American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mountain Climbing for Beginners

  • Book Reviews
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  • Publication Year: 1979

Mountain Climbing for Beginners, by Mike Banks. Edited for American readers by Andy Kauffmann, Stein and Day, 1978. Softback. 96 pages, 37 line drawings. Price $3.95.

Here is a gem of a little book, the kind of climbing manual Americans have always wanted but never have quite been able to get. There are many books available on climbing techniques, but nowhere in English does there exist anything as basic, terse and at the same time complete as this American version of English climber Mike Banks’ Mountain Climbing for Beginners.

The title is something of a misnomer. True, the text is intended primarily for novices, but it also provides a basic refresher course for those of us who have been too long away from the mountains and are preparing to return. Even better, the subject matter is presented in a simple, superb expository style rarely found except among the best professional writers. Not a word is wasted, yet nothing important is omitted. Clearly, Mr. Banks is not just a first-class mountaineer: he is a splendid writer as well.

The book, which has been edited for American readers, begins with as good a rationale as any as to why people are attracted to mountains. It takes the reader progressively through the stages of hill walking, rock- climbing equipment, rope work, rock techniques and thence to direct aid, snow and ice, and survival and rescue. There is a comprehensive though necessarily incomplete appendix by the American editor on where to climb in the United States and Canada, together with the names, addresses and telephone number of principal climbing organizations which can supply interested persons with more detailed local and regional information. The appendix also points to possible shortcomings in American professional services which leave the reader wondering whether corrective measures, when they come, will be the work of national climbing organizations or State and Federal authorities.

The section on hill walking is the best one known to this reviewer and contains a lucid description of map reading. The book’s emphasis, however, is on rock climbing which, of course, is the sport’s principal form in both the United States and Britain. But, as he proceeds, the author betrays his personal preference for ice and snow, mixed climbing and exploratory adventure. He is careful, however, to discipline his bias to serve his readers’ needs.

From the outset Mr. Banks’ tone is cautionary. He points out that mountain climbing is potentially a dangerous sport, not to be undertaken lightly, and then only with the assistance and under the supervision of qualified teachers and companions. This tone of caution is, if anything, the thread that weaves together this fine little work.

The illustrations by Tony Buchan are as clear as is Mr. Banks’ writing, though to the practical eye one or two appear to contain errors which should be corrected in future editions.

The volume comes in a convenient size. It can be fitted easily into the flap of a rucksack for consultation in the field.

This book is a must, not only for the beginner, but for all of us.

Samuel H. Goodhue

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