We take a look at the best mountaineering books ever written, drawing on accounts from the best climbers in the harshest of environments thousands of meters above sea level.
As I’ve mentioned before, my bookshelves are filled with tales of adventure travel, survival against the odds and obsessive searches. I’m an avid climber keen on winter mountaineering and wild camping so, naturally, mountaineering books take up a good chunk of my shelf space.
It would be easy to fill a list such as this with narratives of Everest and K2 alone. However, I’ve tried to include a wider selection of accounts from a variety of mountains spanning a century of alpinism and mountaineering.
Drawing on my personal favourites as well the best-selling books on Amazon and popular books on Goodreads, I’ve selected a range of the best mountaineering books ever written.
BEST MOUNTAINEERING BOOKS EVER WRITTEN
|1.||Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival
by Joe Simpson
This classic along with Krakauer’s Into Thin Air below are arguably the best mountaineering books ever written. Joe Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, had just reached the top of a 21,000ft peak in the Andes when disaster struck.
|2.||Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster
by Jon Krakauer
The true story of a 24-hour period on Everest which started with a storm and ended with the worst single-season death toll in the peak’s history.
|3.||Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident
by Donnie Eichar
In February 1959, a group of nine experienced hikers in the Russian Ural Mountains died mysteriously on an elevation known as Dead Mountain. This is their story.
|4.||No Picnic on Mount Kenya: A Daring Escape, A Perilous Climb
by Felice Benuzzi
In 1943, Felice Benuzzi and two Italian compatriots escaped from a British POW camp in equatorial East Africa with only one goal in mind: to climb the dangerous 17,000ft Mount Kenya.
|5.||Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day
by Peter Zuckerman
In 2008, when 11 climbers lost their lives on K2, two Sherpas survived. Based on unprecedented access and interviews, Buried in the Sky reveals their astonishing story for the first time.
|6.||Denali’s Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America’s Wildest Peak
by Andy Hall
In 1967, 12 young men attempted to climb Alaska’s fearsome Denali – known to locals as “The High One”. Only five survived. This is their story.
|7.||The Mountains of My Life
by Walter Bonatti
A collection of Walter Bonatti’s best mountaineering books detailing his exploits on numerous expeditions as well as the real story behind the controversy over the events on K2 that changed his life.
|8.||Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest
by Wade Davis
While the quest for Everest may have begun as a grand imperial gesture, it ended as a mission of revival for a country and a lost generation bled white by war. In a monumental work of history and adventure, Davis asks why Mallory kept climbing on that fateful day.
|9.||On Mount Hood: A Biography of Oregon’s Perilous Peak
by Jon Bell
A contemporary first-person narrative about Oregon’s greatest mountain, featuring stories of adventure and tragedy, history and geology, people, places, trivia and lore.
|10.||The Ghosts of K2: The Epic Saga of the First Ascent
by Mick Conefrey
In this definitive account, Mick Conefrey grippingly describes the early attempts to reach the summit and provides a fascinating exploration of the first ascent’s complex legacy.
|11.||The White Spider
by Heinrich Harrer
A classic of mountaineering literature, this is the story of the harrowing first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger, the most legendary and terrifying climb in history.
|12.||Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage: The Great Mountaineering Classic
by Hermann Buhl
In 1953, Buhl made the first ascent of Nanga Parbat, the third eight-thousander to be climbed, following Annapurna and Everest. Continuing alone and without supplementary oxygen, Buhl made a dash for the summit after his partners turned back.
|13.||No Way Down: Life and Death on K2
by Graham Bowley
Thirty climbers are attempting the summit of the most savage mountain on Earth. They make it. But before they start their descent an ice shelf collapses, sweeping away their ropes. It is dark. Their lines are gone. They are low on oxygen. And it’s getting very, very cold.
|14.||Annapurna: First Conquest of an 8000-meter Peak
by Maurice Herzog
In 1950, when no mountain taller than 8,000m had ever been climbed, Herzog led an expedition to the summit of Annapurna. His book is considered a classic of mountaineering literature and the most influential, if not one of the best mountaineering books ever written.
|15.||Annapurna South Face: The Classic Account of Survival
by Sir Chris Bonington
In 1970, Bonington and his now-legendary team were the first to tackle a big wall at extreme altitude. Their target was the south face of Nepal’s Annapurna: 12,000 feet of steep rock and ice leading to a 26,454ft summit.
|16.||The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest
by Anatoli Boukreev
In May 1996, a number of expeditions attempted to climb Everest. Crowded conditions slowed their progress and late in the day, 23 men and women including the expedition leaders were caught in a ferocious blizzard.
|17.||Postcards from the Ledge: Collected Mountaineering Writings
by Greg Child
Selections of the best writing from elite mountaineer Greg Child including reflections and humorous pieces, plus insights into some of mountaineering’s more controversial events.
|18.||The Tower: A Chronicle of Climbing and Controversy on Cerro Torre
by Kelly Cordes
Controversy has swirled around this ice-capped peak since Cesare Maestri claimed first ascent in 1959. Since then a debate has raged, with world-class climbers attempting to retrace his route but finding only contradictions.
|19.||Thieves, Liars and Mountaineers: On the 8,000-metre Peak Circus in Pakistan’s Karakoram mountains
by Mark Horrell
The tale of Mark Horrell’s not-so-nearly ascent of Gasherbrum in Pakistan; of how one man’s boredom and frustration is conquered by a gutsy combination of exhaustion, cowardice, and sheer mountaineering incompetence.
|20.||Everest the Cruel Way
by Joe Tasker
The goal had been to climb Mount Everest at its hardest: via the infamous west ridge, without supplementary oxygen and in winter. Tasker’s epic account vividly describes experiences which no climber had previously endured.
|21.||Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills
by various authors
Since the publication of the first edition in 1960, “Freedom” has endured as one of the best mountaineering books written from an instructional point of view. It includes choosing equipment, tying knots, rappelling techniques and expedition planning.
|22.||On the Nose: A Lifelong Obsession with Yosemite’s Most Iconic Climb
by Hans Florine
Hans Florine is a big-wall climbing legend in his own time. He holds the speed record on the Nose route of El Capitan, a 3,000ft granite cliff in Yosemite Valley that’s considered the Everest of the rock-climbing world.
|23.||No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks
by Ed Viesturs
This gripping and triumphant memoir follows a living legend of extreme mountaineering as he makes his assault on history, one eight thousander at a time.
|24.||The Crystal Horizon: Everest – The First Solo Ascent
by Reinhold Messner
On 20th August 1980, Reinhold Messner reached the summit of Everest – alone and without the use of oxygen. This is an account of his extraordinary achievement.
|25.||The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier
by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan
In June 1992, best friends Jim and Mike stood triumphantly atop Washington’s Mount Rainier. Their conquest gave way to catastrophe when a cave-in plunged them deep inside a glacial crevasse.