Christmas Books - Our Recommendations Review

© Penny Orr

From biography and photography, through training and psychology, to a broad selection of top quality rock and hill guides, lovers of mountain books have had plenty to celebrate over the last 12 months. Staff here at UKC/UKH pick their personal favourites.

Rob Greenwood counteracting the benefits of Moffatt's Mastermind with Taylor's Port
© Penny Orr

Natalie Berry - UKC Editor

The Climbers

by Jim Herrington (Mountaineers Books) £40

Best suited to: anyone with an appreciation for climbing and mountaineering history and photography, or even non-climbers who enjoy historical photo-books.

A perfect stocking-filler, if you can fit it in! This high quality coffee table photography book by US photographer Jim Herrington makes for a sleek Christmas gift with its black slipcase and stunning presentation throughout. Having carved a career in music photography and stared down the lens at the likes of Dolly Parton, Keith Richards and Willie Nelson, Jim began a side project in the 90s which would take 20 years to complete: photographing ageing climbers of the Golden Age.

Jim's passion for climbing, its history and his personal interest in the book's subjects shines through in his articulate introduction and in the black and white portraits, which are shot exclusively on silver nitrate. Alex Honnold's foreword adds a modern perspective on the feats of the 'ripened mortals' as a rock star of our time, whilst Greg Child's scholarly essay adds historical context and some personal anecdotes about the featured veterans. A stunning exploration of achievement, ageing and mortality, but above all - of climbing and life.

  • Winner of the Mountaineering History Prize and the Grand Prize at the Banff Mountain Book Festival, 2017
  • Read our UKC Digital Feature on Jim and the book here

Art of Freedom: The Life and Climbs of Voytek Kurtyka

by Bernadette McDonald (Vertebrate Publishing) £24

Best suited to: lovers of biography, climbing history fans and those interested in Eastern European climbing exploits.

This book has won more awards than any other in the field of mountain literature this year: the unprecedented 'triple crown' of mountain literature, with the Non-Fiction prize at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, an award from the the National Outdoor Book Awards in Canada and the prestigious Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature. Bernadette's skill in biographical writing is well-known, with her award-winning Freedom Climbers providing much of the historical context of Eastern European mountaineering required to fully appreciate Art of Freedom. However, even if your knowledge of Polish mountaineering history isn't too hot, Bernadette's skilful weaving of the social, political and cultural scenes - along with his family background - that shaped much of Voytek's life through the retelling of his mountaineering feats make for a edifying and ever-engaging read. Despite Voytek's renowned elusive nature, Bernadette depicts a colourful yet challenging character, which is testament to her meticulous research and writing skills - this book is much more than a flat recapitulation of a climbing hero's hits and misses.

  • Read a UKC interview with Bernadette here

    The Push

    by Tommy Caldwell (Penguin Books) £14.99

    Best suited to: Any climber, Yosemite fan or anyone with an interest in hard-hitting autobiographical works.

    Shortlisted for the 2017 Boardman Tasker Award and likely a fierce contender for the prize, US climber Tommy Caldwell's The Push is a gritty memoir of persistence and failure both on the wall and in life in general. Relationships are a core theme of the book; a complex relationship with his body-builder father, a teenage relationship with Beth Rodden which fails to mature, the kinship that forms with young Kevin Jorgeson out of their dedication to the Dawn Wall project and becoming a father after finding love again. The title of the book is a clever one: The Push can be linked to multiple defining moments of Tommy's story so far, such as pushing his militant rebel captor off a cliff in Kyrgyzstan, or when on the final 'push' to complete the Dawn Wall's first ascent. As climbing autobiographies go, this is an unusually honest, introspective book which focuses as much on the people and events around Tommy as it does on his deep analysis of emotions and thought processes at key stages of his life - all written in strikingly descriptive prose. Whilst there are enough numbers and Dawn Wall talk to keep rock jocks happy, this book will have you gripped in more ways than one.

    • Special mention at the Banff Mountain Book Competition

      Dan Bailey - UKH Editor and Gear Editor

      Scrambles in Snowdonia

      by Steve Ashton, updated by Carl McKeating & Rachel Crolla (Cicerone Press) £14.95

      Do you enjoy the thrill of scrambling on quality Welsh rock? Look no further. Fans of the original book will love what they've done with it, too.

      It has been a long time coming, but at last Steve Ashton's much-thumbed guidebook to North Wales scrambling has finally been given a complete makeover. With the previous edition dating way back to 1992, the book that did so much to boost the profile of scrambling as an activity in its own right, not least by inventing the now-familiar grading system (good honest 1,2 and 3, plus the slightly questionable 3S), had begun to look very tired, both in terms of route details and their presentation. Guidebooks have come a long way since, and this 3rd edition of Scrambles in Snowdonia is bang up to date, with colour photo topos, at-a-glance route summaries and clear large-scale OS mapping. Superb action photos bring these scrambles to life, serving both as inspiration and as a useful pointer to the nature of each route. Ranging right across the grades, the book's 80 routes (16 of them all-new entries) include something for everyone, from the well worn big names to lesser-known but thoroughly worthwhile-looking trips. The book's updaters, Rachel Crolla and Carl McKeating, have really done full justice to the original classic. A great job all round, and plenty to keep you busy for years to come.

