Chris Bonnington. The Climbers.

By Chris Bonnington

Printed: 1992

Publisher: BBC Books.

Dimensions 20 × 26 × 3 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 20 x 26 x 3

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In the original dustsheet. Navy cloth binding with silver title on the spine.

  • F.B.A. provides an in-depth photographic presentation of this item to stimulate your feeling and touch. More traditional book descriptions are immediately available.

Mountaineering has always demanded a fine balancing act between calculated risk-taking and the basic instinct for survival. The pioneers of the Victorian golden age tested this balance as they pushed themselves further and further, first in the Alps and later in the Himalayas. Of them all, it was perhaps Mummery whose attitude to climbing is closest to that of the 1990s, and this book recreates his first ascent of the Grepon. It also traces his attempts on Nanga Parbat, where he was to lose his life. In a book which treads across the stepping stones of Alpine and Himalayan climbing history, from the backbiting that attended the first ascent of Mont Blanc to the possibility of a sponsored race up Everest, Chris Bonington explores the way climbers develop their skills in order to push back the frontiers of the possible. He draws on his first-hand experience as a climber and interviews with notable climbers from both Europe and America.

Review: It is a challenge to cover the world’s major mountain climbs between 1786 and 1990 in a concise, well written and amply illustrated volume. But Chris Bonington has done just that in The Climbers. Bonington, former British army officer, army mountaineer instructor, and professional mountaineer (1934- ), completed many noteworthy climbs in the UK and the Alps (including the first British ascent of the North Face of the Eiger). He also climbed several Himalayan peaks (including Everest in 1985), but is best known for leading expeditions that made first ascents of Annapurna’s South Face (1970), and Everest’s Southwest Face (1975). (Described in Annapurna: South Face and Everest: The Hard Way). Bonington devotes roughly 20 percent of The Climbers to climbs on Mount Blanc (18th century), the Matterhorn (19th century), and other peaks. He gives special attention to the accomplishments of Albert Mummery, whom Bonington calls “the father of modern climbing.” Mummery completed several important ascents in the Alps, and continued his efforts in the Caucasus and the Himalayas, eventually losing his life on Nanga Parbat in 1895. Bonington also discusses early expeditions to K2 and Kangchenjunga.

Moving on to the 1920s and 1930s, Bonington describes some climbs in the Alps, but gives most of his attention to the Himalayas. His emphasis falls on such noted climbers as Paul Preuss, George Mallory, Willo Welzenbach, Willy Merkl, Fritz Wiessner, and Charles Houston, and on British expeditions to Everest, German expeditions to Nanga Parbat, and American expeditions to K2. After a relatively brief chapter on 1950s climbs in the UK and the Alps, Bonington focuses on the successful climbs on the major 8,000-meter peaks in the Himalayas–Annapurna, Everest, Nanga Parbat, and K2, with some account of such outstanding climbers as Maurice Herzog, Louis Lachenal, Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, Hermann Buhl, Achille Compagnani, Lino Lacedelli, Tom Hornbein, and Willi Unsoeld. Bonington also gives passing notice of successes on the other 8,000-meter mountains. Moving to 1970 and beyond, Bonington turns to the accomplishment of more difficult climbs—the South Face of Annapurna (1970), the traverse of Nanga Parbat (1970), the South Face of Manaslu (1972), and the Southwest Face of Everest (1975). His narrative gives us a glimpse of the climbers who achieved these successes: Dougal Haston, Don Whillans, Reinhold Messner, Doug Scott, Jerzy Kukuczka, and Wanda Rutkiewicz.

Throughout the volume, Bonington explains the development of climbing equipment, and the increasing involvement of climbers from blue collar backgrounds and from Eastern Europe. His final chapter traces the evolution of climbing activities, the improvement of rock climbing techniques, and the growth of sport climbing and competition climbing. The book’s illustrations include four 8-page sections of color plates, including five two-page photographs, twelve full-page pictures, and 18 smaller images. Additional black and white photographs of mountains and climbers appear at appropriate places in the text. Bonington has also provided eight maps of the Alps, and the Everest, Nanga Parbat, and Karakoram regions, The book’s back matter includes a 10-page chronology (covering the years from 218 BCE to 1990 CE), a 3-page glossary, a 3-page bibliography, and a 5-page index. A volume such as this cannot describe any expedition in detail, and, of course, it does not deal with events since 1990. Readers who have delved into climbing literature may find much in this book that is familiar, but they may also learn things. A useful publication for anyone interested in the subject.


Sir Christian John Storey Bonington, CVO, CBE, DL (born 6 August 1934) is a British mountaineer. His career has included nineteen expeditions to the Himalayas, including four to Mount Everest. Bonington’s father, who left the family when Christian was nine months old, was a founding member of L Detachment, Special Air Service. Bonington first began climbing in 1951 at age 16. Educated at University College School in Hampstead, Bonington joined the Royal Fusiliers before attending Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and on graduation was commissioned in the Royal Tank Regiment in 1956. After serving three years in North Germany, he spent two years at the Army Outward Bound School as a mountaineering instructor.

Bonington was part of the party that made the first British ascent of the South West Pillar (aka Bonatti Pillar) of the Aiguille du Dru in 1958, and the first ascent of the Central Pillar of Freney on the south side of Mont Blanc in 1961 with Don Whillans, Ian Clough and Jan Dlugosz (Poland). In 1960 he was part of the successful joint British-Indian-Nepalese forces expedition to Annapurna II.

On leaving the British Army in 1961, he joined Van den Berghs, a division of Unilever, but he left after nine months, and became a professional mountaineer and explorer. In 1966 he was given his first assignment by The Daily Telegraph Magazine to cover other expeditions, including climbing Sangay in Ecuador and hunting caribou with Inuit on Baffin Island. In 1968 he accompanied Captain John Blashford-Snell and his British Army team in the attempt to make the first-ever descent of the Blue Nile.

In 1972 he was unsuccessful on the south-west face of Mount Everest, but reached 27,300 feet. He had another shot at that route in 1975, and the 1975 British Mount Everest Southwest Face expedition that he led was successful–it put four climbers on the summit, but Mick Burke died during his summit attempt.

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