mt Everest: Empowering Rescuers and Improving Medical Care in Nepal - Brodmann Maeder MM, Basnyat B, Harris NS. Wilderness & Environmental Medicine (2014).

5) Comparative grading scales, statistical analyses, climber descriptors and ability grouping - International Rock Climbing Research Association position statement. Draper et al. Sports Technology (2016).


Over recent years there have been quite a few interesting memoirs published. Some, like Alex Honnold’s Alone on the Wall, gathered much media attention, while others, such as Barry Blanchard’s The Calling: A Life Rocked by Mountains, flew under the radar. Here is a list of recent tomes that are worth a download.

1) Alone on the Wall – Alex Honnold. This book recounts his younger years, describes his ropeless exploits, and his reasoning for pushing the envelope in this realm.

2) Sherpa: The Memoir of Ang Tharkay – Ang Tharkay. Though I have yet to read this book, I am excited to dig in, as it is finally now available in English. Ang Tharkay participated in some of the most important expeditions in Nepal as sirdar to the successful French expedition on Annapurna, as well as adventures with Shipton and Tilman. 

The Calling: A Life Rocked by Mountains – Barry Blanchard. While garnering little media attention, this memoir garnered the Boardman Tasker prize for 2015. Detailing climbs from his native Canada to Nepal, the story is an engaging retelling of his life.


My list of classics starts and ends with titles written by Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker. Most readers will recognize their names as they are attached to the greatest prize in climbing literature: the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature. This annual prize is a commemoration of the two men lost on the northeast face of Mt. Everest in 1982 and is given to an author that has made an outstanding contribution to mountain literature.

This short list does no justice to the numerous classics of the genre. Titles by Herzog, Harrer, Rebuffet, Hornbein, Shipton, Tilman, and Roberts could have easily been included!

1) The Shining Mountain – Peter Boardman. Detailing their 1976 ascent of the west wall of Changabang and their preparation (including sleeping in a cavernous food freezer), this book is fantastic in its retelling. 

2) Conquistadors of the Useless – Lionel Terray. A classic description of the French climbing world after World War II, Terray’s description of his alpine adventures is hard to put down and acknowledged as some of the finest mountaineering literature of the 20th Century.

3) The Totem Pole – Paul Pritchard. As with his other title, Deep Play, Pritchard’s descriptions are exacting and well written. This book describes his accident on a climb in Tasmania and difficult recovery afterwards. 

4) Savage Arena – Joe Tasker. Encompassing his climbs on the Eiger, Kangchenjunga, attempts on K2, and another view of the Changabang climb detailed in The Shining Mountain, this is the perfect bookend that will lead you to explore their other titles and those chosen as winners of their namesake prize.

How To:

This genre of climbing literature is packed with well-written books that offer sound advice to climbers of all types and experience levels. Three are listed below, but standby for a future column that will discuss “how to” climbing books in considerable depth later this year.

1) The Trad Climber’s Bible – John Long and Peter Croft. One of my new favorites, this book transcends the standard “how to” book and discusses the finer points of traditional climbing through stories and settings that will keep you reading. The full color photos are fantastic also!

2) Crag Survival Handbook – Matt Samet. The best guide on how to not be a duffer at the crag. While geared towards new climbers or gym climbers heading outside for the first time, Matt Samet not only talks technique and safety, but also etiquette and impact.

3) Training for the New Alpinism – Steve House and Scott Johnston. The subtitle, “A Manual for the Climber as Athlete,” says it all. Want to up your game in the mountains? This book can help you get there.


Often inane but sometimes very interesting, the blogosphere has a plethora of options for the mountaineer on the move and a bit of Wi-Fi access! Some of these are climbing centric while others appeal to all types of outdoor adventurers.

1) Semi-Rad – Though more of an all around outdoor blog than most, the often inane writings and observances of Brendan Leonard are sure to make you laugh and feel if not totally rad, then at least “Semi-Rad.” If you like his style, he has a couple of books available too (Sixty Meters to Anywhere and The New American Road Trip Mix Tape).

2) Evening Sends – Not technically a blog, this is a great site for beginners and old-timers alike. Andrew Bisharat, author of the entertaining Tuesday Night Bouldering column in Rock and Ice has tricked this site out with interesting interviews, rants, and how to articles, organized in sections entitled, “Daily Stoke,” “The Day I Sent,” “Essays and Rants,” and “How to Climb.” 

3) High Places and Simple Living – Steph Davis writes on a variety of topics and answers readers’ questions on this portion of her website. Many of the questions come from female readers and discussions often focus on the challenges of being a female climber.


Yes, yes, I know. Podcasts are not books and they are certainly not scholarly journals. But there are some very entertaining climbing related podcasts that can be added to a phone or tablet and help to pass the time waiting for plane or for a storm to blow over. Some of the best I have found are below:

1) The Sharp End – Produced by Ashley Saupe and the American Alpine Club’s Accidents in North American Mountaineering team, this is a new blog that discusses accidents and rescues, and as Ashley states in her very first podcast, “make you a smarter mountain person.”

2) The Dirtbag Diaries – From the newest to a classic, Fitz Cahall has been producing the Dirtbag Diaries since 2007 on a wide variety of topics with contributions from around the world. If you have yet to discover this podcast, you have enough episodes for even the longest of approaches!

3) The Enormocast – Another well established podcast, the Enormocast is all about climbing all of the time. Host Chris Kalous travels the United States interviewing climbers of all shapes and sizes. If you want a podcast exclusively about climbing, this is the one.

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