Mountaineering types probably don't obsess over what's on their coffee table, assuming they even have a coffee table – much less the stable living arrangements required to house one. But if they do, they probably have an arrangement of Patagonia Press books on it. These books are as much a pleasure to hold and behold as they are to read, and the latest installment to cross our desk is no exception.
In A Mountaineer's Life, living legend Allen Steck looks back on his varied and impressive accomplishments, from notable first ascents around the world to founding Ascent magazine and pioneering adventure travel company Mountain Travel. One of his climbs in particular has to stand out to anyone: the 1965 first ascent of Hummingbird Ridge on Mt. Logan, at 19,551 feet the second highest peak in North America after Denali. The route took thirty-five days and has not yet been repeated, over fifty years later. The pictures on pages 109-10 and 250 of their tiny Camp II tent platform hacked into the side of a cornice are simply stunning.
The book contains triumph and tragedy beyond what you might expect until you realize Steck started climbing when he was sixteen years old and didn't stop – if he even has – until some six decades later. His adventures include intersections with many other notable climbers of the twentieth century, and there is rich historical content throughout. Through all the drama Steck's writing is consistent, richly descriptive and witty; his description of Camp II reads, "I heartily recommend a week at Camp II for anyone desirous of experiencing the deep excitement of living."
The photography matches the overall production quality, which is to say it is superb. The combination of black and white and color photographs with the gripping events, well-rendered in prose by Steck, add up to what will certainly be a timeless classic of mountaineering literature.