If you are feeling the need to be more adventurous, books are a great way to feed your imagination. You don’t have to be planning to summit Everest, free climb El Cap, or BASE jump desert towers to be inspired by these women and their adventurous approach to life…
Gwen Moffatt ‘Space Below My Feet’ – BMC TV recently released the film Operation Moffatt, made by Jen Randall and Claire Carter, inspired by this book. The film has won numerous awards, proving that there is an appetite for stories about women and there are women that can tell those stories well.
Space Below My Feet has a timeless feel so it’s easy to forget that Gwen’s lifestyle, which would be unconventional by today’s standards, was absolutely unheard of in the 1940/50s. Originally published in 1961, it has been re-released and is for sale in the BMC shop.
Catherine Destivelle, Rock Queen (2015) (First published as Ascensions, 2013): Catherine Destivelle is one of the world’s most accomplished rock climbers and alpinists, making world-leading solo winter ascents of the Eiger, the Matterhorn, and the Grand Jurasses. Her book tells how she discovered a love for the mountains as a young girl, developing her talents through bouldering, rock climbing, and eventually solo winter climbing.
A career as a professional climber presents its own challenges for a naturally introverted character. Balancing the demands of sponsors and pressure to be publicised against her own instincts, and faced with decisions about whether to enter high profile competitions or attempt hard new routes, Catherine learned to follow her passion and do what she loves to do.
Cathy O’Dowd, Just For the Love of It (Dec 13): This is Cathy O’Dowd’s story of how she became the first South African to reach the summit of Everest and the first woman to reach it from both sides. It includes absolutely gripping descriptions of alpine climbing, especially the summit attempts. Confronting the costs as well as the rewards, it gives a vivid description of the harsh reality of life at the absolute limits of human endurance and beyond.
It can feel hard to understand the motives of individuals that choose these tough experiences, but Cathy absolutely captures the atmosphere and landscape of expeditions in the Himalaya. With descriptions creating images as clear as pictures, there is no doubt that as the title says, she does it for the love of it.
Steph Davis, Learning to Fly: An Uncommon Memoir of Human Flight, Unexpected Love, and One Amazing Dog (Apr 2013): This is Steph Davis’ second book, the first being about her love of climbing, and this one about her discovery of BASE jumping and wingsuit flying. Steph has encountered profound loss as well as profound love, and this book starts at a point when Steph realises that losing everything can set you free.
In pursuing a free-soloing BASE jumping lifestyle that embraces risk, Steph thinks deeply and is articulate about the choices she has made and the life she lives. She describes how, by focusing on what’s really important and appreciating the simple things in life, she has found the peace and acceptance that allows her to fly. [This book has been updated with a new epilogue – Learning to Fly: A Memoir of Hanging On and Letting Go, Nov 2015].
Gerda Maria Pauler, Great Himalaya Trail: 1,700 Kilometers Across the Roof of the World (Oct 13): This book is about Gerda Pauler’s hike of the Great Himalaya Trail, 1,700 kilometers on foot across Nepal to raise awareness for the charity Autism Care Nepal. Despite her humorous descriptions of the journey, this is a serious undertaking requiring stregth of character and positive thinking. Crossing many high passes, some at altitudes of over 6,100m, every extreme of weather is encountered as well as the dangers of route finding, rockfall, and avalanche.
Taking four months to complete her adventure, Gerda is immersed in the local culture. Having visited the area over a period of 25 years she records her keen observations of the people she meets along the way, in particular the children and women. Changes are occuring, and there is a fine balance in delivering improvements in education and infrastructure that come with tourism and economic development while preserving the unique cultures and traditions of Nepal.
Lynn Hill, Climbing Free: My Life In The Vertical World (May 2003): Lynne Hill grew up in the unique subculture that developed in Yosemite Valley in the 1970s and it shaped her life as a professional rock climber. Lynne was a woman in male dominated scene where she challenged inequalities and refused to accept limits that others would impose. She became one of the best climbers in the world, and the first person to free climb El Cap – an achievement that many thought impossible.
It wasn’t always easy to make a living from climbing, at times experiencing poverty, doing ridiculous stunts for money, but for climbers in Yosemite it was never about money. The book conveys a real sense of the playfulness inherent in swinging about on warm rock. At the heart of the book are the characters in Lynne’s life, her climbing family, and the importance of the relationships formed through the ups and the downs in their vertical world.
Have you read these books? Please comment if you’ve enjoyed them or have others to recommend…