      Highland Scrambles South

      by Iain Thow (SMC) £25

      Best suited to: Climbers looking for an easy day, or walkers keen to push themselves. From exploratory choss to some of Scotland's great classics, there's plenty to go at here.

      No apologies for another scrambling book. Scrambling guidebooks with a modern high quality layout are as rare as decent mountain routes in Derbyshire, so for two to be published in the same year is a real treat. Following their superb guide Highland Scrambles North (10 years old already - how time flies), author Iain Thow and the SMC have brought the same comprehensive coverage to the rest of Scotland - that's everything south of Glen Shiel, including Arran, Rum, Mull and Galloway. From easy hands-on journeys such as Ledge Route through to mountain rock climbs like Observatory Ridge, the grades on offer span from 1,2 and 3 scrambles through Mod and Diff to VDiff rock - a welcome breadth of scope if, like me, you consider harder scrambles and easier climbs to be essentially the same thing. Famous three star adventures rub shoulders with obscure one and no-star routes. If this book is anything like Highland Scrambles North, some of the latter are likely to be character building. It's all part of the fun - and you can't say you haven't been warned. Simply stick with the classics and you'll have your pick of some of the greatest mountain days in Britain. From photo topos and colour mapping to a big selection of action pics (some excellent, others so-so), Highland Scrambles South gives the modern guidebook treatment to a host of hands-on routes for the first time.

      "Compiling the guide involved having an enormous amount of fun in some brilliant places" Iain told me. "It's given me the push to go and try a whole load of possibilities that I'd always looked at and thought "maybe....". Scotland has a huge amount of wild rocky areas where nobody goes, so hopefully the guide will get at least a few people out enjoying them."

      We'll see you out there Iain!

      The Last Hillwalker

      by John Burns £9.99 paperback or £3.99 Kindle

      If you love roaming the hills, but worry that we sometimes get a bit serious and po-faced about our pursuit, then this book is the perfect tonic.

      Receiving dozens of rave reviews on Amazon since its publication in October (97% 5-stars!), this 'sideways look at 40 years in Britain's mountains' by regular UKH contributor John Burns explores a lifetime spent on the hills, from early beginnings walking the Lakeland fells and the Pennines, through winter and alpine climbing, to the quiet satisfaction of Highland bothying. This bumper collection of mountain anecdotes is shot through with John's trademark self depracating humour, an engaging and accessible style that fondly sends up the absurdities of the pursuit that he so obviously loves. He makes fun of it mercilessly, and I've often laughed out loud, but John's great passion for the hills is clear throughout. There's a poignant depth too, perhaps most keenly felt in a tragic tale from Chamonix. But what's the title about? "It refers to my belief that hillwalking is actually in terminal decline and that in 30 years hardly anyone will walk the hills" John told me. I really hope he's wrong. And if anything can help inspire a new generation to sally forth onto the hills, it's comic writing of this calibre.

      • Read UKH's review of The Last Hillwalker here

      Theo Moore - Advertising Manager


      by Jerry Moffat (Cafe Kraft) £29.95

      Best suited to: anyone who wants to become a better climber by improving their mental attitude.

      Jerry Moffatt's latest book, Mastermind, is a beautifully designed and excellently paced lesson in developing a positive mental attitude, and thereby becoming a better climber. Jerry draws directly from his own experience as one of the 80's best climbers, as well as the experiences of today's best sport, bouldering, competiton and traditional climbers, to give you distilled lessons in sports psychology which don't beat around the bush. These lessons are accompanied by engaging self-writing sections which really help to consolidate what you're being taught by making you reflect on your actions and goals. In addition to this, Mastermind is littered with interesting stories of famous climber's exploits and feats of strength. All of this, plus its beautiful design, makes Mastermind a must-buy this Christmas for any aspiring climber, or simply anyone who is interested in the tales of Jerry and the world's best climbers.

      • Read the UKC review of Mastermind here.

      Climbing Beyond

      by Caroline Ciavaldini and James Pearson (Aurum Press) £25

      Best suited to: the adrenaline fuelled world travelling rock climber

      Climbing Beyond has a number of parallels with Preposterous Tales, Neil Gresham and Tim Emmett's book, which outlined the duo's high octane adventures across the globe. This book takes you on a similarly roller-coaster journey, with a wide range of standards and climbing styles: there's both easy and hard, boulder and big wall. As such, there's something for everyone (except perhaps the winter climber).

      Seeing as I'd not even heard of half of the areas within it, it is also a book you can pick up when you're in need of some inspiration on where to go - something that is added to by the abundance of high quality photography.

      If you're in the area, Caro and James will be doing a book signing at Outside in Hathersage on 20th December.

