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Extreme Rock & Ice, by Garth Hattingh
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Extreme Rock & Ice, 25 of the World's Greatest Climbs by Garth Hattingh
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Extreme Rock & Ice, 25 of the World's Greatest Climbs by Garth Hattingh
The Mountaineers Books
$39.95

It’s another one of those humongous coffee-table sized climbing books! Don’t publisher’s understand that the sheer size and weight of these tomes make it painful for we poor reviewers: schlepping them around, trying to read them on an airplane, propping them up in bed on the back of an unsuspecting sleeping wife, or trying to relax with one in the john even? Where do they get off with this stuff? Of course these are books made to be carefully laid out au plait, in an easily visible location for your dinner guests to just “stumble upon” when sitting around with a glass of wine in hand before dinner.

“Extreme Rock & Ice“ is divided into 5 sections: Rock Climbs, Ice & Mixed Climbs, Alpine-scale Climbs, Big Wall Climbs and Big Mountain Climbs. Page after page is filled with excellent photographs. There is hardly a throw-away in the lot, and almost all are spectacular. Even the pictures of the objective itself are well chosen for their clarity. The format is very well conceived, each route consisting of a narrative, map, numerous pictures, objective photo with topo overlaid in red and the story of the climb. The first two pages of each climb consists of a full page picture on the left, and some text, a map placing the climb geographically.

Captivating graphic elements such as these make it difficult to focus on the text, yet each climb’s narrative tells a story, and that story provides the essence of the adventure. Some, like Twight, House and Blitz’s Alaskan epic “The Gift That Keeps On Giving”, have been covered in the climbing press or in other books. Others are likely only known to a much smaller circle, like the controversial ascent of Moby Dick, in Ulamertorssuaq Greenland. However the familiar ones still contain additional details and photographs, so both are well worth perusing.

The word Extreme is greatly overused these days - Extreme Mountain Biking, Extreme Programming, even Extreme Doritos. Is it appropriately attached to this title? Throughout climbing history there have always been climbs and climbers pushing the boundaries of the sport and showing the way for others, but they weren’t labeled with anything other than the ratings the first-ascensionists gave them. Some would surely argue that an X, R or VE rating says it all. Still, these are extremely difficult climbs done by extremely bold climbers. Perhaps a better title would have been “Extremely Dangerous Rock & Ice Climbing By People With An Extremely High Tolerance For Risk,” but of course that wouldn’t have the cachet, would it?

Are these 25 climbs THE most extreme in the world, that’s open to debate. Still, I’ve been right up next to Sea Of Vapors on Mt. Rundle, and it looks pretty darn hard climb to me. If Mark Twight’s account in his recent book Kiss Or Kill tells only half of the story, The Gift about as out-there as you could ask for. And Mark Synnott has told me the story of his and Jared Ogden’s epic on Shipton’s Spire. It was definitely a tour de force! Totem Pole - Tasmania, Metanoia – The Eiger, Destivelle Route – Mont Blanc, El Nino – El Cap, Grand Voyage – Great Trango, The Lightening Route – Changabang, The South Face - Lhotse all paint pictures of danger and adversity - triumph and tragedy. These, and 18 more make for a collection of great stories about challenges met and fears faced.

Conclusion:  In spite of my feigned annoyance with the size of the book, and my picking away at the title, I suggest no matter WHERE you find a place to read it, that you do so, because you won’t be disappointed. The stories, historical perspective, route descriptions, climber profiles and above all the spectacular collection of photographs conspire to present a book that you will certainly come back to again and again. If you are a climber or even an armchair mountaineer, this is a book of fabulous photographs and captivating accounts you’re certain to enjoy. And as long as you read it from your easy chair, you likely won’t over exert yourself.

Details: many color pictures, ISBN #: 0-89886-787-8

Al Hospers
June 2002

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