Great Adventure Books

Earlier this year I read the original account of Shakleton’s historic voyage. … oh_product

For those who don’t know the story, in 1914, explorers were racing to the North and South Pole to achieve various firsts. Ernest Shackleton was a ship captain/adventurer who put together a team to become the first to walk across Antarctica, but before they could even reach their starting point, their ship got stuck in the ice, they kept trying to get it out, but it just got worse and worse, till it was finally permanently frozen in place and eventually the ice broke the ship to pieces, so they removed the four lifeboats and the food, water and other provisions, and waited for two months on their iceflow, before it broke into pieces and they manned the lifeboats and sailed/rowed hundreds of miles across the frigid waters, with only the most rudimentary navigational devices, miraculously hitting the island they were aiming for, which had men working there at a whaling station, so they could be rescued.

Truly amazing story. They spent 1.5 years on the ice and sea without their ship, traveled hundreds of miles, and all 22 men were rescued, for which Shackleton was rightly deemed a hero. Fortunately, also, they had a photographer on board.

Here you can see their ship getting crushed in the background as some of the crew stand beside their rescued supplies.

And here they’re on an ice flow with their life boats.

One of the most terrifying events was when giant, 12-foot leopard seals, with huge teeth, began swimming beneath their ice flows, following their shadows, and suddenly bursting through the ice and lunging at them to eat them, only to be shot dead as the men ran for their lives.

Now I’m halfway through this and had trouble putting it down to leave for work today. … oh_product

Extremely well told, autobiographical account of an expert mountaineer’s first-ascent of an incredibly steep, icy, cold and remote 21,000 ft mountain in the Peruvian Andes with one other climber and their miraculous climb back across a razor sharp ridgeline with overhanging snow cornices that one can easily plunge through unexpectedly or the whole snowy side of the mountain can suddenly slide down, hurling you thousand of feet down the sheer edge to certain death, until the author falls off a cliff, suffers a horrific broken knee and it is absolutely certain then that he will die on the mountain.

Even with two legs it would be a miracle to get out alive, but with just one it’s clearly impossible. He knows that and he’s terrified his partner will leave him to save his own life. The account is superb not just for the description of the facts but for the author’s intense account of what went through his head. And just after the accident the book switches from autobiography for two pages so the partner can describe it and the partner bluntly confesses, as well, that his first thought upon learning of his buddy’s broken leg was “matey you’re fucked. you’re a dead man” or something like that. He said it was obvious his partner would fall off the mountain with just one leg, and he actually wished that he would, because then it would be over instead of him having to attempt to rescue him and have them both die. Nor did he seem like a selfish bastard for saying that; the conditions were so extreme that was just the reality.

But incredibly they do both make it out – separately, though, because the one with a broken leg is eventually lowered down the mountain on cliffs, untill they get stuck and his weight threatens to pull them both to their deaths, so his partner cuts the rope, letting him plummet down the slope, before leaving him behind for dead, but he survives and is forced to crawl out on his own.

Here’s the face they climbed up (and down).

This morning my wife asked me if I slept ok last night and I laughed, because after reading the above account I could never complain about cold or discomfort.

The Shackleton story is probably my favorite of all time. Unbelievable. Touching the Void is a great story, too.

Have you ever read Mike Dash’s “Batavia’s Graveyard”? Or Nathaniel Philbrick’s “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex”? (Melville met the son of the first mate of the Essex, Owen Chase, heard the story of a mad sperm whale which rammed and sunk the Essex, passing its madness on to the Essex survivors, and out came Moby Dick)

I couldn’t put either of these down, either.
Amazon link to Dash’s Batavia tale
Amazon link to Philbrick’s Essex tale

Thanks flike, I’ll be sure to check those out.