      Rob Greenwood - Advertising Manager

      The Magician's Glass

      by Ed Douglas (Vertebrate) £14.95

      Best suited to: a climber or mountaineer wishing for a little more substance than just watching Die Hard on repeat this Christmas

      In this age of clickbait, catering for attention spans of mere seconds, long-form journalism seems to have suffered a decline in the British climbing media. The internet has undoubtedly played a huge part in this, as - at least to my mind - huge blocks of text don't tend to translate quite as well online. And perhaps this is why I found The Magician's Glass such a refreshing read. Articles of this calibre aren't something you come across every day.

      Each of the eight 'essays' within plumb their chosen topic to unusual depths, exploring further than many of our own articles are able to in their shorter online format. Author Ed Douglas shows his true award winning colours here, as he unfolds an image on a complex canvas, be that the portrait of an individual or the exploration of a particular culture, to reveal something richer, deeper, warts and all. Many, if not all of the essays, are something of a bittersweet infusion. Douglas has himself confessed an attraction to "people who are a combination of brilliant and flawed" in his recent interview with Natalie Berry (click here to read the article).

      • Read Rob's review of The Magician's Glass here

      Southern Sandstone Climbs

      by Daimon Beal (Rockfax) £34.95

      Best suited to: lovers of the esoteric and climbers with an open mind

      Despite being a 'southerner', the first time I heard of Southern Sandstone was while studying at Bangor University. Having started climbing in North Wales, I was keen to find crags to visit whilst spending the summer back at home, and for me that meant embracing the soft stuff…

      Now Southern Sandstone undoubtedly has its lovers and its haters. It is - lest we forget - incredibly soft, and the ethics incredibly weird (although actually quite logical due to the aforementioned softness). There are few, if any, crags in the UK where tying in with a bowline around your waist and getting a body belay still seems to be a genuinely accepted practice (and that's not even a joke). Still, I've always been an open minded kind of climber, and confess to liking a lot of areas others don't, but despite Southern Sandstone's blatant flaws it really does have something special.

      When it comes to the guide, Daimon has succeeded in making what is undoubtedly one of Britain's most maligned areas look positively delicious. Yes, it's not the Peak District, Snowdonia, or wherever else; yes, it's all very soft and sandy; yes, belaying with a rope around your waist is a bit weird in the 21st Century; but that's not the point. In fact, writing this having drunk a couple of glasses of festive port I'm not really sure what my point is, other than to say that this guide will be a boon for locals due to its wide ranging coverage, inspiring action shots, and clear topos and diagrams and maybe - just maybe - will inspire folk from further north to travel daaan saaaaff to see what it's all about.

      Or maybe that's the port talking…

      • Read UKC's review of Southern Sandstone here

      North Wales Bouldering

      by Simon Panton (Ground Up) £36.95

      Best suited to: boulderers who like a bit of diversity in their life

      The arrival of North Wales Bouldering was something of myth and legend, with its due date spoken of in hushed tones around the streets of Llanberis. In the meanwhile the poor author - Simon Panton - tried his best to keep on top of the great countless lines and crags, many of which were 3 stars, still being developed.

      I say 'poor author', but I doubt Simon would have it any other way, as he's been a champion of North Wales Bouldering pretty much since the term 'bouldering' was introduced. On his watch North Wales has developed from an esoteric backwater to a well developed and highly regarded area, that is a must for boulderers all around the UK - not to mention the occasional visiting superstar.

      As a result of the development that has taken place the guidebook is a weighty tome, with 679 pages and 1112 grams to its name (!!). Still, this is a boulderers bible and the size shouldn't be off-putting for the strong types this should appeal to. If anything, its size and volume only makes it more attractive as it yields a great many hidden gems that have remained a secret since the publication of the first edition back in 2004.

      Alan James - UKC Odd Jobs Man

      Photographing the Peak District

      by Chris Gilbert and Mick Ryan (fotoVUE) £27.95

      Best suited to: anyone who loves the Peak District, especially if you own a nice camera.

      I first remember Mick Ryan outlining his concept of photography books, describing where, when and how to take photographs, to me about 8 years ago when he was working for UKC. My head was too much in UKC and Rockfax at the time and I admit to being initially sceptical. However, I have to hand it to Mick that not only has he made his concept a reality, he has also done an amazing job of it.

      Photographing the Peak District is just one of an ever-increasing series that runs from Scotland to the Dolomites at present. The Peak edition is my favourite one so far but that may be because it is my home patch. There is an element of putting your head on the chopping block when describing to people how to take great photos. Pretty much every shot in the book needs to be a stunner otherwise you kind of undermine your authority. With Photographing the Peak District Chris Gilbert and Mick have achieved this admirably, in fact I'd go so far as to say that, even if you don't own a camera, you will find this book a visual feast.

      For those with a camera, and a desire to use it better, this book contains all you need for the where, when and how to take some of the best scenic photographs of the Peak. Alternatively check out the full range since there may well be one for your own favourite area.

      • Read the fotoVUE press release for the Peak and Dolomites books here.

        14 Dec, 2017
        I'm looking forward to reading The Magician's Glass, but this has me concerned: I can do both, right?

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