Book Reviews - Editor's Choice

Alone on the Wall

by Alex Honnold and David Roberts

Alex Honnold would disagree with me, but he is already part of a legendary group of world class, iconic climbers. He’s daring, but remarkably humble. He’s world famous, but he almost always downplays it…there is nothing fake or tabloid-y about Alex. He solves rock puzzles thousands of feet off the ground, and is equally interested in environmental issues. As one of the most articulate and well-read climbers I’ve had the chance to interview, Alex has succeeded in bringing climbing out of the mountains and onto the world stage, in front of a global audience of millions. Alone on the Wall grants us an inside look at a very distinguished climbing personality.

His incredibly well-documented ropeless ascents have become his signature style, as his youtube videos will testify. It’s not that he never uses ropes, in fact on most climbs with friends, he does. But it is his successful free soloing ascents that have garnered this Sacramento native a loyal and world-wide following.

This memoir is a refreshing look into the mind, emotions and life of a man who fully understands the intricate nature of free soloing. It also allows us to glimpse the fact he is acutely aware of how his work is perceived by the world. Would the average climber understand the inexplicable and innately freeing sensation that free soloing a thousand-plus feet, sheer rock face can deliver? Perhaps. Can the non-climber mentally and emotionally grasp the highly charged but powerfully liberating process of free soloing? Probably not. But it does leave them utterly fascinated.

Many in the non-climbing community have their own opinions about Alex’s climbs, but I would venture to say that it would take a finely honed climber’s mind to fully absorb the phenomena that is Alex’s forte: free soloing.

Armed with only climbing shoes, a chalk bag and a fierce but calm sense of focus, Alex achieves his objective: a climbing experience that is so intensely personal, so all-consuming that nothing rivals it in his world. And he does it with a curious steadiness. That steadiness and calmness may be why he prevails.

Today, Alex is not just the world’s most accomplished free-soloist but also a serious philanthropist: the Honnold Foundation’s work with under-privileged communities is something close to his heart. Co-authored by the amazing David Roberts, Alone on the Wall is a must-read. Alex has achieved an iconic status at a young age and David has brilliantly seen the genius behind this very easy-going, approachable but inwardly sensitive climber. Kudos to both men for producing a remarkable tome. Highly recommended.

Yosemite in the Fifties: The Iron Age

by Dean Fidelman and John Long.

(Thanks to Stephanie Ridge.)

This is, without a doubt, one of the most exquisitely put together rock-climbing masterpieces that I have been asked to review in a long time. Indeed, the sunrise of adventure sports in the United States was birthed in Yosemite, and this book provides the devoted climber as well as the non-climber with an impressive portfolio of beautifully chronicled first ascents and artful images that are the heart of this creation. The climbers of the era depicted were pioneers in so many ways and it is critical that today’s generation of climbers, as well as the climbers and boulderers of generations to come, acquaint themselves with this tome. We are whisked off to a world that was the very foundation of big-wall climbing as we now know it, a time when sponsorships, modern climbing gear and safety devices were unheard of.

The well documented first ascents and the climbs of legends such as Warren Harding, Wayne Merry, George Whitmore, Royal Robbins, Bob Swift, Allen Steck, Mark Powell, Bill Feuerer, Nancy Brickford Miller, Tom Frost, Rich Calderwood, John Salathe, Yvon Chouinard still echo in the Valley, as the climbers of today scale the same epic granite walls that consumed the earlier climbers with an enduring passion. Immerse yourself in a world where we are allowed to witness the initial vision, the tools, the difficulties, risks and perfect triumphs that give American rock-climbing’s rich history a perennial aura of power and personal achievement. This is truly marvelous work by Dean Fidelman, John Long and Tom Alder. Yosemite in the Fifties: The Iron Age is highly recommended, as is the companion book, Yosemite in the Sixties by Glen Denny and Yvon Chouinard.

Learning to Fly: An Uncommon Memoir of Human Flight, Unexpected Love, and One Amazing Dog.

Author - Steph Davis

Book Review: Once again, Steph has penned a moving portrait of her life and given us a glimpse into the pressure-filled life of an athlete in the spotlight, into the heart of a woman of many hopes and dreams, and into the mind of a human being who has shown us that a great attitude and faith in oneself can create that fine balance between one's personal and professional life. Great job, Steph! You're an inspiration to all of us, women, men, and especially the young nieces in my family. 5 stars for this fabulous book.

High Infatuation: A Climber's Guide to Love and Gravity

Author - Steph Davis

Book Review: As one of the most famous climbers in the world, Steph Davis is truly an inspiration. Not only is she phenomenal at what she does, she never loses her humility, graciousness or friendliness. She's a natural when it comes to climbing, no doubt about it. Whether she's wearing a wingsuit or climbing gear, her enthusiasm is infectious...young climbers, experienced ones, men, women, any one can identify with the stories in this book. Being quite familiar with many of the locales and cultures she describes in it, it was fascinating to read how she fared in those very places. A well written, thoughtful book, especially if you're a woman. Read it! You will love it.

The Tower: A Chronicle of Climbing and Controversy on Cerro Torre

Author: Kelly Cordes

Book Review: A superb and high-profile climber and an amazing author, Kelly Cordes does an exquisite job of bringing to light the fascinating history of the iconic Cerro Torre. A well-researched tome, Kelly is truly an authority on the subject. His writing deftly handles the topic and describes how interest in Cerro Torre first began. He writes about Maestri's climbing attempts (in-depth research is done on the climber, including his frailties) from 1959 onwards, while also going into detail about the ascent of the Southeast Ridge by the Kruk-Kennedy team. The FFA by David Lama is also described, bringing the story back to an era we can relate to. For anyone who loves alpinism and mountaineering as well, this book is quite the page turner. I really enjoyed it. The images are extremely beautiful and give the reader a true taste of what it was like...being there, at that time in the mountain's history. A most worthy read. My father would love it, and every page had me riveted. Very impressive!