The Everest Book Holiday Gift Guide – Your Top 5 Choices for a Mountaineering Library

For the Everest or mountain reader afficionado, what book is really essential?

I read a lot of books, I write a few. Nine Lives – Expeditions to Everest in print and digital. Photo: Alexander Hillary

What is the book that is not only a very good read for the holidays, but also a gift that is long remembered and looks great in the library? Or at the very least, evokes good memories and is always available on the digital book shelf?

You have three choices of format:

1. Digital is immediate, easy to gift on the day you choose (even with a personal message), and the least expensive – but still being a book, is always likely to be appreciated.

3. Then there is the rare, the truly special and the carefully thought through limited or first edition. They arrive and evoke days of great adventures, from the classical book bindings to the feel of the paper, to fitting so well on the shelf of a good mountaineering library. And if it is signed by the author, so much the better.

So what are the top 5 Everest books you can choose with confidence, whether you know the heights yourself, or just want a truly good mountain book with tales from the top of the world?

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Hard to get any more classic than the first ascent of Everest, told by the man on the team who was first on top, alongside Tenzing Norgay. In first editions, a very special present that will always be remembered.

1. Sir Edmund Hillary: High Adventure, the true story of the first ascent of Mount Everest

The absolute classic, with enough of the background and pre-Everest expedition details to set the scene, and the personal insights to make it compelling. As much as this account of the first ascent is a must read for climbers, it is also superbly written, with a balance of the detail, personalities and mountain tales that bring the climb to life.

In person, Ed was a climbers, climber: more comfortable talking gear, strategy, team and approach than working on the machinations or politics involved in a big expedition.

Balanced with Tenzings great depth of Himalayan experience and previous 6 attempts on the mountain, they were the ideal team for the top – Expedition Leader John Hunt clearly picked the winners.

Ed Hillary, happy enough to sit on the floor with our scenic backdrop of Everest at a British Airways press conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Raynish & Partners
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Essential reading – as Tenzing’s son Norbu told me – “not a bad book for a man who couldn’t write.”

2 Tenzing Norgay: Tiger of the Snows

Very much the companion piece to Ed Hillary’s book – a terrific read and one feels, that the writing by Ullman, reflects Tenzings true spirit.

The tale alone, of growing up and participating in no less than six previous Everest attempts prior to standing on the summit, makes a great book in itself. And the Everest history, from the early Everest expeditions and life in Darjeeling, to climbing Everest and the fame that followed creates a full picture of a life very well lived.

2.1 Jamling Tenzing Norgay: Touching My Father’s Soul

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There are few books about fathers and sons who have climbed Everest, and it being Tenzing, this is a one and only

For a great insight into two generations of Tenzing climbers, this is a tale from Jamling Tenzing Norgay’s own ascent of Everest, accomplished during the fateful 1996 season on Everest and filmed for David Breashears Imax movie. It has both the family and the unique Sherpa connection and is a great story, well told.

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The one and only real solo of Everest by the ever confident Messner

3. Reinhold Messner: The Crystal Horizon

The title could seem a bit out of the blue. But on the North Face of Everest, the expanse of snow, the altitude tunneling the vision, with the single minded need to climb up the endless snow, the Crystal Horizon is very aptly named for the internal journey Messner takes into himself on the climb. Perhaps one of the best lines describing his ascent is:

“In my state of spiritual abstraction, I no longer belong to myself and to my eyesight. I am nothing more than a single narrow gasping lung, floating over the mists and summits.”

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With Messner at his Mountain Museum, Italy. Myself, Reinhold and Forbes Adventure Journalist Jim Clash
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Venables remarkable read of a new route without oxygen on the Kangshung Face of Everest

4. Stephen Venables: Everest, Kangshung Face.

On one hand, including this book is totally unfair, as I led the expedition and feature heavily in the book. On the other hand, I should know whether it rings true or not, whether it captures the spirit of our climb from having been there.

As far as the climb, I have a bit of support from the master himself after Messner commented on our climb:

“The best ascent of Everest in terms and style of pure adventure.”  Reinhold Messner

I think one of the hardest things to do is read about yourself, how others see you, particularly when still very active, in the midst of the fray, of putting up new routes, of comparing your achievements to others.

I had the chance to read Stephen’s book in an early draft and soon found I was reading as someone detached from being part of the story, of wanting to know what would happen next, of what someone would say, where would the climb take them, what would the result be. And that’s when I realized it was a really good book.

With Everest now described as a ‘piste’ (groomed ski run) by Messner, and having on my most recent ascent of the South side, done the entire climb from Base Camp to the summit without pulling my ice axe off my pack, hopefully someone will pick up this book and realize there is real adventure and some great routes still left on Everest if you dare to go ‘off piste,’ as described by Messner in his interview with Jim Clash in Forbes.

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Stephen Venables after his oxygen free ascent and Robert Anderson, Everest South Col. Photo: Ed Webster

4.1 Ed Webster: Snow in the Kingdom

Ed’s magnum opus, with the title taken from Radio Nepal’s 8 p.m. weather forecast that we avidly listened for every night on an intermittent radio signal – that inevitably said: and tomorrow there will be: “Snow in the Kingdom.”

This book takes us through Ed’s three Everest expeditions and perhaps more interesting, his life around the climbs and personalities associated with them. If there ever was a set of stories that helps to define the magnetism of Everest for us all, this does a great job of getting into the incredible attraction, push and pull of Everest dynamics.

5. Into Thin Air

I’ve saved this book for last, but Jon’s timeless and iconic book on the 1996 disaster on Everest is a modern tour-de-force of Everest literature. It weaves a cast of characters, the world’s tallest mountain, personal insight and drama into one of the most powerful tales of mountaineering ever. It was a multiple best seller and made into the Hollywood movie, ‘Everest’.

While it is a great read, it is also one of the few books I’ve read twice – the first time when it came out. The second, at Everest Base Camp prior to guiding a team to the top – as a refresher on all the things not to do to ensure a safe and successful ascent. I wrote Jon afterwards and pointed out that while I don’t think he ever intended Into Thin Air as an instruction manual for climbing Everest, it did serve that purpose very well.

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Jon Krakauer’s modern Everest Classic.

Of course you can buy any of these from Amazon, but for the personally signed, first editions, best to go to Michael Chessler, who will have the best selection for you. I don’t make any commision on any of the links to other books. On my book, when you meet me next in Kathmandu, I will happily share a beverage and sign the book for you.