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5 Essential Books for Technical Adventurers

Check out these resources to hone your skills.

Getting into new technical outdoor activities like rock climbing, mountaineering, or back country skiing can be intimidating. There are big risks involved which almost always necessitates the need for a partner you can trust when your life is on the line. As a newbie, you are stuck in a catch-22 situation where you need experience for others to trust you, but you can’t get experience without someone who’s willing to take a chance on you. Having been through this personally while getting into mountaineering, I know the frustration all too well.

In many regards, the best option is proper training with a certified guide or organization. After spending 5 days learning glacial mountaineering skills from a then American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) certified and now International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) certified guide, I can attest to the value of this type of training. However, this approach does require the financial resources and patience to save enough money to pay for the course and finally pull the trigger. While you are waiting, books can be a valuable resource to fill your time and prepare you for topics that will be covered during the course. Having some baseline knowledge can also help friends or acquaintances feel more comfortable bringing you on a trip. Books certainly cannot replace proper in-person training, but used in the right way, they can be an excellent supplement. Below I have compiled 5 of my favorite reads related to technical adventures.

1. The Mountain Guide Manual (by Marc Chauvin and Rob Coppolillo)

Written by two guides certified by both the AMGA and IFMGA, this book packs a wealth of experience and knowledge into a compact 300 pages. Personally, I found the information much more up-to-date than the classic Freedom of the Hills. Chauvin is a past AMGA president and also helped create the AMGA certification program. You would be hard-pressed to find a pair of authors with such expertise on rope work and mountain travel. Don’t be fooled by the title however, the vast majority of topics covered in the book are applicable to intermediate and advanced recreational climbers. Learn skills ranging from anchors, belaying, rope systems, transitions, alpine rock, crevasse rescue, ice climbing, and self rescue all with concise, step-by-step instructions (many of which are accompanied by helpful pictures).

2. Training for the New Alpinism (by Steve House and Scott Johnston)

Although this book does not cover any technical skills, I felt it was worthy of mention because of the extremely detailed discussion of training for mountain sports. House is a world renown climber and mountain guide, and Johnston has coached several world-class cross country skiers. Together, they give an in-depth manual for understanding the physiological basis of endurance and steps for implementing your own training program. Big alpine objectives require iron man levels of fitness, and often the physical preparation can play as large a role in your success as your technical skills. I highly recommend this read to any alpinist looking to take their training to the next level.

3. Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain (by Bruce Tremper)

Written by the director of the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center who also coordinated backcountry safety preparations for the 2002 Winter Olympics, this book covers some of the critical decision making needed for safe winter recreation. Especially if you are a professional guide or avid recreational skier who frequents avalanche prone terrain, it is paramount to consistently make safe judgments. To emphasize just how knowledgeable you need to be, Temper calculates your odds of survival given the following:

  • You cross 10 avalanche slopes per day of activity

  • 95% of the slopes of stable enough to cross safely

  • For every avalanche you trigger, you get caught every third time and killed every 10th time

Under those assumptions, even if you are correct 99% of the time, you will only make it 100 days before dying. What’s more, Temper estimates that the average person with no avalanche training would only be correct 95% of the time, giving them a lifespan of a mere 17 days. Clearly, this is an area worth studying and practicing.

4. Climb Injury Free (by Dr. Jared Vagy)

Similar to Training for the New Alpinism above, Climb Injury Free isn’t about rope work or related skills. However, injuries are easy to run into as you climb harder routes and go through more rigorous training programs. Knowing how to treat and ultimately prevent injuries will keep you healthy so you have time to practice your technical skills. Many climbing injuries are so specific to the sport that they don’t receive much attention in mainstream physical therapy, but Dr. Vagy is in the unique position of having extensive experience in both climbing and physical therapy. His book covers all sorts of common injuries from pulleys to shoulders and has a convenient diagnostic picture to help you localize any pain you are experiencing. Additionally, there are frequent “dirtbag” tips to help climbers on a budget find less-expensive alternatives to help them recover.

5. AAC Accident Reports

Every year, the American Alpine Club (AAC) publishes a report of the most significant documented accidents in North American climbing along with analyses to explain what went wrong and how you can avoid making similar mistakes. While most books cover what to do, it can be equally valuable to read about what not to do. I have found the accidents also serve as a good reminder that double checking your ropes and partners is critical no matter how experienced you might be.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!