So that was 2016, and it's been a crazy ride. But despite the lunacy life goes on, and books continue to be published as if the world weren't, after all, about to end. From impressive new guides to works of literature, the last few months have seen a bumper crop of great reads. We've picked our favourites: Stick them on your Christmas list, settle down by the fire... and come up for air in 2017!
Dan Bailey - UKH Editor and Gear Editor
Chasing the Ephemeral by Simon Richardson (Mica Publishing) £25
A stunning book, and clearly a labour of love (and of many years) by Scottish winter new route guru Simon Richardson.
In essence it's a cherry picked guide to some of the best adventures to be found on the ice and rime-encrusted mountain cliffs of Scotland. That would be recommendation enough, but it's the way these routes are presented that really sets this book apart. Climbs are grouped not by area, but according to the conditions under which they are at their best - so you get a handy selection of choices across the country for each stage of the winter: early season; cold snaps; lean times; top nick and late season.
The many evocative photos capture the full majesty and misery of the Scottish winter experience; the advice on tactics and conditions is invaluable for squeezing the most from your season; and the grade range from III to VII sensibly captures the keen middle grader - the bulk of the potential audience. Far more than a guidebook in the usual sense, this looks set to follow Martin Moran's seminal Scotland's Winter Mountains into classic status.
The Pennine Way: the Path, the People, the Journey by Andrew McCloy (Cicerone) £12.95
Part a history and a natural history of Britian's oldest and most famous official long distance trail, part a first-person travelogue built around the experience of walking it, this is really rather a departure from guidebook publiser Cicerone's usual step-by-step trail guides.
Author Andrew McCloy is also a journalist, and it shows in the self deprecating humour, the easy flow between the factual and the narrative, and in the interview-like way he brings in the voices of a diverse cast of people with a stake in the trail, from rangers and conservationists to seasoned long distance walkers.
- We published an extract from the book in October - see here
Chamonix by Charlie Boscoe and Jack Geldard (Rockfax) £34.95
OK, it's published by our sister company - but I feel justified in making some noise about this brilliant book. Without doubt the most informative and best looking English language guidebook ever produced to Europe's finest mountain destination, the new Rockfax guide to Chamonix brings a whole new level of clarity to the Mont Blanc massif. It's the variety of the area that sets it apart, from immaculate mountain granite to daunting north faces, world class ridge traverses to quality summit snow plods; and when the high peaks are hit by bad weather, the valley sport climbing is not half bad either. With hundreds of routes across the full range of disciplines and grades, Rockfax have brought all these different facets together in the one volume for the first time ever. It's an ambitious project, and a testament to the passion and hard work of the authors that they've pulled it off so well. The big photo topos are as inspiring as they are informative, maps are clear and detailed, and the action shots make you want to go tomorrow.
- See the full review here
Rob Greenwood - Advertising Manager
Nowt but a Fleein' Thing: a history of climbing on Scafell (FRCC) £35
Nowt but a Fleein' Thing is reminiscent of the now legendary Peak Rock book, or SMT's superb Ben Nevis & Cairngorms historical guides, only it's much, much larger, featuring a whopping 297 x 297mm page size.
Within its 397 pages this coffee table tome goes through not only the history of rock climbing on the crag, but the winter climbing too. Ordinarily this would be enough to fill a book in its own right, but the Fell and Rock have really gone to town with further information on the geology of the mountain, profiles of the crag's pioneers, details of the climate and conditions of the crag, nomenclature, and finally a selection of crag diagrams - both for summer and winter - that are almost as large as the crag themselves.
If you're looking for an excuse to spend more time in the Lakes next year, or want a greater understanding of the rich tapestry of one of Britain's most historic and important cliffs, then look no further.
Lancashire Rock (BMC) £28
I've put this on my Christmas list because it is a guide full of surprises: crags you've never heard of, places you've never seen, or quarries you've meant to visit but never got round to.
Whilst it is significantly smaller than its precessor - which was so large it became affectionately known as 'The Brick' - the new edition of Lancashire Rock packs a punch, with 3200 routes compared to The Brick's 2950. In fact, a large number of the crags within the guide have never even had a colour topo before, let alone a series of action shots, so this is a publication that quite literally sheds light on the area as a whole.
So if you're stuck for ideas in 2017 and fancy something a little different from Millstone, get yourself down to Wilton, Anglezarke, or Egerton and revel in all its quarried goodness.
- See the full review here
Punk in the Gym by Andy Pollitt (Vertebrate Publishing) £24
Over the past few years I've read a great number of autobiographies from climbers from the 80/90's. Many of these have been very good, but all have shied away from some of the more - shall we say - debauched and hedonistic goings on.
Punk in the Gym is refreshing in this respect, as the author, Andy Pollitt, doesn't hide away from any of that - in fact I could positively say he tackles it head on! It is not only his no holds barred honesty that comes through, but also his openness with other issues in his life, including alcohol and mental health. As such, Punk in the Gym is a lot more than just another climbing book; it's also a story about the life of a rock climbing superstar, and what came after...
