It's cold and dark outside - and this year it may be cold and dark in your house too - so what better time to wrap up snug in all your best mountain clothing, pull your armchair nearer to the flickering comfort of your one candle, and forget the world for a while with a good book? From attention-grabbing climbing, scrambling and walking guides to action-packed memoirs, and even some poetry, 2022 has seen a crop of inspiring new titles. Whether you're present buying for someone else, or writing your own list to Santa, here's our pick of the best new books published in the last year.
by Charlie Boscoe and Luke Davies (Rockfax)
Chamonix, one of the ultimate climbing playgrounds in the world, with everything from classic multi-day mountaineering routes to sport climbing high above glaciers through to valley cragging in alpine pastures. More than a lifetime's worth of climbing; but where to start?
The new edition of the Rockfax Chamonix guidebook covers all of the above and more across the full grade range. Readers can expect full photo topos of the routes with complete up to date descriptions. It's unusual to find a single guidebook which covers many of the climbing disciplines, making it an ideal one-volume companion for a trip to the Mont Blanc Massif.
The latest edition by Luke Davies and Charlie Boscoe has improved upon the original 2016 edition with an almost completely new set of action photos, updated route descriptions along with an extra 50 pages of new routes and entirely new sectors.
Whether you're planning your own trip to the Chamonix valley, or you know someone else who could do with some high alpine inspiration, Rockfax Chamonix 2022 would make a great Christmas gift.
Read our full review here:
Scottish Wild Country Backpacking
by Peter Edwards, David Lintern and Stefan Durkacz (Cicerone)
With its rugged yet attainable mountains, and just the right amount of inconvenience and wildness, Scotland could have been tailor made for backpackers. From purpose-built long distance trails to any number of DIY possibilities, you could spend weeks at a time wandering the hills. This new picture-heavy coffee table-sized guide instead focuses on smaller big walks, cramming heady doses of scenery and adventure into achievable weekend hits. As a parent with a full time job, and no realistic chance of escaping for two weeks on the Cape Wrath Trail any time soon, this is exactly my kind of backpacking!
The 30 cherry picked routes span the highlands and islands, and if the selection is light on the southern and central highlands, and conspicuously thin in the Cairngorms (what no Ben Macdui, no Mounth hills?), there's no question that the book's three co-authors would have had a hard time narrowing down from an almost endless field of possibilities. While a best-of book without the likes of the Trotternish Ridge or Seana Bhraigh does make me raise an eyebrow or two, the routes they did pick all look brilliant.
This is very much backpacking for hillwalkers, with the walks in large part anchored around summits and ridges. Taking you into some of the most scenic and out-there locations in the country, Scottish Wild Country Backpacking lives up to its title, and solid hill skills are very much a prerequisite. But in one key respect the ethos is more accessible than macho, so while terrain and cumulative ascent may be challenging, the daily distances suggested here are if anything unambitious. As a perfectly average walker I've done (and written about) several of the routes detailed here - or close approximations thereof - in long single days, rather than with a tent over two or three days. There's more than one way to skin a rabbit, and in terms of ultimate satisfaction there is a lot to be said for the unhurried approach with a night or two out in space and solitude.
With its informative and entertaining text, and evocative photography, this fantastic book successfully captures the very special essence of the Scottish landscape, and the great rewards of backpacking here. Buy it; you'll thank me (and Peter, David and Stefan).
In this article we asked the authors to pick some of their favourite routes from the book:
Scottish Rock Climbs
I may be biased, but for me the quantity, quality and sheer diversity of rock climbing north of the border is hard to beat. At last there's a guidebook that comes close - in a single volume, too - to doing it justice.
A lot has changed since the SMC's previous selective nationwide rock guide came out in 2005, in terms of new routes climbed, new venues coming into vogue, and of course leaps in the standard of guidebook production. Building on the clean design aesthetic set by other recent books from the Scottish Mountaineering Press, and using the clear, modern layouts of other Wired guides, 2022's Scottish Rock Climbs is not only the most up-to-date guidebook to climbing north of the border, it's also far and away the best-looking and most user-friendly.