Just finished Touching the Void and, man oh man, that was an incredible tale. For those who don’t know it, after the author broke his leg near the top of the mountain, his buddy lowered him straight down the sheer face on a 300 foot rope, then descended to him and did it again, eight times in a row, till, despite their brutal injuries and the horrific weather conditions and countless possibilities of imminent death in every direction around them, they were elated, because they had descended over 2,000 ft and it appeared they would get out after all. . .

that is, until the injured guy got suddenly, unexpectedly lowered deep into a crevasse in the glacier, hundreds of feet deep, so that he couldn’t touch ground and his buddy couldn’t pull him back up, so they were both totally stuck there, unable to go up or down, just waiting till eventually the weight would pull the top guy off the mountain and they would both plunge hundreds of feet to their certain death in the crevasse. That was when the top guy finally, after exploring all other options, made the decision to cut the rope, leaving his pal to plunge to his death.

But, he doesn’t die, and the author then describes the terrifying horror of being trapped in the icy tomb waiting to die, till he’s so terrified of the prospect that he somehow wriggles out of there and hops on one leg, shuffles and crawls for three and half more days, with no food or water, in excruxiating pain, back to base camp, arriving just as his pal is preparing to leave.

The narration shift back and forth between the two characters and it’s thrilling to enter their minds in this mindboggling drama. Incidentally, while the guy who cut the rope no doubt still feels a nagging guilt to this day, the author thanks him repeatedly for saving his life and says he holds no grudge for him having cut the rope or assumed he was dead and abandoned him.

I’ll check out your two recommendations flike. However, for my next adventure book I was thinking of Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea. Have you read it?

[quote]Steven Callahan"s dramatic tale of survival at sea was on the New York Times bestseller list for more than thirty-six weeks. In some ways the model for the new wave of adventure books, Adrift is an undeniable seafaring classic, a riveting firsthand account by the only man known to have survived more than a month alone at sea, fighting for his life in an inflatable raft after his small sloop capsized only six days out. . .

This true story is one of the most harrowing accounts of survival in a truly hopeless situation. He capsizes in minutes in the middle of the night with a raft and not much more. Nobody knows he’s missing. No one is looking for him. . . [/quote] … R&v=glance

Of course every list of great adventure books includes The Great Walk, but I’m not going to bother reading it now that it’s been revealed that it’s probably largely fabricated. … d_sim_b_10

I liked this one, quite a story … tory5.html

[quote=“Mother Theresa”]Now I’m halfway through this and had trouble putting it down to leave for work today. … oh_product

Extremely well told, autobiographical account of an expert mountaineer’s first-ascent of an incredibly steep, icy, cold and remote 21,000 ft mountain in the Peruvian Andes[/quote]

I saw the movie. Truly gripping… an incredible tale of survival.

I really really really liked the Swiss Family Robinson, when I was between 8 and 14 I probably read it once or twice a year.

Touching the Void is great, Into Thin Air is good too (not as good though).

:slight_smile: Not yet, but it’s on its way here and I intend to read it over the holiday. Oh, and “Touching the Void” is on its way to my dad, thanks for reminding me of what a great story that is. My brother is getting “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, who also wrote “Into the Wild.”

[quote=“Tempo Gain”]I liked this one, quite a story … tory5.html[/quote]
Hell, I liked the link. Philbrick’s a fine writer, and this one is also on its way here. Thanks for that. :thumbsup:

I’m hearing this one is really good:

It apparently explores who lives and dies, and why.

I like Krakauer’s writing.

When I was at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, they had a great exhibition on Shakleton and a few things on other polar explorers.

I enjoyed Maurice Herzog’s “Annapurna”, his ego-driven account of the first ascent of an 8000 meter peak. Like “The Great Walk” it may be a better read if you don’t know that it’s one person’s account, which has since been discredited/disputed.

Semi-Spoiler Alert

They reach the peak about a third of the way through the book; the harrowing descent is where people start losing digits and limbs to the frostbite and quack.

I like Krakauer too, though I agree that the Void was a better book.

