Books for Backcountry Bibliophiles

Whether you're looking for a friend or yourself, there are a host of new, award-winning, outdoor books for backcountry bibliophiles. Choose from history, guidebooks, narratives, photography, or other genres. And, share your personal favorites below.

"Freedom of the Hills" Turns 50

 First up, there's the classic and essential Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, which turned 50 years old this year.

In a half century, Freedom of the Hills has had half-a-million copies sold, making it the all-time bestselling mountaineering and climbing title. Now in its eighth edition, it's available in hard or softcover, or as a PDF eBook download from The Mountaineers.

Or make your gear multitask. Get the companion Freedom of the Hills Deck of playing cards and brush up on your avalanche rescue or show shelter skills while playing hearts.

 

Banff Mountain Festival Book Winners

The annual Banff Mountain Festival's Book Winners are always worth a look. Select one for a friend from the 2010 winners below, or find your own copy.

 

Grand Prize & Mountaineering History

The Stonemasters: California Climbing in the Seventies
by John Long and Dean Fidelman

Through historical photos and personal anecdotes, The Stonemasters chronicles the rise of a small band of Southern Californians and their impact on climbing and climbing culture in North America.

Mountain Literature

Walking Home: A Traveler in the Alaskan Wilderness, a Journey into the Human Heart
by Lynn Schooler

In 2007, Juneau resident Schooler set off first by small boat and then on foot on a challenging solo walk along one of the wildest coastlines in North America. (I want to read this one.)

Mountain Exposition

Canadian Rock: Select Climbs of the West
by Kevin McLane

McLane's guidebook identifies more than 1,200 rock climbing routes from Squamish to Lake Louise to the Ghost River Valley.

Adventure Travel

Running Dry: A Journey from Source to Sea Down the Colorado River
by Jon Waterman

Waterman chronicles his 2008 trip down the entire, overtaxed, drying Colorado River, combining adventure with environmental concern. Watch a video interview with Waterman below.

Mountain Images

Polar Obsession
by Paul Nicklen

National Geographic photographer Nicklen documents of the lives of leopard seals, whales, walruses, polar bears, bearded seals, and narwhals in what looks like a beautiful, large-format book. This one is on my wish list.

Watch the video below of Nicklen describing his encounter with a leopard seal in Antarctic waters.

Special Jury Mention

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival
by John Vaillant

It's the true story of a showdown between a Russian poacher and a man-eating Siberian tiger, and the politics, socioeconomics, and conservation choices that led to that encounter.

 

For more info:


Filed under: Books, People & Organizations

Comments

denis daly
87 reviewer rep
1,098 forum posts
December 15, 2010 at 12:33 p.m. (EST)

Have to say Alicia that Mountaineering Freedom of the Hills was great. Glad that its reccomended on this site. right now I'm reading Bill Brysons walk in the woods. Yes its the dont do this when your on the AT Trail. LOL But I did order Dennis Blanchards 300 zeros book about his experiance on the AT in 2008. Iam looking forward to that because I 'v been told its funny as well as a good read.

TimmyMac
38 reviewer rep
13 forum posts
December 15, 2010 at 2:49 p.m. (EST)

I'm a big fan of Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire," myself.  Nobody makes me want to get outside more than that cranky bastard.

GaryPalmer
210 reviewer rep
4,348 forum posts
December 15, 2010 at 6:37 p.m. (EST)

Walden, Henry David Thoreau

The Man who walked though Time, Colin Fletcher

The River, also by  Colin Fletcher

My first summer in the Sierra, by John Muir

rambler
26 reviewer rep
241 forum posts
December 15, 2010 at 8:03 p.m. (EST)

Google: The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz

You will not believe this true story of a Pole who escaped from Russian camps in Siberia and walked to India!

Books such as The Beckoning Silence by Joe Simpson. He was one of the climbers and author of Touching the Void.

 



Alicia
TRAILSPACE STAFF
715 reviewer rep
3,166 forum posts
December 16, 2010 at 1:12 p.m. (EST)

rambler said:

Google: The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz

You will not believe this true story of a Pole who escaped from Russian camps in Siberia and walked to India!

Unfortunately, while the story may or may not be true, it wasn't true for Rawicz. See this blog: The Long Walk: A long story without an ending

It was a great book though. Too bad it was tarnished.

In the same genre, try We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance by David Howarth. Unlike The Long Walk, it was written by a historian, and has an intro by Stephen E. Ambrose.

Touching the Void by Joe Simpson is another one of my favorites reads. And in a rare combo, the movie was also very good.

Great Heart: The History of a Labrador Adventure by James West Davidson and John Rugge is wonderful. It's surprising how little known it is for such a good adventure story.

