Personally, the best way to explore landscapes, discover hidden paths, and connect with nature on a deeper level has always been on foot - walking, hiking or climbing. Reading books about hiking and climbing has been my inspiration and guidance. Books have helped me deepen my appreciation for the wilderness and all that it has to offer.
Books have also served as a powerful reminder of the beauty and fragility of the natural world, and the importance of preserving it for future generations. From classic works by Aldo Leopold and Eric Shipton to contemporary writers like Robert Macfarlane and Bill Bryson, there's a wealth of great literature out there that can deepen our understanding and appreciation of the outdoors.
So whether you're looking for a thrilling adventure story or a reflective meditation on the human spirit, there's something for everyone to fuel the sense of adventure and curiosity.
1. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane
This book is a contemplative exploration of the ancient paths and trails that crisscross the British Isles, this book is a fascinating study of landscape, history, and human connection. It is written with a reverence for the ancient footpaths and pilgrimage routes that crisscross Europe, and for the people who have walked them for centuries. Through his own experiences on these paths, he shows how walking can be a way of connecting with the past and with the natural world, and of gaining a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.
I enjoy Macfarlane's style of weaving together personal anecdote, history, and natural science into a seamless and evocative narrative. His descriptions of the landscapes he encounters are vivid and lyrical, and his insights into the history and ecology of these places are both illuminating and thought-provoking.
"The old ways are still here, if you know where to look. They are the lines etched into the land, the footpaths worn into the soil by countless generations of feet. They are the stories that cling to the hills and valleys, the myths and legends that have been passed down through the ages. They are the memories of those who have walked these paths before us, and the hopes and dreams of those who will follow in our footsteps."
2. The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
Once you read this book, it will stay with you forever. It is a beautiful and haunting memoir about Matthiessen’s journey through the Himalayas in search of the elusive snow leopard. Throughout the memoir, he reflects on his past experiences and the nature of human suffering. He shares his insights into the nature of life and death, and his encounters with Buddhist monks and local Sherpas. Along the way, he grapples with his own mortality and the transience of life.
His poetic and evocative writing has captured the rugged beauty of the Himalayas. This book is a powerful and thought-provoking meditation on the meaning of life, the nature of consciousness, and the quest for enlightenment.
He writes about the sense of awe he feels when he finally catches a glimpse of the magnificent creature, "Then, without warning, the snow leopard appears on the ridge above me, stepping over stones as lightly as blown snow, its expression inscrutable. It pauses for a moment, glancing down at the rocks where I crouch, then continues on its way, vanishing into the dappled shadows of the valley floor. For a long time, I remain there, suspended in time, caught up in the intensity of the moment, as though in the presence of some powerful, unearthly force."
3. Tracks by Robyn Davidson
It is an Australian woman's memoir of her solo1700-mile trek across the Outback with her dog and four camels. This book is a testament to the power of determination and the beauty of the natural world. Throughout her journey, she grapples with her own identity, the complexities of human relationships, and the beauty and harshness of the natural world.
"I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there's no going back. And there was no going back. It was as if I had placed a tiny stick of dynamite on the river bank and tossed a lighted match onto it. The stick had exploded and blew me into the present with a force I couldn't control. I was alone and scared, but strangely elated."
Davidson's writing is raw and honest, as she shares her triumphs and struggles with a level of vulnerability that is both refreshing and inspiring. She writes in vivid detail about the searing heat, the lack of water, and the constant threat of injury or illness. At the same time, she also explores the deep sense of isolation and loneliness that comes with being alone in such a vast and unforgiving environment.
The book was adapted to a movie as well, though I always prefer reading a memoir than watching.
4. On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor
It is a fascinating and thought-provoking book that challenges our assumptions about trails and their significance in human and animal history. Moor's writing style is engaging and immersive, and he skillfully weaves together scientific research, personal anecdotes, and philosophical musings to create a compelling narrative. It is also a journey through time and space, tracing the evolution of trails from their humble beginnings to their present-day manifestations. He explores the psychological and emotional impact of trails on humans, as well as their cultural and spiritual significance. He also examines the role of trails in shaping human history, from the migration of early humans to the development of trade routes and infrastructure.
