Thursday, November 5, 2015

My Favorite Cold Weather Exploration Books

Winter is just around the corner, and and my mind has been drifting towards undertaking different, foolish, cold weather adventures. When I am in such a mood, I often go back to books on the subject that I find both inspirational as well as educational. There are a few books which chronicle journeys of cold weather exploration, which hold a prominent place on my book shelves. In this post I wanted to share that short list with you in the case you were looking for some reading. The books are listed in no particular order.

Four Against Everest by Woodrow Wilson Sayre, 1964


The first book on the list is Four Against Everest by Woodrow Wilson Sayre. It chronicles the 1962 attempt at a summit of Mt. Everest by a team of four men, Woodrow Wilson Sayre, Norman Hanseng, Roger Hart, and Hans-Peter Duttle. This American-Swiss team of amateurs managed to get to within 3500 ft from the summit before having to turn back. They did it while climbing without Sherpas, without permits, and without oxygen.

The book does an excellent job documenting the attempt, complete with gear lists and food rations data. It is full of useful advise, even though it was written decades ago. Not only does this book foreshadow more modern mountaineering approaches, but that approach of climbing as a self contained unit, without huge expedition and support teams, really strikes a cord with me.

Polar Attack: From Canada to the North Pole, and Back by Richard Weber and Mikhail Malakhov, 1996


Polar Attack follows the accounts of Richard Weber and Mikhail Malakhov, documenting their 1994 failed attempt at an unsupported round trip journey to the north pole and their 1995 successful trip, making them the first people to complete the task.

Even though the chapters of the book alternate as one is written by Weber and the next my Malakhov, which gives it the feel of a compilation of journal entries, it flows very well and presents the material in an educational yet exciting manner. The accounts of both attempts are filled with valuable information that can only be gained under such conditions.

Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, Fast, and High by Mark F. Twight and James Martin, 1999


It is hard to imagine that one of the most influential books when it comes to cold weather climbing, and I would say to cold weather expeditions in general, is now over a decade old.

When I first started reading the book, I expected it to be very technical in nature. In many respect it is, doing a fantastic job of describing different systems and techniques. Surprisingly however, the book also contains many personal accounts of different expeditions, which really transform the book from a technical manual into more of an exciting read.

Minus 148 Degrees: The First Winter Ascent of Mount McKinley by Art Davidson, 1969


In many ways Minus 148 Degrees reminds me of the book Four Against Everest you see further up the list. The goal of the expedition is just as far fetched, and the team is similarly foolhardy and as a result the achievement inspiring. The book is an account of the first winter ascent of Mt. McKinley (Denali) in 1967. The feat was accomplished by a team of eight men, of which only seven returned. The name of the book stems from the temperature recorded by the team as they were caught by a six day blizzard on their descend from the mountain.

The book is not a technical how-to. If anything, it is the opposite, chronicling different mistakes made by the team. Many would call the expedition reckless, but for some reason I find it very inspirational. I suppose that is because it demonstrates how far a small group with little support can go through determination and grit.

Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, 8th Edition, originally published in 1960


Originally published in 1960, Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills is now in its 8th edition, featuring updated content. The book is a technical manual that covers the basics of mountaineering and cold weather travel. It is the book that just about anyone interest in the subject starts with, and rightfully so. It is well written, contains tons of very useful information, and is easily accessible.

Farthest North Vol I and Vol II by Fridtjof Nansen, 1897


For my last pick, I am going way back, to one of the greatest cold weather explorers in history, Fridtjof Nansen. In particular I would recommend Farthest North, which chronicles in detail the 1893 Fram expedition, which attempted to reach the north pole. The First Crossing of Greenland also by Nansen, describing his crossing of Greenland was a close contender.

The book comes in two volumes. The first volume details Nansen’s preparations for the expedition and the time spent drifting with Fram (the name of the ship). Unlike many of the expeditions featured in the books further up on the list, this is an example of large scale, well funded expedition. Far from being a group of guys who just decided to go on an adventure, this is an expedition for national pride; well funded and well planned. As a result, I personally found the first volume to be rather boring at times. While the journey is brilliant, my interests are not in sailing or expedition logistics.

The second volume focuses on the time spent by Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen attempting to reach the pole by skis. They were forced to turn back, undertaking a year long journey over the polar ice, heading south towards safety. The account, composed of their journal entries is mind blowing. If for no other reason, the book is worth reading so one can get the idea of how amazing these men really were.

The two volumes are in the public domain and can be downloaded for free: Vol I, Vol II. The First Crossing of Greenland is also available for free download here along with other locations online. 

So, these are just some of my favorites. For one reason or another I like reading them. What about you guys? What are some of your favorites?

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