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The new coffee table book '8000 Metres - Climbing the world's highest mountains' by Alan Hinkes is a visually stunning record of Hinkes' quest to climb all fourteen 8000m peaks. He is currently the only British climber to have completed this remarkable achievement.
The book itself is 192 pages, full colour and stuffed full of photographs. Some tell a story, some are just classic stunning shots of the world's highest mountains.
The style of the book is very much no-nonsense. It is an account of the adventures Hinkes has had on these peaks, but is in no way overly filled with superlatives, which gives the book a very down to earth feel, rare in the modern world of blogs and facebook posts. The photography is also very down to earth. Of course there are some amazing shots in the book, but they also have a feel of reality to them - not photoshopped, some of them not pin sharp, but they convey the beauty of the Himalayas and they accompany Hinkes' stories perfectly.
Many of the photographs are over 20 years old, and these images fit with a slightly dated feel to the book. Not only have mountaineering challenges moved on, with the cutting edge of climbing now embracing 'fast and light', oxygen free ascents, but photography seems to have moved on, both in technical equipment and of course in style. I enjoyed the photographs, and the stories, and both of these aspects left me feeling like 'I could do that' as opposed to reading about Ueli Steck's recent solo on Annapurna. I couldn't and wouldn't want to do that!
The book reads very autobiographically, with Hinkes taking the lead part in most of the stories. The adventures within the pages of this book are about Alan, and how he reacted to, survived and of course summitted all of these giant peaks. As I was reading the book I waited for more reflections from other climbers, or for more descriptive writing of the people and places that Hinkes met and visited, and of course these things are described, but generally with Hinkes himself playing the part of primary focus. However, in between the chapters on the 14 peaks there are some smaller features, a few of which focus on other climbers that Hinkes' has met, and these offer interesting mini-biographies on several climbers that Hinkes feels are important, or that have influenced him in some way.
Of course over the years there has been some controversy over whether Alan reached the summit of Cho Oyu in 1990, as the summit plateau was shrouded in mist, but in Alan's book he doesn't mince his words when describing his ascent, and states: "I spent at least an hour and a half covering every inch of ground on the summit plateau until, in the end, I was absolutely certain that I could not get any higher. There was no more uphill. I was on the highest point at 8201m."
Reading Alan's detailed and almost military-like descriptions of all his ascents, including Cho Oyu, you get the impression that this is a man who puts his money where his mouth is, and if he thought he hadn't made the summit, then he'd be the first one to book flights, arrange a trip and have another crack at what is the easiest of the 14 8000m peaks.
An interesting and factual look at the climbing career of Alan Hinkes through his own eyes. Some amazing photographs, clear and concise accounts and additional writing on other climbers add to the charm of this book that spans 14 major ascents over several decades. A fitting autobiographical book to one of Britain's most accomplished Himalayan climbers.
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