The Armchair Climber – The Power of the Book


My parents' house
My parents’ house

As an English major and daughter of two now retired English professors, I was raised in a house filled with thousands of books. We didn’t just have one copy of a book – we would have triplicate, because, I suppose, you can never have too much of a good thing.

But reading  has always powered my imagination – and imagination is probably behind my  starting  this whole mountain climbing thing in the first place.  Well, to be more precise, it was a 1991 movie called K2 that I saw on TV.  In fact checking for this post, I discovered it was largely panned by the critics, but I still remember the drama of preparation (one of the climbers was a lawyer) and the critical moments on the mountain where one climber had to make the decision to leave his injured companion behind. The husband found the film absolutely appalling.  But for some reason, the adrenalin junkie in me found the battle of man versus the elements completely fascinating.

A good book about the mountains – or any adventure travel – brings you that one step closer to making the summit your own reality. Lots of books have given me that little last push up that extra flight of stairs. Here are some of my favorites and I’d like to know yours – I’m currently perfecting my Kindle reading technique for stair climbing.

The Seven Summits by Frank Wells and Dick Bass. This may be where it truly started. A work colleague of mine lent me this book back  in the 1990s, and, true confessions, I never returned it. It’s the tale of the original two who climbed the seven summits in one year, 1983, the year I graduated from university. Easy reading and puts the mountains within reach.

Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer. The story of George Mallory’s fateful trip to Everest, starting with his days climbing church steeples. The mystery remains – did he or did he not summit?

Mark Horrell’s travel diaries – these are available  very inexpensively in Ebook format. He seems to have climbed everything and his very detailed accounts of mountains ranging from Cotopaxi to Elbrus are quite reassuring to a novice climber.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. Need I say more.

And, to finish up, The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. Ok, it’s not about summits but it is about swamps., Possibly the most beautiful prose ever written about the adventure of hiking through the wild Florida of the Fakahatchee swamp and the search for rare orchids. Inspirational for swamp dwellers who want to see more than the concrete of Florida development.