- See the full review here
Natalie Berry - UKC Editor
The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd (reprint published by Canongate) £6.99
Not a 2016 title perhaps, but this book has seen somewhat of a revival this year and deservedly so for woman of the hour - and of course, the new face of the Scottish £5 note - Nan Shepherd. One of few female voices in outdoor literature, Nan's timeless classic The Living Mountain remains among the most respected works on nature and landscape.
A eulogy to her beloved Cairngorm mountains, you won't find any talk of conquering peaks nor any sense of ownership of the landscape in Nan's writing. Her stunning descriptions of the surroundings and wildlife render the imagery almost tangible, and you'll be left planning a sojourn up in Scotland.
An unpretentious but affecting love letter written to a stunning mountain wilderness.
No Map Could Show Them by Helen Mort (Chatto & Windus) £9.99
As showcased in our UKC Digital Feature and filmpoem 'Dear Alison', young Chesterfield-based poet Helen Mort's second anthology No Map Could Show Them is a delightful mix of past and present; of modern day urban vignettes and forays in the Derbyshire hills, with a particular focus on unsung heroines of mountains and mountain literature.
Helen's poetry is unpretentious yet deeply insightful, and this latest collection is particularly accessible to a climbing audience, as she journeys from the dizzy heights of the French Alps to the more mellow gritstone edges of the Peak District; the prose brimming with climbing history. Many of the landscapes depicted in Helen's work will be familiar to climbers: Hathersage, Black Rocks, Kinder Scout, Kalymnos and the European Alps, with a special emphasis on the Derbyshire hills which first influenced her writing.
Read our UKC Digital Feature on Helen and our watch our filmpoem 'Dear Alison':
Climbing Days by Dan Richards (Faber & Faber) £16.99
Author Dan Richards is the great-great nephew of Dorothy Pilley and I.A Richards, a preeminent couple in the days of early Victorian mountaineering with many first ascents to their name, most notably the North Ridge of the Dent Blanche in Switzerland. Having diligently recorded their exploits, Dorothy's memoir Climbing Days was first published in 1935.
Following in the hand-and-footholds of his great-great aunt, Dan's latest book Climbing Days - fittingly reviving the title of Dorothy's memoir - traces her adventures with a keen and analytical eye and a heavy dose of humour and self-deprecation to boot. An inexperienced climber, Dan threw himself in at the deep end, embarking on a climbing apprenticeship and visiting Dorothy's old haunts, culminating in reaching the same lofty heights as Dorothy and Ivor on the Dent Blanche. Adamant that his book should serve no purpose as a 'flat recapitulation of Dorothy's memoir,' it's clear that Dan has instead created a touching tribute - a tangible 'companion piece' - to his relative, who is surely deserving of more recognition.
Read or UKC interview with Dan about his book:
Alex Roddie - outdoor writer and UKH contributor
The Bond by Simon McCartney (Vertebrate Publishing) £24
The Bond is an astonishing book. At once a major work of mountain literature and an adventure story, this book hits the sweet spot between ‘serious’ mountain writing and a damned good tale. Set in the late 1970s and early 1980s on some of the cutting-edge north faces of the era, it’s all about the complex relationship between climbers and the mountains they choose to climb, the limits of human endurance, and the bond between those who share these experiences in the world’s high places.
For me, this is the top climbing book to have been published this year, and maybe the best book about extreme alpinism to have appeared for a decade or more. If you like reading about climbing, The Bond should be on your bookshelf.
- See the full review here
Out There: A Voice from the Wild by Chris Townsend (Sandstone Press) £8.99
Chris Townsend is one of the world’s leading authorities on long-distance backpacking and wilderness travel. He’s also a passionate advocate for wild places. In this book, he takes the reader on a selection of his adventures – from building igloos in the Highlands to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Kungsleden in Arctic Scandinavia to his continuous round of all the Munros and Tops. There’s a huge amount of experience and wisdom in these pages.
Out There is not just a wonderfully written celebration of backpacking and mountaineering; it’s also a call to arms – a warning that nobody but us will step in to save the wild places we love, and that we all have a responsibility to protect and nurture the environment.
Alan James - UKC and Rockfax Head Honcho
Wild Country - The Man who made Friends by Mark Vallance (Vertebrate Publishing) £14.95
The 70s/80s/90s have spawned a fair set of biographies over the last few years, mainly published by Vertebrate Publishing. Most are entertainingly written by middle-aged rock climbers re-living their glory days and few span more than one era - 10 years or so at most.
Mark Vallance's new book Wild Country - The Man who made Friends has four decades worth of lively and relevant anecdotes covering some of the most familiar and iconic gear and places in British rock climbing. Friends, Rocks, the Foundry, Outside, BMC politics; you name it, Mark was involved with it, and usually in a crucial way. For those of us who have plotted our own careers through a similar period, it is a trip down memory lane, but for everyone it is a fascinating insight into a side of the climbing world that is seldom told.
Mark's writing style is probably like his approach to business - succinct and to the point. This isn't any great prose but it is nevertheless extremely readable, and a great tribute to one of the most influential figures in British climbing over the last 50 years.
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