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Eight Thrilling Books To Read About Mountaineering


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Eight thousand meters (over twenty six thousand feet) is the place known as the “Death Zone”. Every moment a person spends up there their body is dying, the lack of oxygen causing hallucinations, swelling of the brain and fluid leaking into the lungs. It is so dangerous that death is an accepted risk in the extreme high altitude peaks—even before you add in the risk of avalanches, serac falls and crevasses. In 2019, I became the youngest Canadian woman to summit one of these 8,000m peaks, Mt Manaslu, and I experienced life in this extreme place for myself. And as a writer, I couldn’t help but wonder— where better for a serial killer to hide, than a place already known as the death zone? With that question in mind, my debut thriller novel, Breathless, was born.

I’ve always loved literature set in the high peaks. Plenty of the non-fiction books about mountaineering are thrilling and terrifying in equal measure, but strangely enough there aren’t that many novels—especially novels featuring women in leading roles. I hope Breathless can plug that gap, but in the meantime here are some of my favorite thrilling books to read about mountaineering:

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Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

It’s impossible to talk about mountaineering literature without mentioning Into Thin Air—the incredible true story of the 1996 Everest disaster, where eight climbers were killed in a storm. Jon was a journalist covering the expedition for Outside magazine, and his writing is gripping, compelling and haunting. For an alternate point of view of the expedition, The Climb by Anton Boukreev is worth reading as well.

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Thin Air by Michelle Paver

A book with a similar title to Krakauer’s but completely different set-up. Michelle Paver has written a cracker of a ghost story novel here, set in 1935 and following a British doctor and gentleman adventurer Stephen on an expedition to Kanchenjunga—the world’s third highest mountain. Brimming with historic detail about early climbing expeditions (like how climbers used to stuff their boots with straw to ward off frostbite, or the joys of eating pemmican), the novel takes an increasingly creepy turn as Stephen is haunted by a spectral figure from a prior failed expedition—or is it hypoxia driving him mad? Paver plays beautifully with our expectations and fears, delivering a truly terrifying tale in the high peaks.

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Space Below My Feet by Gwen Moffat

Written by Britain’s first female mountaineering guide, this is a glorious memoir about a life lived in the outdoors. It depicts some of the discrimination, bewilderment and sometimes skepticism Moffat faced when she would show up to the rock, but ultimately it’s an inspirational story for anyone who wants to pursue their passions.

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All the White Spaces by Ally Wilkes

What is it about an expedition that makes it the perfect setting for a horror novel? While not quite about mountaineering, I feel like this novel deserves a place on this list because of how well it depicts life in one of the most extreme environments on Earth—Antarctica. Meticulously researched, Wilkes takes us to the bottom of the world post World War I alongside Jonathan, a young man who stows away on board a ship haunted by a malevolent presence. With the horrors of the ice, creeping dread, and genuine risk from the environment—this is one of the most brilliant and terrifying novels I’ve read in a long time.

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The Abominable by Dan Simmons

Where would a mountain story be without the threat of an abominable creature? From the same author as The Terror (another favorite read of mine), this novel takes us from the Alps to the Himalayas, accompanying young American climber Jake Perry, during the same period that Mallory and Irvine were attempting to summit Mt Everest (1924). Yet the “monster” of this novel is not what it seems…

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Ararat by Christopher Golden

A tense, gory and thrilling novel set on Mt Ararat in Turkey—this is the Dan Brown-meets-mountaineering novel of your dreams. When an avalanche reveals a boat hidden in the depths of the mountain, questions arise as to what it could be. A truly heart-pounding supernatural thriller.

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The White Road by Sarah Lotz

This gripping novel (which also features a terrifying passage about cave diving!) follows a young man’s adventure to Everest as he attempts to figure out the mystery behind what happened to a missing mountaineer. Lotz depicts the phenomenon of the ‘third man’—where exhausted climbers sometimes feel the presence of a mysterious spirit who provides comfort or support—in a deliciously creepy manner, leaving us questioning our sanity as much as the main character does.

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The Girl Who Climbed Everest by Bonita Norris

A memoir by the youngest British woman to climb Mt Everest (at the time), I read this while I was at basecamp Mt Manaslu. It was refreshing to read the story of another woman on her mountaineering journey—from novice to the top of the world. Bonita writes with the same clarity and focus she brings to climbing, and the story of her descent from Everest is absolutely terrifying!

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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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