Sunday 2 February 2014

Book Review: 8000 Metres Climbing the World's Highest Mountains by Alan Hinkes

Nine years ago Alan Hinkes became the first British mountaineer to climb all fourteen 8000 metre high summits, an epic achievement that took eighteen years and twenty-seven expeditions. Anyone who has done any winter climbing or even hillwalking in snowy conditions might just be able to grasp the immense effort, skill and courage required to climb the 8000 metre peaks. If you've been to even moderately high altitudes and experienced the difficulty this brings to both physical and mental ability you'll have an inkling of just how difficult mountaineering must be at 8000 metres. I've done just enough to have a vague idea of  what was involved and to be over-awed at Hinkes' accomplishment.

Now Alan Hinkes has produced a book telling the story of these climbs in words and pictures, a superb book that is a fine achievement in itself. Most mountaineering books tell the story of one expedition with details of the planning, the approach, base camp and the climb. Here the author is covering all his 8000 metre expeditions so descriptions of each one are necessarily quite brief. I think this adds to the power of the words though and makes for a build-up of tension and astonishment as expedition follows expedition. I felt amazed at the constant risks undergone and the ability of Hinkes to cope with the stresses. His mantra throughout was to always return and not to take undue risks and he retreated many times, hence the need for so many expeditions. At the same time he is aware that just climbing an 8000 metre peak is risky and writes that following his success 'nothing, however, could persuade me to climb the 8000m peaks again. They are all too dangerous'. Deaths of other mountaineers, including friends of the author, punctuate the book as reminder of the dangers.

This is not just a book of words though. Alan Hinkes is a skilled and creative photographer and took pictures on every expedition, often in extremely adverse conditions. The book is filled with his magnificent images which are majestic, inspiring and, sometimes, terrifying. To add photography to all the mountaineering skills needed must have made these most difficult ascents even harder.

I've read many mountaineering books over the years. This is one of the best.

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