Book Review // Winter 8000

For any mountaineer any ascent of an 8000m mountain in winter is considered with awe; the harsh brutality of winter in extreme environments is unimaginable. 

Winter 8000 by Bernadette McDonald, tells the stories of the teams who pioneered ascents on the world’s highest mountains in the harshest season. 

Of course it begins with Everest, and the mental strength of the Polish team who got the first ascent in winter in 1973. That this has only been repeated 5 times despite the commercialisation of the Everest summer season indicates both the severe difference in weather and the radical difference in mental and physical strength needed for the winter feat. 

Each chapter covers the first ascent and subsequent attempts, success and failures of each mountain. The history of these climbers, often unknown outside the mountaineering community, is fascinating and their dedication to their ascents is inspiring. Facing harsh winter winds, snow storms and subsequent frostbite and death – it’s hard to imagine having such determination. 

The book neither glamorises mountaineering nor fails to paint a realistic portrayal of the battles and challenges faced by those who attempt to climb the mountains in winter. The Polish climber known as Jurek, epitomises this determination when he joined two winter teams in the same season to speed up his attempt to be the first to complete the all 8000s. Weaving his story and that of the Polish Ice Warriors across chapters adds to the sense of personal ambition of climbers and also the frequent tragedies of mountaineering. 

The tragedy of mountaineering is really brought to life with Broad Peak, a story very much belonging to Polish climber, Maciej,

No-one wants to die for their dreams. The only thing we truly want is to have a dream so strong it lets us feel young and alive… That is never too late for dreams, and no dream is so big and so beckoning or so icy its impossible.

page 178, Broad Peak.

Winter 8000 is a great book of adventure and achievement, and epitomises the art of suffering that is winter mountaineering. 

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