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Tami Knight's top five (or so ...) favourite climbing books

Monday, 9 July 2018

Ski Tracks by Tami Knight. Featured in Waymaking

We've undertaken the mammoth task of compiling a list of the world's top 100 favourite climbing books of all time. Our MD, Jon, has been canvassing the opinions of mountaineering greats – from Doug Scott to Voytek Kurtyka – twitter followers and fellow publishers (though some of them nominated their own titles so we're not sure whether to count those).

When we asked author and artist Tami Knight what her top five favourite were, she just couldn't narrow it down. What do you think of her list? Want to put your two pence in? Feel free to email us at with your top five.

1. Everyone in my generation (fifty-five year olds and over :-D) read Heinrich Harrer's The White Spider. But the caveat I'd put on this is that you must read it before the age of twenty-one or it won’t achieve its sick hold on that little part of your brain that says ‘QUIT EVERYTHING AND GO CLIMBING’. Truth told I haven't cracked The White Spider in over thirty-five years and so am not sure if it's worn well with time. And this; I know my brain didn’t work with any rationale when I was young and reckless but WTF was Harrer thinking when he joined Hitler’s mob of Hugo Boss clad thugs and psychopaths? Sheesh now that’s freakin’ stupid. 

2. Ernest Shackleton, South. Even if this is technically a book about sailing adventures gone apocalyptically wrong, no book humbles a climber more than Sir Ernest's does. I mean, okay, you KNOW they survived (only to have a couple of them die in WW1) (I had two grand-uncles die because they were gassed in the trenches of that horrid war so reading about those men dying was personal), but nobody did survival like the men of the Endurance. The sickening voyage of the James Caird is still – and I believe will never be equalled –  the greatest adventure of open water navigation. 

Although, with that said, a read through of Wade Davis' Wayfinders, in which one of the stories is about the Polynesian Wayfinders, the navigators who helped populate all of the habitable islands of the South Pacific – there is genetic evidence to show they and their chickens made it to South America. The Wayfinders, who were at times women, had astonishing abilities to understand the ocean waters including, Davis says, how waves reflected from an unseen island lap on the sides of their waʻa kaulua – their double hulled ocean going canoes. And there's also the Vikings and the shit they got up to in the North Atlantic in their snekkja,skeid and drekar. And the original inhabitants of North America from Asia who were also master boat builders and who sailed all the way to frikkin' Tierra del Fuego. 

We are not worthy. 

Those books, Shackleton's being the most representative for climbers – prove it. 

3. Gotta have an Everest book. Best I've read is Ed Douglas's Chomolungma Sings the Blues. Douglas seeks to understand the people of the area which is something most Euro/American narratives give but a cursory nod to (including Into Thin Air and all its responses). Ed is also hilarious; who describes a Chinese hotel like he does? ... 'all the style of a Smarties' tube...'  Sorry I can't put my hand on the book right now to get you the exact quote, we're in the middle of moving out of our house and all ...ALL several thousand books I own... are now in boxes!!!!   

4. I'm Canadian, so I'll also nominate Chic Scott's Pushing the Limits: The Story of Canadian Mountaineering. Scott took a decade of his life to research and write the tome which took him from being a local guidebook writer to a bona fide national historian. Best thing though is to spend a few days in a backcountry cabin with Chic. Bring a good Scotch and get him telling stories after a day of fab skiing. Best. Thing. Ever. 

5. Royal Robbins's Basic Rockcraft and Advanced Rockcraft. Illustrations by Sheridan Anderson. I used to read these for bedtime reading when I was getting into climbing. LOVED these books and learned a ton; RR was The Man. And a nice guy too. He walked his talk.  

6. & 7. One for the Yanks & one for the Brits: Warren Harding, Downward Bound. Illustrations by Beryl Knauth. Tom Patey’s One Man’s Mountains. I read these books about the same time as a climbing noob back in '77 and thought there was loads of humourists in the climbing community. I couldn’t have been more wrong! There is so little humour in climbing lit. I've been doing my best to change that but people are able to ignore the ravings of a chubby old Canadian woman. Harding's book is mostly inside humour and the ravings of a self-styled Satan but Knauth's illustrations raise it to a wider audience and that included me. Patey’s book is… well, all you Brits can quote it chapter and verse. Loved these books. 

7. The Summits of Samivel, published by Alta House, 1986. Has there been a more wistful, angelic, charming and sweet illustrator of mountain activities than Paul Gayet-Tancrède, aka Samivel? This book collects together the oeuvre of Samivel and allows those of us who love his work to reminisce with happiness. 

8. Yvon Chouinard, Climbing Ice, published in the early '80s. I have a copy of this but my first boyfriend loved it to death and the book eventually resembled something eaten and pooped out by a huge ungulate. We have a shit ton of ice and snow here in British Columbia and Chouinard's book provided me plenty of beta on how to deal with it. 

9.Fifty Crowded Climbs...ooooops...umm...Fifty Classic Climbs by Roper'n'Steck. Were they lovers? Or brothers? Or both? LOL!!! It's a deeply flawed book (only twelve of the ‘classics’ are in Canada compared with the land mass and mountains we have, and some of the ‘classics’ are WTF ?!!?!), but it was the first of these books that sent us idiots out into the hinterland to find bliss and bucketlists. Or epic horror. I've done fourteen of the fifty, (hee hee), (I think it's fourteen), (I'd have to check), (you know) (maybe it's eight) (Jesus that book is also packed away too) GUFFAW !!!!!

Tami's writing and artwork features in Waymaking, an anthology of women's adventure writing, poetry and art, which is now available to pre-order. Find out more HERE


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