Best Mountain Books: 2015

Five faves from the 2015 Banff Mountain Book and Film Festival

The 2015 Banff Mountain Book and Film Festival’s literary game was strong. From memoir to mountaineering history, the fest continues to bring out the best in books. Don’t know where to start your reading list? Look no further, friends.

A Youth Wasted Climbing Book Cover

Memoir

A Youth Wasted Climbing – David Chaundy-Smart, Rocky Mountain Books

As a teenager, hoping to escape the lights of the big city and suburban boredom, David Chaundy-Smart took to the wilderness pockets and crags bordering the city of Toronto. Including many a mishap with his brother Reg, Chaundy-Smart managed to actually ascend a few routes without dying before local climbing mentors intervened and taught the boys a few things about safety. The result? One of Ontario’s leading climbers of the 1980s and 1990s found his calling and put up over 600 new routes, thus establishing a serious climbing community in the East that still thrives to this day. A Youth Wasted Climbing is a boisterous page-turner with awkward teenage love affairs, glam rock bands and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. 

“A man in a nylon bivouac hammock clipped to a piton a few feet up squirmed free and fell to the ground. A beard ringed his round face, and he had a folded handkerchief tied around his head. His spotless white pants and button-down shirt made William whisper that he looked like Mr. Clean, but he said his name was Bryan.” – David Chaundy-Smart

Alpine Warriors Book Cover

Mountaineering History

Alpine Warriors – Bernadette McDonald, Rocky Mountain Books

McDonald has done it again, revealing more Eastern European climbers for what they are: truly amazing.  This time around, similar to her previous work Freedom Climbers, which mixes politics with mountaineering, Alpine Warriors takes us into the heart of the Yugoslavian civil conflict and the hardcore Slovenian alpine climbing scene. Some familiar names like Tomo Česen, Marko Prezelj and Tomaž Humar appear. But for the most part, the book reveals incredible ferocious climbing feats by total unknowns (at least unknown to the average North American climber). By 1995, all of the 8,000 metre peaks had been summited by Slovenian teams and often by the most difficult lines. Gripping and informative, take your time with Alpine Warriors and, well, prepare to learn and a thing or two.

Rogers Pass - Uptracks and Bushwhacks

Guidebook 

Rogers Pass: Uptracks, Bootpacks and Bushwhacks  – Douglas Sproul, GeoBackcountry and Uptrack Publishing

This new comprehensive guide to skiing in Rogers Pass is a beaut to behold for backcountry skiers. The book covers the topic extensively, and with an accompanying mobile app and a high production map as add-ons to purchase, you need go no further to plan your trips into the wintry Selkirks. World renowned powder, secret big lines and local’s-only stashes once thought to be only vicious rumours, are revealed by Sproul, and no corner of this stellar backcountry destination is left undiscovered. Happy turns y’all; now you really have no excuse.

Too Close to God - Jeff Long

Mountain Fiction 

Too Close to God – Jeff Long, Imaginary Mountain Surveyors

The small local publishing team at Imaginary Mountain Surveyors never ceases to amaze.  Really, who gets away with actively starting up a publishing house in this digital age, specializing in one of smallest literature genres possible: mountain fiction? Hats off to these guys as they put the doubters to shame with yet another revelatory gem of a book in Too Close to God. Jeff Long is no stranger to mountain lit readers, and this beautifully edited and crafted volume of his most chilling tales of climbing fiction sets the bar high. OK, OK, so Long might just be a New York Times bestselling author who has several titles with the big guns in NYC, but it just serves to highlight the attractiveness of a small press in a small mountain town. It gets the right stories to the right people. 

“The word is the mountain. Ascent is a physical act, of course, but not before it is an idea built from other ideas, like mountain and summit. We climb upon our language.” – Jeff Long

Drawn - Jeremy Collins Book Cover

Art & Photography

Drawn – Jeremy Collins, The Mountaineers Books

The climber as visual artist is manifested throughout these vivid, intricate pages of exceptional art. Drawn is a moving tribute to fallen climber Jonny Copp by a good friend and artist trying to find the words to express the sadness of his loss. Naturally Collins turns to washes of colour and detailed ink sketches intertwined with memory and stories that convey celebration of life more than tragic death. It’s a cross between a classic mountaineering memoir and Griffin and Sabine (worth the Google search!) because one medium for storytelling seems too insufficient to tell the complex truth of a climber’s life and death.

“I’m no mystic, and I don’t think a person literally inhabits a place where their ashes are dropped. In a place like Yosemite, I’m sure there have been a thousand ceremonies like mine, starting way back with those native tribes. But I do believe in the cathartic release for the one performing the ritual. ” – Jeremy Collins

Joanna Croston

Joanna Croston

Joanna grew up and went to university out East but it wasn’t until she moved to the mountains permanently in 1998 that she really got schooled. After a few years working as a gearhead in some climbing shops, in 2007 she finally found her dream job that merged mountain culture with her love of outdoor pursuits working for the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. Since 2014, Joanna has been the Programming Director of the Festival which sees her reading more than 70 mountain literature books and watching 350 mountain films annually. In addition to being a voracious reader, she is an avid backcountry skier and bike commuter. Her book reviews have appeared not only in Highline Magazine but also in the Canadian Alpine Journal.

Twitter