Spanning the grade range, with plenty I'm pleased to say for lower-to-middle grade climbers as well as those operating higher up the scale, there's tons for everyone among the book's whopping 1760 trad and sport routes. Destinations are equally wide-ranging, and though the dearth of Central Belt entries does irk this ex-Fifer, you're absolutely spoilt for choice elsewhere.
Whether you already own a library of Scottish climbing guides, or you're a visitor planning to cherry pick the best of the best, this attractive and action-packed breeze block of a guide will give you hundreds of pages of fresh inspiration.
Read our full review here:
On Sacred Ground
by Andrew Terrill (Enchanted Rock Press)
The indie outdoor publishing breakout hit of the last couple of years, Andrew Terrill's two-volume account of an epic 7000-mile solo backpacking adventure from the south tip of Italy to the North Cape of Norway combines compelling and relatable storytelling with a deceptively unadorned prose style. Of the great many pieces of pieces of work about walking that I've read, this is one of the most enjoyable, and all the more effective for its unaffected, natural tone.
One of my recommended Christmas books for 2021, part one, The Earth Beneath My Feet, took us up the length of the Appenines and into the wintry Alps. The second volume, published this year, continues the odyssey through the snowbound forests of Central Europe before the long, gruelling, but immensely rewarding journey among the wild fjells of Norway. It's a thoroughly engrossing read about an impressive and life-changing journey.
Read our full review here:
Highland Scrambles North
by Iain Thow (Scottish Mountaineering Press)
Here's yet another Scottish suggestion, something for which I make absolutely no apologies. The latest scrambling guide from the Scottish Mountaineering Press, Highland Scrambles North is a worthy counterpart to other recent titles from this publisher such as Scottish Rock Climbs, and last year's brilliant re-imagined Munros guide.
Covering a huge area of wild and rocky mountains including gnarly Knoydart, the windswept Western Isles, and, of course, the peerless Torridon area, this brilliant book has more than enough to keep everyone busy, with a mix of both easier routes that will appeal to adventurous hillwalkers and more challenging fare suited to climbers and mountaineers looking for big hands-on days in the hills.
Adorning the front cover, the gorgeous photo-real painting by Christopher Smith-Duque is your cue to expect something a little different and notably more design-oriented than your average hill guide. Within, atmospheric action shots do a lot to convey the essence of each pictured route, while the useful photo topos and sensibly concise text descriptions help make this a really user friendly book. In terms of presentation it's a very definite step up from previous area scrambling guides, and I'm keenly anticipating the eventual release of other titles in the series.
For our full review, see here:
Scottish Winter Climbs West
by Neil Adams (Scottish Mountaineering Press)
This is getting silly. How many inspiring new north-of-the-wall guides can one person write about in a single year? Even the keenest Scotophile could be forgiven a touch of embarrassment, but then we do have the best backpacking, the best scrambling, the greatest crags, and the overwhelming balance of the worthwhile winter climbing. It's the cold and scary time of year that we turn to now.
For the Scottish Mountaineering Press, 2022 has turned out to be a bumper year in both quantity and quality of output, and with their all-new guide to winter climbs in west and southwest Scotland they've done it again (I could also have mentioned their late entry, the new Grahams guide, but lines do have to be drawn somewhere).
Spanning all things westerly, from the under-sung mountain crags of Galloway (seen here in unprecedented clarity and detail) to the largely quiet but increasingly plentiful winter climbing of Glen Sheil, via the obvious hotspots of Lochaber, Glen Coe, and the Southern Highlands, this is a book packed with variety and brimming with inspiration.
The likes of The Ben were already well documented, and this selective guide gives you a lot less to go at than the existing comprehensive area coverage of such popular venues. Where Winter Climbs West arguably excels is in its portrayal of the many fantastic-looking lesser known crags tucked away in less-trodden corners - some given clear colour topo treatment for the first time.