I know what you mean. It could detract from the reading for me if I feel the author is a liar or an asshole, even if he/she survives extreme conditions. For instance, Jungle is an adventure survival story that gets good marks, but I’m less likely to buy it due to this review:

[quote]Survival and Selfishness, February 18, 2007
By A. flynn “flynnar” (Ohio) - See all my reviews

Jungle has Yossi, an Israeli, hooking up with two companions and a guide to experience the jungles of South America. The tale of their survival, particularly Yossi’s survival when he becomes lost, is captivating and difficult to put down. The backdrop of human nature adds an emotional element to the story.

It was survival of the fittest, and in this situation, the weakest link became despised. The disappointing factor is that at the time when Kevin and Yossi began to despise Marcus, the journey’s difficulty seemed minor.

After the emotional abuse, I found it difficult to care for the author’s plight. One can only imagine the suffering and confusion that Marcus felt at the betrayal of his friends during a painful and difficult journey. It must have been painful for Yossi to tell his story honestly. . . [/quote] … pd_sim_b_2

As for this statement from zender . . .

. . . I believe that’s typically the case in serious mountaineering, that getting to the top isn’t the hardest part; getting down safely is. Guys who are totally driven to summit, obsessed with the goal, may ignore all sorts of dangers, reaching the top at 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, way too late in the day, even when bad weather is coming in, and then they must descend the treacherous slope fatigued, in the dark and storms, etc. Bad news. Which is why some famous mountaineer I was just reading of says “getting to the top is optional, returning safely down is mandatory.”

Thanks for the Swiss Family Robinson tip, urodacus. I look forward to reading that with my daughter some day. A couple of adventure books I loved as a teen were Kon Tiki and Alive (the account of the cannibal soccer team plane crash survivors in the Andes).

Well, I finally read this book.

Guy starts sailing solo from the northern coast of Africa to the Caribbean in a small sailboat that he built himself, there’s a sudden huge SLAM in the middle of the night, water rushes in and the boat sinks in just a minute, giving him just enough time to grab his inflatable survival raft and one bag of survival goods, before embarking on a 76 day voyage, traveling 1,800 miles across the ocean. His survival was truly miraculous as the tiny raft was constantly in danger of capsizing or being punctured and sinking, sharks slammed into the raft repeatedly, he was forced to constantly kill fish and get fresh water, but his rudimentary tools for doing so kept deteriorating and breaking and he was constantly forced to repair them with no spare parts but just his ingenuity. The difficulties just got worse and worse and worse, but he was seriously determined and amazingly made it.

Great book. :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

Does ‘Confessions of an English Opium Eater’ count as adventure?
To name a few that I have enjoyed: ‘Kon-Tiki’ by Thor Heyerdahl; the ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ by T.E. Lawrence; ‘We Die Alone’ by David Howarth; ‘Journal of the Voyage to the Pacific’ by Alexander Mackenzie; ‘Journals’ by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark; ‘Travels’ by Marco Polo; ‘Journey Without Maps’, by Graham Greene; ‘The Man-Eaters of Tsavo’ by Colonel Henry Patterson; and ‘Farthest North’ by Fridtjof Nansen.
All classic reads.

Those are great reads – haven’t read the Adrift one, though.
Joe Simpson (Touching the Void) is a family friend – my mum and dad were avid winter climbers in the 50s and I was too, in the late 70s-early 80s, and the Scottish winter climbing fraternity in those days was pretty close-knit. It was Joe who secured me my berth on an epic climb in the Karakoram back in the early 80s. Got to 23,000 feet on the Mustagh Tower above the Baltoro Glacier, right next door to K2. Serious technical climbing at truly debilitating altitude for that kind of stuff. An education. He is a truly stalwart man.

And a great writer. I’ll likely buy one of his other books as they’re very well reviewed.

For now, though, I’m waiting for Ed Viesturs’ No Shortcuts to the Top to arrive from I almost ordered We Die Alone, which TGM is right to describe as a classic (of this genre). And Kon-Tiki: read that about junior high and was enthralled by it then, along with the one about the soccer team that crashed in the Andes.

So Sandman, I know you’re ancient and all that ( :wink: ) but do you ever get the hankering to climb a big peak again?

