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SA Mountain Editorial – Issue 68
The Value of Mountain Literature
There was a time in my life, many years in fact, where I devoured any and all climbing and mountain literature. My appetite for mountaineering books and stories – adventure, sensation and history – was insatiable. In fact, I read very little else.
After school, I would spend hours down at the old Wynberg library choosing my selection of books. Classics like The Great Days by Walter Bonatti, Naked Before the Mountain by Pierre Mazeaud, Bonington’s I Chose to Climb, the seminal book on the Eiger, The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer, and countless others by so many great and prolific climbers. Some I’ve read over and over again. Great stories like the tragedy on the Central Pillar of Fresnay, that epic tale of Hinterstoisser and his comrades on their fatal attempt to be the first to climb the north wall of the Eiger and the dramatic ending to Toni Kurz . . . hanging helplessly from the end of a frozen rope. So close to rescue, but in the end succumbing to exhaustion and the harsh elements. And numerous other stories which kept me engrossed for hour upon thrilling hour.
These stories had a huge impact on me as a young boy growing up and finding my feet in the great and exciting world of climbing. I would imagine myself climbing with these great heroes. Being in those death-defying situations on those mountains. In fierce storms, in sub-zero conditions, on big faces of steep black rock, cracks choked with ice, crossing glaciers, experiencing life on those elusive snowy peaks, and huddled in those rickety alpine rifugios, making those brutal alpine starts at 3 am . . . it goes on. It was a wonderful world of wild fantasy and adventure, which I got straight out of the pages of those incredible and sensational books – way better than any fictional adventure story like the Hardy Boys or indeed Harry Potter (although those were not around during my childhood). And of course, they are all true stories.
I’ve also read many other books on rock climbing, Alpine and Himalayan mountaineering, famous climbing autobiographies and the like throughout my growing years and indeed as an adult, but over the last decade or so, I have read relatively very little mountain literature and concentrated more on crime novels, etc. Then this last Christmas, my step daughter, Alice, bought me a mountain book – The Ogre by Doug Scott. I knew well the story of Scott and his illustrious comrades, making the first ascent of this Himalayan Peak in 1977, and more notably, their monumentally epic descent. I had read about it in other mountaineering books many years ago, but this was the first time that Doug Scott had dedicated a book solely to this story, and what made it even more special, and unbeknown to Alice, is that I had had the great honour of climbing with Doug here on Table Mountain and in the Cederberg about 10 years ago.
So it was an emotional moment for me as I picked up this legendary and historical piece of mountain literature, the first in many years, and opened it up to page one. Within moments I felt like that little boy again, sitting in Wynberg library, with my nose buried amongst those pages of heroic and courageous mountain men and imagining myself up there with them in that fantastical world of snow and rock.
Oh, and if you want to find out how this epic tale ends, go out and buy the book! It is one of mountaineering’s greatest stories.
Be safe in the hills
LHOTSE – 8,516 METRES: THIRD TIME LUCKY
by LOUIS CARSTENS
CLASSIC CLIMB: KLEIN WINTERHOEK FRONTAL
by BRENT RUSSELL
THE SNOW PUSSY: AN ASCENT OF PEAK LENIN
by MATTHEW HOLT
by ANT HALL
BACK PAGE STORY: THE MARSHMALLOW TEST
by TERENCE LIVINGSTONE