And for laughs, The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W. E. Bowman. I found this parody in a pile of books at our library's used book sale. Very funny.

Krumholz Kid
0 reviewer rep
40 forum posts
December 16, 2010 at 3:43 p.m. (EST)

As great as these younger writers might be it blows me away when Muir, Leopold, etc., are put behind 'em as "the best." See it pretty frequently over at backpacker.com. Lots of "enivronmentalists" seem to conveniently forget the place of people who really made just the idea of conservation in this country possible by promoting habitat and land protections decades ago. The vitriolic hatred some today have for hunters and fishermen[ andwomen], and ther reverse, is rich to put it kindly. Leopold would IMO be disgusted with this generation of wildlife biologists basicaly being taught to tote a virtually universal "hands off" kenning that you don't really need several years of higher education to come up with. Hikers and Sportsmen [and women] have so much in common its absurd for us to be constantly at each others throats because of single issues like wolves or bears. We have virtually everything else in common to let species preferences completely sidetrack us from the boqou issues we have everything in common on and we can still keep our other isolated differneces of conviction and argue them in what I'd argue to be the proper perspective. 

Pathloser
52 reviewer rep
312 forum posts
December 17, 2010 at 3:26 p.m. (EST)

Hello Alicia and thanks,

I always look into these books that are recommended. I think the one that I'm reading now, Jill Fredston's Snowstruck, was mentioned by you last year, along with some others I enjoyed.

The CD audio of Rum Doodle is even better than the book, read by Terry Wale (I can send you a copy). Another British classic is Alastair Borthwick's Always a Little Further.

I thought Lynn Schooler's earlier book, Blue Bear was great and James Tabor's Forever on the Mountain was really interesting.

Best, Jon.

whomeworry
102 reviewer rep
2,295 forum posts
December 17, 2010 at 4:45 p.m. (EST)

Forever on the Mountain – James Tabor, 2007, WW Norton &Co.
This books presents a contrarian view of the ill fated 1967 Wilcox Denali expedition.  The Wilcox expedition attitudes and lack of experience of the team are generally judged to have been the principle causes behind this disaster.  Tabor sheds a different light on the tragedy, supporting an alternative finding.  The author posits that the group was as qualified as any to be on the mountain, that decisions made by the leaders were not significantly different than that those made by other leaders of other expeditions in similar situations.  Instead the author indicates the prime causes for this disaster was inability to effectively communicate between camps on the mountain, and ineffective communication between the expedition and park service staff.  But the author’s argument places most of the blame on extraordinary weather conditions that stole life from seven out of the twelve souls who participated in what has been noted by the preeminent mountaineer/author, David Roberts, as “the most tragic expedition in American climbing history.”

The Last of His Kind – David Roberts, 2009, William Morrow
The official biography of arguably America’s greatest mountaineer, Bradford Washington.  An inspiring read does not begin describe the legacy Washburn leaves behind.

The Last Steps – Rick Ridgeway, 1980, The Mountaineers
While not new, this is one of my most favorite nonfiction books.  It Chronicles the 1978 first American ascent of K2.  Traditional mountaineering literature up to this time purposefully omitted much of the interpersonal drama that permeates the typical high adventure expedition.  Rick has taken the liberty of including these psychodynamics in his telling of this enigmatic story, pulling back the curtain maintained by the climbing fraternity that hides what really goes on between team members when on the mountain.  His insights give the uninitiated some idea about how the challenge of mountaineering involves reconciling the mindscape each individual brings up to a climb, against the challenges posed by the mountain, while dealing team mates as well.  This book comes as close as any to answering the question, why we climb.

Ed

Alicia
TRAILSPACE STAFF
715 reviewer rep
3,166 forum posts
December 17, 2010 at 5:01 p.m. (EST)

The Last of His Kind – David Roberts, 2009, William Morrow
The official biography of arguably America’s greatest mountaineer, Bradford Washington.  An inspiring read does not begin describe the legacy Washburn leaves behind.

I'm glad you mention and recommend this one. I've been meaning to read it for a year. I very recently read Washburn: Extraordinary Adventures of a Young Mountaineer, which are his young adult narratives. They were first published in an adventure series for other young boys. It's interesting to read it from the point of view of a teen- and college-age Washburn on his first trips to the Alps, Washington in winter, and Alaska.

I also have several other Washburn other books, including photo ones (naturally). I also enjoyed The Accidental Adventurer: Memoir of the First Woman to Climb Mt. McKinley by his wife Barbara Washburn.

The CD audio of Rum Doodle is even better than the book, read by Terry Wale (I can send you a copy). Another British classic is Alastair Borthwick's Always a Little Further.