[quote=“Mother Theresa”]

So Sandman, I know you’re ancient and all that ( :wink: ) but do you ever get the hankering to climb a big peak again?[/quote]
I’m only early 50s. Lots of high altitude climbing left in me yet. With training. I have a lot of expertise and mountain and weather know-how. Can’t see it happening, though, more’s the pity.
Anyway, I was always more of a technical winter climber. I could sure show you a pretty interesting time on some of Scotland’s winter crags, though. I know a hell of a lot of them like the back of my hand. And trust me, low altitude or not, they are most certainly not for the faint of heart. I’ve had FAR hairier moments up there than I ever experienced in the Alps or the Hindu Kush.
You just need to remember that in that kind of scenario, it doesn’t really matter how fit or buff you are. 70-year-olds can do it. What’s far more important is knowing how much you have left in you. And can you read the sky and the ground. That only comes with the doing of the thing, in all kinds of conditions. My last semi-scary climb was in Zero Gully, when my hangover was so bad I couldn’t even see straight. But I got down. Three university students in their 20s had to be rescued. Great climbers – fucking ice monkeys, all I ever saw of them were the bottoms of their crampons – but they had no clue about the weather or wind-chill or whiteout, and got stuck on a ledge with no food or shelter for nearly two days until the Lochaber guys could get them off the hill. Lucky, lucky boys.

Here are a few that I read last summer when I had access to a US library and cheap used book stores.

The Last Place on Earth - Huntford - He compares the Scott (ill-fated) and Amundsen (successful) expeditions (race) to the South Pole. An incredible book.

No Shortcuts to the Top - Veisturs - an autobiography that has a chapter with a second account of the 1996 Everest disaster (also told in Krakauer’s Into Thin Air book). I also read the Russian’s (Anatoli Boukreev) book and it creates a more thorough understanding of what happened.

Into Thin Air and Into the Wild - Krakauer - everyone should know about these. I really want to read his new Pat Tillman book.

touching the Void - Simpson - an extensive review is already written. It was pretty cool to read this book a week before hiking below the same mountain when traveling thru Peru

Marching Powder - Young (and McFadden) - An absolutely amazing story of a black Englishman that is caught trafficking cocaine (or some other drug) in Bolivia. And it describes how he survives in the San Pedro prison and gives a thoroughly bizarre account of prison life in Bolivia.

Motorcycle Diaries - Che - I would like to read this someday when my Spanish is much, much better because I read the translated version which had never been proofread by a native speaker. But it was still a good book but brutal to read in some places.

Chasing Che - Patrick Symmes (I think) - he’s not a great writer but he takes a motorcycle trip through south America attempting to visit the same places as Che and includes a lot of Che history and the history of the people and areas that Che visited.

Naked in Baghdad - Anne Garrels (from NPR) - not really a travel book but it is her account of being in Baghdad when the US invaded in 2003. I didn’t expect to like but she tells a fascinating account of the invasion and leaves the politics out of it for the most part.

I’ve tried reading Bryson’s books (A Walk in the Woods among others) but I think he is a bumbling idiot.

right now my shelf mostly has classic fictional (and a couple NF) travel books. Huck Finn, Crusoe, Kontiki, Illiad, odyssey and Anne Frank. The perfect traveling books because they are tiny.

Which one was that? ‘Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors’ or ‘Miracle in the Andes’? I haven’t read either, and as it’s such a fascinating story, I wonder which one is better?

Which one was that? ‘Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors’ or ‘Miracle in the Andes’? I haven’t read either, and as it’s such a fascinating story, I wonder which one is better?[/quote]

I’m fairly certain this is the original. Or at least a later printing of the original, as it is copyright 1974. … r=8-3#noop

I’m also almost certain it’s the version I read about that date. As you can see, it gets 4.5 stars out of 5 from 196 critics on I also thought it was a great book. They crashed way the hell in the middle of nowhere, snowed in in the mountains and forced to wait months till Spring before they could hope to walk out, it was freezing cold and they lacked the necessary clothing and blankets, etc., and of course they lacked food too (except for some airline peanuts and little bottles of booze, of course). Which is why they were forced to turn to cannibalism. The book describes all kinds of crazy stuff, like which parts of the body are most tasty, etc. Naturally, they found it grotesque and almost unthinkable to actually eat the dead bodies. . . but in the end it was either that or die. It’s a gripping tale.

