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HIGH RISK, CLIMBING TO EXTINCTION
Brian Hall
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Contact: Sandstone Press
HIGH RISK, CLIMBING TO EXTINCTION<br/>
Brian Hall
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HIGH RISK, CLIMBING TO EXTINCTION
Brian Hall
Sandstone Press
$may not be available

In the 60's and 70's, America experienced the "British Invasion” of rock ‘n roll when bands such as the Beatles and Rolling Stones arrived on our shores. The second wave of that invasion happened shortly afterwards in North Conway, N.H. with the influx of U.K. climbers such as Paul Ross, David Stone, Ian Turnbull and Nick Yardley. Most worked at I.M.E. and guided. Back then, the most prolific mountaineers/writers on the world stage were Chris Bonnington and Doug Scott. But who the heck was Brian Hall, who eventually wrote this book? While Hall did not hop across the pond to settle in the Mount Washington Valley, he did visit there according to local guides Kurt Winkler and Marc Chauvin who in ~1980 attended Hall's workshop on mountain rescue, held at "the classroom” atop Cathedral Ledge.

Brian Hall was an alpinist extraordinaire who cut loose from the massive and heavyweight Bonnington expeditions to pioneer "light and fast” ascents of the world's great peaks. His earlier success as an author was as the co-writer of the award-winning film, Touching the Void. Extinction? (gulp). Well, yes. A lot of red ink occupies the front and back covers of this book: an ominous signal. The risk of dying while mountaineering is at the heart of this unique book.

Talk about trial and terror. Imagine dusting off your memories of eleven climbing partners. Not an easy task but one sure to require a pair of RP brass nuts. The book's forward is Joe Simpson's masterful synopsis of the 70's and 80's era of British mountaineering. Once you've read the foreword there is very little chance that you will back off from the rest of High Risk.

Hall has not composed a history lesson in mourning drapes. This book is about the frailties of risk, or the luck of the draw, as experienced by several luminaries and some chaps we may not have heard of. It is a simultaneously joyous, and sad account, of the author's adventures with his friends and their impact on the styles of climbing.

The first chapter focuses on the rock soloist extraordinaire with whom Henry Barber climbed and hung out. John Syrett's finger injury and its consequences never let him return to his glory days. Another chapter is given to Mike Geddes, a key and reclusive character in the rich legacy of Scottish ice climbing. Then, the Silver Fox pops up, John Whittle, along with some of the book's lightest moments. One mentions Argentine gauchos who rustled sheep and sometimes needed penicillin injections after their liaisons.

Early on is the first of two chapters about Alex McIntyre and the Lightweight Revolution in alpine climbing. "Dirty Alex” made pioneering fast ascents with the likes of John Porter, Voytek Kurtyka, Tobin Sorensen and Jerzy Kukucska. The metamorphosis of this scruffy, silver-tongued ladies' man is fascinating, and climbing-wise, he was the epitome of Nietzsche's words - "what does not kill me makes me stronger”. Later, in the chapter named "Broken English, Hall reprints an article that McIntyre published about his vision for alpinism's evolution. It reminded me of a similarly prophetic song by the same title, written by Marianne Faithful in 1979. Readers will be pleased by the excellent photographs in this book. The B/W pix of 70's climbers in top hats, motorcycle jackets and leather climbing harnesses are vintage. As is the squalor of the notorious and odious Snell's Field campsite in Chamonix. The perks are rare photos of heavyweight and lightweight alpinism in the Himalayas.

Hall recalls Roger Baxter-Jones, who with Rab Carrington and Al Rouse made an attempt on the East Face of Jannu (in 2023 an American team claimed the first light & fast ascent of that route). The best part of the RBJ chapter is a very touching eulogy by his stepdaughter.

The author gives tribute to several other partners. Georges Bettembourg lived life to the fullest and was congenial and inspirational. Pete Thexton, MD., passed away on Broad Peak in a paradox of predictable and non-predictable circumstances.

Joe Tasker is depicted as an enigma who made seven expeditions to the High Peaks and Hall describes him as the friend who was the most consumed by mountains and who hosted the best parties for climbers. What follows the Tasker chapter is an uplifting segment about the gregarious Irish climber, Paul Nunn. After acting as a double for Sean Connery's film, Five Days One Summer, Nunn became an elder statesman of mountaineering in the U.K. Another of Hall's companions, Andy Parkin, is remembered for his harrowing retreat from India's Changabang on a Doug Scott expedition. Afterwards, Parkin experienced extreme panic attacks during a long bout of PTSD. Among all the bygone rope-mates of Brian Hall, his final farewell is to Alan Rouse, who was surely Brian's most tragic and grievous loss.

The closing chapter of this book analyzes how mountaineering has changed since 1986, when Hall ceased climbing in the Greater Ranges. He writes about "heuristic traps”, interesting mental shortcuts for decision making that most climbers learn through experience. There are parallels that resemble the philosophy of an article in Ascent, 1967 by Lito Tejada Flores, titled The Games Climbers Play. Looking at the stats, Hall concludes that the mortality rates of light and fast alpinism were quite like those of heavyweight expeditions and that overall, the 70's and 80's were indeed more dangerous than the preceding and following eras of mountaineering. At the book's ending, Hall categorizes the causes of his friends' deaths. If you are curious about that tally, read this excellent book.

Conclusion:  This is not a book of obituaries nor grief. It is about one climber's sharing his heart and soul as he remembers and celebrates the climbers who shared his ropes.

Details: ISBN #: 9781913207823
320 pages
Publication Date 2022.
Sandstone Press

Dennis Crean
May 2024

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