"Trails are places where history and geography become concrete underfoot. They are embodiments of stories and ideas and histories that can be traced step by step, like words in a sentence. They connect life aboveground and life belowground. They are the visible and audible presence of nature itself, as we make our way across it."
It is elegantly written with healthy sprinkles of humor, making the book an engaging read from start to finish.
5. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
This one is a special book, it was our backpacking book and I have read it my kids on several nights laying in the tent in different corners of the world.
If you have read any Bill Bryson books, you must be familiar with his witty and refreshing style of writing. This humorous memoir follows Bill Bryson's attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail with his long-lost friend, Stephen Katz. Bryson's charming humor and witty observations make the book a joy to read, as he weaves together anecdotes, historical facts, and personal reflections on his experience hiking the trail.
"Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. A mile becomes a long way, two miles literally considerable, ten miles whopping, fifty miles at the very limits of conception. The world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and a small community of fellow hikers know. Planetary scale is your little secret."
He has a gift for capturing the essence of the people he meets along the way, from the quirky characters he encounters on the trail to the locals he meets in the small towns he passes through. Along this arduous trail he faces physical and emotional challenges, yet he finds moments of wonder and inspiration, and his ability to convey these moments with humor and grace is what makes the book so compelling.
This book has also been adapted to a movie Robert Redford playing Bill Bryson.
6. Fire Season by Philip Connors
It is a captivating memoir that will take you on a journey through the author's life as a fire lookout in the Gila National Forest of New Mexico. His writing is lyrical and introspective, with a keen eye for detail that brings the landscapes of the American Southwest to life. He describes the rugged terrain and the creatures that inhabit it with a reverence and awe that is infectious. His prose is spare but evocative, capturing the essence of the landscape without overburdening it with sentimentality.
"The mountain before me was a pyramid of flame. Its summit rose into the sky, a cairn of fire, a column of smoke and ash. From the ridge, I could see the descent of the fire, a glowing snail of flame crawling down the slope, devouring trees and shrubs as it went. I had a clear view of the valley below, and I could see the path of the fire, how it had already consumed everything in its way: the aspens, the firs, the spruce, the underbrush. The roar of the flames reached me in waves, a low rumble that seemed to come from the earth itself. I stood there, transfixed, watching as the fire moved closer and closer, unstoppable, relentless, beautiful and terrible."
While his experiences are deeply personal, his observations about the natural world and our relationship to it are universal. He writes with a deep sense of responsibility toward the environment, and his reflections on the impact of humans on the planet are both poignant and thought-provoking.
7. Walking the Amazon by Ed Stafford
The story of a man's 4,000-mile journey through the Amazon rainforest, this book is a riveting tale of endurance, survival, and adventure. Walking the Amazon is a gripping tale of Ed Stafford's journey to become the first person to walk the entire length of the Amazon River. You will be thrown into the heart of the action as Stafford and his companion struggle through the dense jungle, facing numerous obstacles and dangers along the way.
"Life doesn't always go to plan, and it's how you adapt to the unexpected that really counts. I learned this lesson the hard way as I walked the length of the Amazon River, a journey that took me over two and a half years and tested me to my limits. I encountered countless obstacles along the way, from venomous snakes and piranhas to hostile tribes and impenetrable jungle. But through it all, I remained focused on my goal, driven by a deep sense of purpose and a burning desire to explore the unknown. The Amazon is a place of incredible beauty and danger, a wilderness that demands respect and rewards those who are willing to push themselves to their limits. It was a journey that changed me forever, and I am grateful for every step of the way."
Throughout the book, Stafford's passion and determination shine through as he navigates through treacherous terrain, battles with sickness and injury, and faces numerous setbacks. His perseverance and resilience are truly inspiring. It is a must-read for anyone seeking adventure and inspiration.
