As climbers, sometimes it can be difficult to describe why we keep pushing, keep going back to try harder routes, more technical climbs, trickier mountains. There’s a balance, between challenge and triumph that, no matter if your tastes are more toward bouldering in the Peak District, or ice-climbing on some lonely Alp, we understand better than anyone. Now imagine what it feels like for Alan Hinkes.
8000metres. There are only 14 in the world, and the membership requirements to join the club of climbers who’ve conquered all of them are, to put it mildly, daunting. But in 2005, Alan Hinkes became the first Briton to join that club, and in his first book, he tells the story of his life in the Himalaya, the struggles, successes and impossibilities he overcame.
The roll-call of the peaks can’t help but be inspiring. K2, Annapurna, Cho Oyo, Nanga Parbat, Makalu, Kanchenjunga and, of course, Everest. These are the mountains that lodge in our imaginations and lead, if we’re lucky, to our own expeditions and stepping out on Himalayan snow. For most of us, we’ll have to stick to fantasy.
Hinkes’ book deals with the reality. With each chapter, he writes of a new summit, and adds little vignettes of his climbing companions, base-camp communities and favourite memories. But Hinkes doesn’t shy away from the hardships of his expeditions. Every gasped breath, brush with the Death Zone, hypoxia, frostbite and exhaustion is included. Not to mention the conditions of the mountains themselves - stories of avalanches are followed by snowstorms, freezing temperatures and scathing winds – all the brutal danger of high-altitude climbing.
The book itself is hardback and coffee-table ready. And you’ll be glad of its size when you open it and find page after page of the best high-mountain photography. Taking a decent picture at high-altitude is notoriously difficult, given the dangers of the environment on both fingers and camera. But Hinkes has collected together his most outstanding shots which capture the true nature of the 8000ers.
To climb all the 8000ers is an achievement that defies comprehension and abuses hyperbole. But the fact remains that it’s an achievement that needs to be admired, and be allowed to inspire. Hinkes’ book brings the beauty and savagery of the world’s highest peaks into vivid relief, you’ll pour over its unflinching accounts and jaw-dropping pictures, and dare to dream that little bit higher.