Wow! I don't usually go for audio books, but that sounds like a good one. I wonder if we can get it in the States.

I'm glad you've enjoyed some others I recommended. Book preferences are obviously quite subjective.

I could go on and on with book recommendations. No Picnic on Mount Kenya: A Daring Escape, A Perilous Climb by Felice Benuzzi is another good one. As an Italian POW in Ethiopia in WWII, he and three others spend months planning a temporary escape just to climb Mount Kenya.

Pathloser
52 reviewer rep
312 forum posts
December 18, 2010 at 4:47 a.m. (EST)

Wow! I don't usually go for audio books, but that sounds like a good one. I wonder if we can get it in the States.

The price is still crazy and I had to pay an arm and a leg importing it a few years ago. Check your PO Box in about three weeks.

I don't really do audio books either but mp3 players have made things easier for collecting them, saving them on the computer and giving the CDs to the charity shop. Incidentally, Radio 4 just did a reading of Lyn Schooler's new book about Alaska, which has made it popular over here in the UK.

tommangan
0 reviewer rep
415 forum posts
December 19, 2010 at 7:13 a.m. (EST)

Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean is another excellent read.

Alicia
TRAILSPACE STAFF
715 reviewer rep
3,166 forum posts
December 21, 2010 at 10:55 a.m. (EST)

Wow! I don't usually go for audio books, but that sounds like a good one. I wonder if we can get it in the States.

The price is still crazy and I had to pay an arm and a leg importing it a few years ago. Check your PO Box in about three weeks.

That's really nice of you! Thanks so much, Pathloser.

I'll let you know as soon as it arrives and what I think.

dm1333
3 reviewer rep
170 forum posts
December 24, 2010 at 4:44 a.m. (EST)

Wow!  I can't believe that The Monkey Wrench Gang hasn't made the list yet!  Along with A Walk Through Time and The Thousand Mile Summer that is one of my favorite Edward Abbey works. 

One Man's Wilderness, An Alaskan Odyssey by Sam Keith and Richard Proenneke should also be a must read.

Edit: Some of you may have realized I'm an idiot.  Edward Abbey and Colin Fletcher are not the same person!

Derville
0 reviewer rep
12 forum posts
April 15, 2011 at 3:59 p.m. (EDT)

Though tarnished, The Long Walk is a great read.

whomeworry
102 reviewer rep
2,295 forum posts
April 16, 2011 at 2:47 a.m. (EDT)

No WayDown: Life and Death on K2 – Graham Bowley, 2010, HarperCollins Publishers

Graham provides a griping account of the 2008 debacle on K2 that lead to eleven deaths, and two severely injured.  Eleven teams were on the mountain near the end of the climbing season. Congestion lead to the teams attempting a coordinated effort to attain the summit, but things immediately began to go awry on summit day.  Factors ranging from an overcrowded route, individuals failing to perform assigned duties, climbers lacking the necessary skills, and lots of bad weather make this an eerie variation on the 1996 Everest disaster.  The sequence of events defining this disaster are set in motion by an infamous objective hazard that looms above the The Bottleneck, the crux pitch of the climb.  Chaos swoops down on all teams; Graham captures the drama in a sober, disturbing, retelling of exchanges between climbers over the ensuing days, filling the missing details with thoughtful conjuring of what those no longer with us may have said and thought, during their epic struggles to escape the mountain.  The reader experiences something akin to viewing a train wreck in agonizing slow motion.  One can’t help but muse the host countries granting access to the mountains must be held accountable in part for this and the 1996 Everest tragedies, since maximizing permit revenues was the underlying reason why so many ended up so high in the first place.  This is not a light and happy beach blanket read; it will tug at your soul, and leave you with the visceral feeling of how fleeting mortality can be, and how dreadful an experience this must have been for those on the mountain that August, as life slowly was pried from their persons.

Ed        

GeezerBob
0 reviewer rep
10 forum posts
April 16, 2011 at 8:53 a.m. (EDT)

The Thousand mile summer, the man who walked through time, The Nearby Faraway, "the chapter where Dave Petersen wakes up to find where a puma had sat next to his sleeping bag and watched him is awesome for those of you who hike in lion country". The Complete Walker Vol 1. IMHO is still the best book full "of Colinisms".

speacock
10 reviewer rep
492 forum posts
April 27, 2011 at 11:26 a.m. (EDT)

The Mountaineering Handbook, Craig Connally  ISBN 0-07-143010-5

It is a good companion to Mountaineering:  Freedom of the Hills.

Connally puts a good, reasonable approach to getting ready for and doing any kind of hike.

You will save more than the price of the book just on gear, clothing and time it takes to get ready for a hike.

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