The Ardgour, Glenfinnan and Knoydart section alone should entice a few keen teams to venture beyond the crowds. As a fan of good old fashioned mountaineering I'm also pleased to see lower grade routes getting their due, be that a popular classic like the Ring of Steall, an obscure gem hidden in plain sight such as Beinn Ime's Northeast Ridge, or a blue moon desert island dream like the Rum Cuillin traverse. Eventually this guide will be followed by the other two titles in the series, East and North - and on the strength of Scottish Winter Climbs West it will be worth the wait.
by Brian Hall (Sandstone Press)
'There's a lot of death in this book,' is one way to sum up High Risk by pioneering British mountaineer Brian Hall, who climbed with some of the leading alpinists and mountaineers of his generation in the 1970s and '80s. But there's also a lot of life.
Brian remembers eleven friends and climbing partners whom he outlived. Some died in the mountains, others through illness or by their own hand. Following the backstories, ascents and high-octane life events of Alex McIntyre, Al Rouse, Pete Thexton, John Syrrett, John Whittle, Paul Nunn, Roger Baxter-Jones and Joe Tasker among others, the author paints a colourful picture of the golden age of mountaineering, but one told with the intimacy and respect of a close friend at the heart of the action.
The accounts are eye-wateringly honest and funny in places, even if it's hard to get over the fact that the person you're reading about and warming to will die just a few pages later.
A very worthy joint winner of the 2022 Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature, which attempts to answer those enduring questions: Why do we climb, and is it worth the risk? And perhaps most crucially: what's in it for those left behind?
A Line Above the Sky: On Mountains and Motherhood
by Helen Mort (Ebury Press)
This is a stunningly brave and important memoir from award-winning poet, climber, runner and author Helen Mort. Weaving her own experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood with the inspirational life and tragic death of Alison Hargreaves - the British mountaineer who soloed the Eiger North Face while six months pregnant and died on K2 in 1995 - Helen writes about the tensions in the mother/woman duality.
Through books, articles and documentaries, she studies the relationship that Alison had with her son Tom - who followed in Alison's hallowed mountaineering footsteps before his death on Nanga Parbat in 2019 - and adventurous daughter Kate, as she becomes a mother for the first time.
As Alison Hargreaves experienced through the criticism she received following her major ascents, mothers who dare to take risks are often judged harshly by society and the media, while fathers go largely unquestioned. In A Line Above the Sky, Helen writes a poetic, raw and introspective exploration of gendered expectations of risk-taking in climbing, motherhood and balancing your own ambitions with responsibility for children and others.
A joint-winner of the 2022 Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature, and one of few mountaineering books to focus on the embodied experience of pregnant climbers and motherhood in the mountains.
by Faye Latham (Little Peak Press)
A beautiful and unique work of erasure poetry using Frank Smythe's 1942 book British Mountaineers as a canvas for tippexing, stitching and ripping a new narrative from the words that described a bygone male-dominated, imperialist era. Erasure poetry is quite literally the process of erasing, covering or otherwise obscuring selected words from an existing text to create a new poem from the ones left untouched.
In what is Faye's debut poetry book, her creativity with words and eye for detail combine to produce something that is truly a work of art, and a subversive, groundbreaking one at that - there's really nothing else quite like it in the world of climbing literature. It's a lyrical, visual delight.
The book also includes an enlightening foreword by Anna Fleming, author of Time on Rock, who perfectly sets up the context of the original publication and describes the significance of Faye's re-imagining of the text as a female climber in the 21st Century. A beautiful gift or stocking filler for poets, artists and mountain-lovers alike.
Mont Blanc Lines
by Alex Buisse (Vertebrate)
Notwithstanding the inclusion of the Eiger and the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc Lines does exactly what it says on the cover. French photographer Alex Buisse has done an amazing job of shooting all of the great faces of the Mont Blanc Massif. With painstaking detail he has then traced the exact line of all the routes on each particular face - no mean feat when you consider that some of the more obscure routes may not have seen a second ascent. A labour of love for sure (as they'd say in Chamonix). While the book is very inspirational, it is equally useful as a planning tool. In my experience time spent geeking out over where your chosen route goes (and the ones nearby it) is never wasted.
