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Extreme Rock and Ice

Extreme Rock & Ice. Garth Hattingh. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books, 2001. 160 pages, 200 color photos, paperback. $39.95.

Massively oversized, Extreme Rock & Ice is divided into five spectacular 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 throwaway 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 consist of a full-page picture on the left, some text, and 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 already familiar accounts 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. I’ve been right up next to Sea Of Vapors on Mt. Rundle, and it looks like a 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 is 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! The Totem Pole in Tasmania, Metanoia on The Eiger, Destivelle Route on Mont Blanc, El Nino on El Cap, Grand Voyage on Great Trango, The Lightning Route on Changabang, The South Face on Lhotse, all these chapters 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.

The stories, historical perspective, route descriptions, climber profiles, and above all the spectacular collection of photographs conspire to make Extreme Rock & Ice a book that you will likely 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.

Al Hospers