This book was adapted to a TV series.
8. The Mountains of My Life by Walter Bonatti
A memoir of the legendary Italian climber's life in the mountains, this book is a poetic exploration of the human spirit and the beauty of the natural world. His passion for climbing throbs in the pages of this book. His writing is poetic and visceral, transporting you to the very heart of his adventures. He recounts his experiences as a mountaineer, detailing the highs and lows of his climbs, the physical and emotional challenges he faced, and the moments of transcendence he experienced when he reached the summit of a peak. He writes with a sense of urgency and passion, making it impossible not to feel the pull of the mountains and the lure of adventure.
His description of intense emotions that come with climbing to the summit of a mountain, truly resonates with me.
"The summit is not the goal. The goal is the path you take to get there. The summit is only a moment in time. But what a moment it is. There are no words to describe the feelings that flood through you when you stand on top of a mountain. It's a mix of elation, exhaustion, and awe. You feel small and insignificant in the face of the vastness of nature, yet at the same time, you feel powerful and triumphant. It's a paradox that can only be understood by those who have experienced it."
9. Mountains of the Mind by Robert Macfarlane
It is an engrossing and thought-provoking book that takes readers on a journey through the history of our relationship with mountains. He has captured the majesty and allure of these towering peaks while exploring the darker aspects of our obsession with conquering them.
He weaves together his mountain experiences with accounts of early mountaineering expeditions, philosophical reflections on the nature of the sublime, and explorations of the ways in which mountains have been portrayed in literature and art. He has a brilliant ability to convey the physical and emotional experience of being in the mountains. Whether he is describing the feeling of vertigo while scaling a peak or the sense of awe that comes from standing atop a summit, his writing is both vivid and evocative.
"The idea of mountain as wilderness is a recent conceit. Until the eighteenth century, mountains were regarded with fear and loathing – as at best inconvenient obstacles to travel, at worst as realms of dark magic. It was only with the advent of Romanticism in the late eighteenth century that mountains began to be seen as objects of beauty and sources of inspiration. This new attitude towards mountains was bound up with the emergence of the idea of the individual, and of individual achievement – the idea that mountains could be 'conquered' by human will and endeavor."
This passage captures the essence of Macfarlane's bo
It is a beautifully written and deeply insightful book that will appeal to anyone interested in the natural world, the history of mountaineering, or the complexities of our relationship with the sublime.
10. Nanda Devi by Eric Shipton
Eric Shipton was a legendary British mountaineer and a gifted writer and photographer. I love all his books and Nanda Devi is my most favorite one. It is a true classic and a must read, whether you are a climber or not.
It is a gripping and inspiring account of a mountaineering expedition in the remote Himalayas that captures the thrill and danger of high-altitude climbing. Shipton takes you with him as he describes the local customs and traditions of the people who live in the shadow of the mountain, as well as the historical significance of the region. This adds depth and richness to the story, giving a broader understanding of the impact of mountaineering on the people and places it touches. He writes with great sensitivity about the impact of mountaineering on the fragile ecosystems of the region and the importance of respecting the traditions and beliefs of the local communities.
He writes honestly and introspectively about the complex mix of fear, excitement, and determination that drives climbers to push themselves to their limits. His descriptions of the physical toll of climbing, as well as the mental challenges of working as a team in a high-stakes environment, are both insightful and compelling.
“Nanda Devi is a world apart, a place of beauty and terror, of majesty and mystery. She is a mountain that inspires awe and wonder, a mountain that draws us closer to the heavens and to ourselves. She is a mountain that will always be a part of us, no matter where we go or what we do. She is Nanda Devi, the goddess of the Himalaya, and we who have climbed her will never forget her."
Books open our mind to new experiences and inspire us. So pick up a book, plan your next adventure, and get ready to hit the trail.
Happy reading and happy trails!