Book Review // To Live

To Live by Élisbeth Revol is a powerful book of survival that tells the tale of the ill fated ascent of Nanga Parbat in 2018 by Élisabeth and climbing partner Tomasz Mackiewicz. 

Being immediately thrust into the terror of the situation sets this books apart from most mountaineering literature. Expecting to start with a window into the tragedy and then be taken back to their individual life journeys to reach that point – instead Élisabeth focused on that tragic night as they tried to descend the mountain. The only glimpses into her past are set as memories as she slips in an out of consciousness and sleep on her attempt to descend the mountain.

Throughout the narrative is punctured with reflections from the present day as she relives the disaster which provide the reader with an insight into how she has both been able to move on and how the fateful night still haunts her. She also reflects on why she’s driven to climb at high altitude and her achievements which provide an understanding of her motivations and abilities.

Trying to appreciate the difficulty of climbing an 8000m mountain in winter is challenging enough. But to understand the mental strength required to survive for days without food and water, to descend having left some essential kit with Tomasz in the hope it would help him survive and to do so with frostbite fearing no-one is coming to help you – is a strength most people do not have.

To Live is a harrowing read, but one that is gripping throughout and a book I highly recommend.

Book Review // Big Trails: GB & Ireland

Having had few exciting adventures in 2020 thanks to the Pandemic, receiving this book to review finally started to get me excited about future adventures.

Big Trails: Great Britain and Ireland covers 25 long distance routes. This includes famous routes such as the Pennine Way and Cape Wrath Trail, to routes I’d not even heard of, such as the Beara Way and the Raad ny Foillan. Having completed 3 of the routes already, gave me a good perspective on the descriptions provided.

First thing to note, this isn’t a book to take out on the hill with you. It’s meant for reading with a coffee on a wet day as you start to plan adventures; a place to start if you need inspiration and advice.

Big Trails starts with a detailed ‘How to Use this Book’ section highlighting understanding icons used, the colour coding used for when to go and the differences in pace calculated for each type of adventure.

For each route the book provides beautiful images along the trail, alongside a summary of the route, including highlights, key locations and things to think about while planning. This provides both inspiration and allows you to learn about the history of the area and the trail. It also has enough information to help start to plan your adventure.

For each route there is also an overview map showing the total trail. Obviously this isn’t going to be suitable to navigate with, but is great for planning and understanding where the route will take you.

The adjoining page provides a summary of essential information, such as distance, key features, a profile of the route height along the trail, and pros and cons of the routes, (my favourite is the Icknield Way Path which highlights Luton as in the list of cons!).

It also lists good places to find out more about the route to aid planning, from books to websites.

Reading through the routes that I have completed, such as the Pennine Way, Dales Way and Hadrian’s Wall Path reminded me of some of the highlights of the routes. It did however make me look in detail at the time taken for the routes.

The Dales Way for example I completed with a friend in 4 days which put us at the Trekkers category. The Pennine Way I did in 11 days (albeit over 8 years!) which put me in fastpacking category. That all sounds reasonable.

The Hadrians Wall Path however, I ran over 5 days. But the guide suggests is should be possible to trail run the route in 2 days.

Heading to the detailed section on speed at the front I looked at how they had calculated this – knowing that 138km in 2 days for Hadrian’s Wall was quite an undertaking for a ‘trail’ run. (That is technically an ultra run of 69km a day).

The calculations seemed logical but missed the obvious of how much kit you might be carrying which would slow you down, sensible places to stop for the night, and assume that you’re always going to walk/run for 8 hours a day. For walking this is probably realistic but the definition of trail running is a bit misleading. Few trail runners would run for 8 hours a day or complete such ultra distances. So that probably needs taking as a very rough guide!

That said the selection of routes is fantastic, with not all of them being National Trails or way marked long distance paths. I love that it has a fair spread of routes in the 5 nations and it does have some really useful information for planning routes. I’m totally inspired now to check out Ireland’s long distance trails and the Cambrian Way is now on the bucket list.

If you’re in need of some inspiration for an adventure and need a place to start then Big Trails: Great Britain & Ireland is a great book for your Christmas list.

Book Review // Wild Running

Spent the summer running over the fells near home and need a bit of inspiration to get out over the winter? Then this book is for you.

Jam packed with over 200 great routes from around the country, it’s a great place to start if you’re heading somewhere new and need inspiration for your runs.

The book is organised into regions making navigation easy. Each route has only short one paragraph descriptions and the maps at the back are only really useful for identifying where the runs are. So on the face of it, its only good for inspiration but still requires a lot of though and planning.

Not so. Each route description has a unique code for a website for online downloads which includes gpx files for devices to enable you to keep you from getting lost when on the trail.

Compiling the book in this format allows there to be great photos and general information on the areas without the book having to have detailed maps which would make it too big.

Wild Running is a fantastic way to get inspiration to get off the road and into the hills and fields and a quick way to find route to run when you visit an area for the first time.

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. 

Book Review // The Girl Outdoors

Its always exciting to receive books to review but this is the first one I’ve had which is written specifically to inspire women to get outside and take up their own adventures.

“There’s still a perception of adventure as an extreme pursuit, a living-off-urine, round-the-world-on-a-unicycle tough club only open to the hardiest grizzled explorer. That’s not what this book, or the outdoors, is about.”

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