I decided to read something about mountain climbing as I was doing the closest thing I'll probably ever do to mountain climbing - the W trail in Chilean Patagonia.
The book opened my eyes to a world I've never known - the world of extreme mountaineering - and some of the history behind it. Seems Cerro Torre in Patagonia is one of the toughest mountains to climb, what with its near vertical climb and sheets of ice cover, and it also seems that a lot of controversy surrounds the famous first ascent by Cesare Maestri (no photos, outlandish claims, death of climbing partner who supposedly had the photos). The book sets out to solve the mystery, put forth a conclusive answer to the controversy - did Maestri climb it or didn't he?
Once that's settled, Cordes zips through the history of mountaineering by running through the next few decades' attempts at climbing Cerro Torre. We see how men have tackled a single mountain, how they respected, abused, defaced, and defended it over generations.
The writing is good, with the descriptions of the mountains, and the views from the tops beautifully rendered. Which help me begin to understand why people do this crazy mountaineering thing in the first place. In the end, the reasons laid out in the book are romanticized, but there they are: for history, for glory, for money, for adventure, for the sake of something to do.