There is more to the book than just sumptuous photo topos. Buisse has provided a summary of each face's history and a climber's story, more often than not a tale of derring-do from a Euro-wad. I particularly enjoyed Dani Arnold's account of the North Face of the Matterhorn, and Philippe Batoux on the Aiguille Verte's North Face.
As well as the topos (my favourite being a sumptuous double spread of the Grandes Jorasses North Face), Mont Blanc Lines is jam packed full of stunning action photographs, many of which have not been published elsewhere. For me the most inspirational were the shots of Christophe Dumarest on Point Marguerite - which looks similar to a thin face route on Ben Nevis, but in nicer weather - and the awesome capture of Dylan Taylor arête climbing on the Grands Montets Ridge. Both routes are now much higher up my wish list.
Mont Blanc Lines is super inspirational, and has a place on every alpinist's bookcase. Word on the street is that Alex is planning a similar volume for North American rock climbs, so I look forward to reading that in the fullness of time. If he needs a hand checking the routes, can someone please give him my number?
Running Adventures in Scotland
by Ross Brannigan (Vertebrate Publishing)
Yet more fun from north of the border. I love Scotland, but unfortunately I'm based many, many miles away. As such, I'm often found longing after it and thinking up ideas of where to go when I can. Running Adventures Scotland gives me 25 reasons to return, with an eclectic mix of routes that'll be of interest not just to runners, but also adventurous walkers.
The book itself covers a wide geographical spread, including some stand-out 'A-List' peaks in and amongst lesser known obscurities. There's a similarly wide variety in terms of distance too, with single day runs ranging from 10-29k and multi-day routes from 63-153k. Each route is complimented with a fantastic amount of information and a suitably inspiring array of action shots.
We Can't Run Away From This
by Damian Hall (Vertebrate Publishing)
I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I care about the environment, and wish to do something to help mitigate the climate and ecological crisis we're in, but find the enormity of the issue pretty overwhelming. It's a paralysing state of affairs made even more so by the fact that all hill runners are conflicted - and complicit - and as a result it's hard to know where to begin.
In We Can't Run Away From This Damian Hall tries to address this issue, breaking the subject down into the key areas in which we consume, including kit, food and travel. Damian blends lighthearted humour with hard hitting facts and figures, which makes for a good combination given that the subject matter is - let's face it - a little bleak. It feels like there are workable action points within each section, and a lot of information, but it's all presented in a way which isn't too mind-blowing (which, given the subject matter, is quite an achievement).
As a result of this it's been an empowering book to read and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject. It'd be great to see something similar done for climbing!
by Dave Parry (Vertebrate Publishing)
There are fewer more delightful (and frustrating) mediums to boulder on than Gritstone. The variety of problems it presents is remarkable, with everything from slabs to roofs and aretes to corners, and the fact its texture varies from crag to crag, area to area further adds to its enduring appeal.
Grit Blocs seeks to celebrate this richness by shining a light on 100 of its finest problems. It's an impossible task, and the futility of it is very much acknowledged by author Dave Parry. However, what I like is that amongst some of the problems I'd expected to see included there are a whole host of others I hadn't. This doesn't just extend to problems either, but crags too, with various places that are now very firmly on my hitlist as a result of this book being published.
As well as a long list of exceptional boulder problems (or 'blocs' if you're beneath a certain age) you get a similarly exceptional collection of action and landscape photography alongside them.
Closer to the Edge
by Leo Houlding (Headline Publishing Group)
It feels like Leo has been around for years, which - to be fair - he has. That's not because he's old, but because he started so young. In fact, if there's one thing that hits you throughout Closer to the Edge it's simply how much he's done and how varied it's been, because he really has accomplished an unfathomable amount.
Leo's talent, drive and flare was apparent from a young age and even if he was starting again today his bold ascents would still be newsworthy (Master's Wall onsight, anyone?!). The fact he then propelled himself onto the Big Walls of El Capitan, and did so with an onsight, ground-up approach, just goes to show how world class he was whilst he was still barely a teenager - it's bonkers!
I won't spoil any of the stories within, but will say that Leo's honesty in the book is an absolute blessing. Don't expect something that's sanitised - he certainly tells you how it was.