I can't believe nobody's commented on this yet. It's a good extract with some great photographs. Overall the book tells a story which was just aching to be written. And the author is almost certainly the best person to have written it. If you're going to read just one climbing book this year - this is it!
Brian Hall unflinchingly addresses one of the oldest dilemmas in mountaineering - is it worth it? And there's no easy answer. Above all, High Risk is a paean to friendship.
When you're young, it's all about the routes. And that's understandable. In time you realise that it was about far more. But by then you may have paid a high price.
I'm halfway through it. The history and personalities are very interesting. The accounts of drunkenness and associated poor behaviour less so, but I suppose for better or worse they are an accurate reflection of the times.
From your age, you must have been around then - or shortly afterwards. I agree, there was some poor behaviour. One person in particular, of those featured, could be very aggressive when drunk. He probably felt remorse afterwards.
They were... interesting times.
I spent many hours over a few days talking with John Whittle at Vinson BC one season in the mid-00s. A wonderful bloke, great company and loads of good stories.
Also... "We described our attempt and claimed the first ascent of Standhardt, but we knew full well we had not finished the job and had failed to reach the summit."
Less than 10 metres? I find that interesting, and encouraging, given the work I've been involved in recently
I’m also about halfway through this book. Finding it fascinating and really well written.
The party lifestyle described is really important to include I think, not just an accurate description of the times (although I’m too young to really know) but it maybe gives some indication of where the risk-taking mindest came from.
> ......I agree, there was some poor behaviour. One person in particular, of those featured, could be very aggressive....
I've bumped into 4 or 5 of the greats in Llanberis or club huts and they were unpleasant
There was a huge exception though. Joe Brown. Me and another approached him in his shop once with questions about a VS in the Pass we had done. He couldn't have been nicer or more patient, smiling and giving us time. Impressed
Yes, Joe had an extraordinary natural charm and easy manner. Very, very bright in every sense of the word. The times I spoke to him he was just as you say.
Two things I'll say in their defence: often they were very driven people, with scant time for social niceties. And obviously all of us can have off-days.
But those two caveats aside, to me the true measure of a person is when you finally get to meet them. (And yes, I know they say don't meet your heroes!)
Sadly I never met Joe Brown but he seems to have been really lovely with people. A true gentleman.
I can remember bumping into John Syrett and being convulsed with embarrassment. But he was lovely too. Will always remember the kindness in his eyes.
> Two things I'll say in their defence: often they were very driven people, with scant time for social niceties. And obviously all of us can have off-days.
> But those two caveats aside, to me the true measure of a person is when you finally get to meet them......
You are right, Mick. And my comment about meeting well-known people was unfair for another reason: although a different league, several famous people e.g. John Lennon, the other Beatles and Elvis all wrote or said that meeting fans or the public could be very scary. And even dangerous. I am sure they were right
I know or knew most people mentioned in the book and when Brian told me he was writing it I thought it at best weird, writing about dead people, but for me it’s been a revelation and a window into a long gone era. Back then the world was a vastly different place with a far different moral compass. Top climbers of the era tended to be anarchistic in outlook and deed and the outrageous parties and behaviour were a totally integral part of mountaineering and climbing. Put downs of each other and not just strangers were a normal part of social interaction and often onlookers must have thought arguments were very close to violence, when in fact nothing was further from the truth. Taken out of context I can well understand someone feeling belittled by a put down. The only time I witnessed a cruel remark was in the Vic at Llanberis one night when a young lad approached one of the country’s leading lights and said he’d seen us do a repeat of one of the harder routes in the Pass that day and what was it like. “Who the bleep are you” was the reply which was out totally of order and character and I told him so. I also remember Joe Brown instigating an escalating argument with me one well oiled night in the pub about climbing grades and when we both realised the absurdity of the argument we burst out laughing. However the best put down I heard was when Hempleman Adams, who at the time had made all sorts of climbing claims, started talking to Al Rouse about climbing. Afterwards Al said “I knew he was a fake, as he’d never heard of me” Classic Rouse.
I've long felt that this was a book that just had to be written - kind of the literary equivalent of a stunning line and a last great problem. And Brian Hall was almost certainly the best person to write it.
The problem is though that once you start writing about old mates (particularly deceased ones), all manner of emotional stuff gets churned up. And it can very quickly get very painful.
So to persist for three years at such a challenging project, especially when it's your first book, well, that really is something else. And it's not as though he just wrote about a few people; he captured an entire era.
We are all in his debt.
"Our friends from Bangor, Dave Robinson and James Boulton, who had made such a remarkable ascent of the Droites the previous winter, had just succeeded on the equally demanding North Face of the Matterhorn. Tragically they fell to their deaths on the descent."
As far as I'm aware, only Dave Robinson tragically died on the descent. James Boulton descended safely.
I doubt there's more than one James Boulton who was an accomplished Alpinist in his day. The one I know is very much alive and well, though by humility and good grace he rarely makes reference to that phase of his life.
"I doubt there's more than one James Boulton who was an accomplished Alpinist in his day. The one I know is very much alive and well, though by humility and good grace he rarely makes reference to that phase of his life."
It was a terrible accident and must must have upset James for years.