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Beyond Risk: Conversations with Climbers

Nicholas O’Connell, The Mountaineers Press, 1993

Beyond Risk is the best book I have found on traditional climbing ethics. It is one of the best reads of the adventure books on traditional mountaineering and climbing that I have enjoyed. The book contains a series of biographies of climbing greats coupled with a candid and personal autobiographical account and answers to questions by seventeen of the most interesting people you could want to meet. I like this book!

Reinhold Messner, Riccardo Cassin, Sir Edmond Hillary, Kurt Diemberger, Walter Bonatti, Royal Robbins, Warren Harding, Chris Bonington, Doug Scott, Voytec Kurtyka, Jean-Claude Droyer, Jeff Lowe, Wolfgang Gullich, Catherine Destivelle, Lynn Hill, Peter Croft and Tomo Cesen are names that send chills of admiration down the spine of climbers every where.

Nicholas O’Connell tells us about each of these Adventurers and then records their answers to his questions about risk, ethics, motivations, fellow climbers and the future of traditional climbing. The climbers reflect candidly on the turning points and milestones in their lives and what they feel are their places in mountaineering history.

The knowledgeable reader will recognize the diversity of this group: they represent classic European and Yosemite pioneers, Everest expedition and alpine style icons, rock climbers and contemporary sport climbers, siege climbers and solo climbers.

A constant thread throughout the interviews is the necessity of the element of risk and of respect for the rock in mountaineering. The new ethic of top rope bolt anchors and protection set on rappel is explored in many of the interviews. The immense worldwide explosion in popularity of bolted gymnastic sport climbing at the local crag is contrasted with the old ethics of exploration and innovation in Yosemite in the 1970s when the sit-harness and passive protection were first introduced on big walls in America.

The history of free climbing is discussed by its greatest practitioners. The fear that any face could be climbed with enough time and bolt anchors has come full circle with the great routes going free (after sport climbing inspired siege tactics were employed).

I treasure my copy of this book that is autographed by Royal Robbins. I have donated a second copy to the Deschutes County Library in Bend and made sure the local book stores make Beyond Risk: Conversations with Climbers available to everyone. The hard cover edition costs $19.95, a bargain today!

On Belay! --Bob Speik

Beyond Risk
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Mountain climbing has inherent dangers that can in part, be mitigated


More suggestions of fascinating Traditional Mountaineering reading as soon as I can!