You’ve hit the trail a few times before, maybe you’ve gone camping with your buddies once or twice, and now you can’t stop thinking about the mountains. You’re starting to visit the local climbing gym more frequently than the “gym” gym. And the planet’s tallest peaks are starting to appear in your dreams.
Guess what? You’re becoming a mountaineer!
Some of the world’s greatest and most challenging adventures now await you if you’re brave enough to go seek them out, but do not underestimate the power of the mountains. Of course, you want to have epic experiences and crazy stories, and you will, but the most important thing is coming home to share them.
Mental and physical preparation is everything. Hands-on training, from an experienced friend, mentor, or guide is the best practice you can get, but that’s not always available. When it’s not, here are the books you should turn to.
The six must-reads for anyone preparing to up their mountain climbing game –
Freedom of the Hills by The Mountaineers
This book is going to be your bible. It’s huge. It’s heavy. It’s a textbook really, so prepare to go back to school. And it’s the most essential 561 pages any climber can have on their bookshelf. I recommend getting the paperback version too. E-readers are nice, but for this puppy, physical pages to flip, write on, highlight, dog-ear, and reference time and time again, are important.
Freedom of the Hills, in its 9th edition, has for over 50 years been considered the standard manual for climbing and mountaineering. There’s a reason for that. I don’t think a more comprehensive single compendium of technical climbing knowledge exists. If you really give this book the meticulous attention it deserves, you’ll learn everything from knot basics to crevasse rescue techniques, how to dig a snow cave, set complex anchors, the philosophical principles of leave-no-trace, and much more.
Snow Sense: A Guide to Evaluating Snow Avalanche Hazard by Doug Fesler and Jill A. Fredston
In just over 100 quick pages, Snow Sense provides an unbelievably succinct educational foundation in snow safety. Whether you’re chasing the steep and deep powder turns of Colorado’s backcountry faces on your ski touring or splitboard gear, or you are simply planning to trek up and down some giant snow faces and glaciers in the Pacific Northwest, Snow Sense provides an amazing slap in the face of avalanche terrain knowledge.
Learn how to evaluate the snowpack, slope, weather, and human-factors that trigger avalanche accidents. A must read if you plan to make the mountains your playground!
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Jon Krakauer’s 1996 classic retelling of one of the deadliest climbing seasons on Everest and arguably the world’s most famous mountaineering disaster.
Into Thin Air reads like a warm knife through a stick of butter. Quick, easy, and delicious. Jon was actually on the mountain for an Outside Magazine assignment when eight climbers were killed and another eight were stranded, fighting for their lives, and he provides one of the most compelling first-person accounts of any story of survival and tragedy I’ve ever read.
If you saw the recent film Everest, do yourself a favor and read this book. You’ll not only gain a more complete understanding of the events that took place on the mountain during those dark days, but you’ll learn an important lesson about knowing when it’s time to turn back.
Minus 148: First Winter Ascent of Mt. McKinley by Art Davidson
Getting ready to head into harsh conditions? Think you’re prepared for the worst? Think again.
This dramatic story of the first successful winter ascent of Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) serves as an incredible warning tale for aspiring mountaineers. Put ambition, recklessness, willpower, fortitude, and bone-chilling, heart-pumping adrenaline into a blender, and you’ve got yourself the mind-blowing cocktail that is Art Davidson’s Minus 148.
Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete by Scott Johnston and Steve House
Just as important as learning about rope work and evaluating snowpack, is learning how your body functions in the alpine and how to train for optimal performance in the mountains.
For both weekend warriors and world-class alpinists, there is a training plan in here for anyone with any mountaineering goal. This book bridges the physiological science with the adventure anecdotes that make complex training concepts accessible for most everybody.
If you’re one that gets obsessive about taking your passions to the next level, and pushing yourself as high as you can go, this is one read that will definitely help spark that exponential growth you crave!
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
One of my personal favorites, Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums is a beautiful journey for the mind and soul. Anyone who feels drawn to the mountains, the open country, or the more unconventional roads in life in general, should both lose and find themselves in this book.
My first copy of The Dharma Bums was worn out while hitch-hiking around New Zealand’s South Island before I passed it on. My second and current copy is totally water-logged from a journey in North America’s Pacific Northwest. The words on these pages were incredibly influential to me as a 20-year old searching for passion and purpose half a world away, and I’ve returned to them often since.
The technical knowledge, both of mountaineering equipment and techniques, and of the way your body works in the alpine, is important, but equally so is learning freedom of the mind. To open yourself and to soak in all that the great outdoors has to offer. The Dharma Bums helped shift that mindset for me.
When you’re packing for a trip into the mountains, you need to find the right balance of weight, space, and functionality. A 600-page textbook is not going to make it into your pack. But these playing cards will!
Both a time-passing savior on stormy tent-bound days, and also potentially a life-saver when you need a quick reference for the symptoms of HAPE or a diagram on tying a proper clover-hitch. 52 amazingly helpful climbing how-to’s, straight from the world’s most renowned mountaineering textbook, in one endlessly entertaining backcountry item.