EDIT: Yea, it looks like “Miracle in the Andes” was written by one of the survivors. I don’t think the original version was. But it wasn’t published until 2006 – more than 30 years after it happened (I guess he needed some money), although Miracle also gets great reviews from Amazonians. … img_b#noop

No one has yet mentioned John McPhee. Though his books are not adventure in the dire survival sense, a great many are of the outdoors with more than a few “life-endangering” moments–wonderfully written books.

Three that come to mind:
Coming into the Country: trekking through Alaska
The Pine Barrens: hilariously, I think, used in an episode of The Sopranos
The Crofter and the Laird: exploring his Scottish roots–Sandy may like this

If you’re into botany, do read One River by Wade Davis. This one is certainly adventurous as well as being well-written–highly recommended.

Also sitting on my shelf are:
The Starship and the Canoe: A good read if space travel and travelling by canoe interest you
Left for Dead, by Beck Weathers: one of the team on the fateful Everest climb in 1996–terribly written, but if offers another perspective (from Krakauer’s)

What? That’s all you can say about this book?

You forgot to mention that, despite the fact Viesturs is undoubtedly one of the most accomplished mountaineers alive today and has many exciting tales to tell, he’s also an arrogant prick, whose book is crammed full of nauseating boasts, digs at others who he deems inferior, and other irritating and irrelevant personal details (and personal flaws) that the editor clearly should have cut out, not just to make for better reading but to help preserve some of the author’s dignity. Viestur’s infuriating writing “style” is such a central flaw in his book that I feel no review would be complete without mentioning that.

No Shortcuts to the Top reads like this:

[quote]After I was the first person to climb such and such ridge without bottled air in 19___, I decided to make an ascent of ____. It was there I ran into ___. He was an excellent climber but often took unjustifiable risks. I’m always careful and never take such risks. But he did and that’s why he died.

One time I was about to summit on ___ mountain but so and so was lost in a storm, so I went out to rescue him and got him back safely, but I was unable to summit because I was busy rescuing him instead, so he got all the glory, but that’s ok, because I know I did the right thing.

Another time, as I was climbing ____, I ran into ____. She was a very beautiful woman and an excellent climber but was also willing to take unjustifiable risks. Many times she needed to be rescued because she took these unjustifiable risks, but she never thanked others for saving her life and she didn’t seem to be grateful for it, even though she couldn’t have made it down alive without their help.

Nonetheless, after I summited on ____, she came to my tent and crawled in and it was one amazing night. Too bad she was killed in an avalanche the next day (so she can’t deny his version).

Another time I climbed____, along with _____. In his book, he wrote the following: "I was impressed with Ed Viesturs from the moment I met him. He appeared every bit as brave and daring as people had said, and I felt fortunate that I could join him on his expedition.[/quote]
Seriously, I kid you not. That’s how it reads, over and over and over. Almost enough to cause nausea and make me throw away the book, but I confess the adventures are intense enough to hold me in there. I’m presently about 2/3 through. While there’s lots of great adventure in the book, for the above reason I give it a :thumbsdown: (I regret having given money to Viesturs by buying the book.)

I regret that I didn’t instead buy Herzog’s Annapurna (even though it’s 50 yrs old) or another book by Joe Simon, who’s a terrific mountaineer/adventurer but also a good writer (unlike Viesturs). One of those might be in my next order.

Wookie, yes, Starship and the Canoe is a terrific book. Not quite the same kind of adventure, but it was one of my favorites as a teen, in the rough same genre as Zen & Motorcycle Maintenance, etc. … 0060910305