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First Ascent: Pioneering Mountain Climbs Hardcover – September 26, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Firefly Books (September 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1554074037
  • ISBN-13: 978-1554074037
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 0.9 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,656,203 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Trying to decipher between the thousands of first ascents is like pinning a bull's-eye on your head at a mountain guides' ice-axe throwing contest. Your choices are bound to elicit controversy. And yet Venables has likely done the trick with his latest book. Climbs he features in a book full of stunning full-page colour photos were all ground-breaking in some way. You'll come away inspired to notch your own first ascents. (Trent Edwards The Calgary Herald 2008-12-18)

There's no one better to dissect the peculiar psychology of those driven to physical and mental extreme than [Stephen] Venables, an intellectual who describes the motivations and emotions of a mountaineer in a series of gripping and remarkably honest books, most recently First Ascent. (Simon Crompton TimesOnline UK 2008-10-27)

It's a rare pleasure when stunning pictures of heavenly perches are complemented by truly readable text that puts mountain climbing into both a historical and spiritual context. For all its detail on climbers and peaks, this coffee table gift book may be best suited to the select few, just this side of terminally odd, who prefer the straitened life of a peak-freak. (Catherine Mitchell Winnipeg Free Press 2008-12-07)

Many books have chronicled mountaineering adventures throughout the world but this book is unique in telling the often-harrowing stories of those who made the initial ascent of peaks both large and small. The individual stories of those who had the courage to go where no one had gone before can be viewed as inspiring or insane, selfishly egocentric or generous. However, it makes for exciting reading. The daring feats of the men and women who were lured to the unknown to make it to the top the first time is covered with flair and amazing photography on every page, including archival footage. Historians and mountaineers, both armchair and actual, will find the book hard to put down.... This book is a joy to read, cover to cover, is a fine reference book, and it would make a great coffee-table book to peruse anywhere throughout. (Georgia Briscoe American Reference Book Annual)

Rock climber, writer, and lecturer Venables, the first Briton to climb Mount Everest without oxygen, profiles a sizable list of climbers who are credited with first ascents of summits and other challenging heights in mountain ranges across the globe. (Book News Inc. 2009-02-00)

About the Author

Stephen Venables is a world-renowned mountaineer who climbed Everest without oxygen, pioneering a new route at the same time. He is the author of eight books, including the award-winning Painted Mountains. His most recent project was retracing Ernest Shackleton's steps for the IMAX movie, Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure.

Sir Chris Bonington is one of the world's most successful expedition leaders, having led the teamsthat made the first ascents of the south face of Annapurna and the southwest face of Everest.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Bruce C. Pascoe on January 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I bought First Ascent last week. I wasn't sure why at the time - I had pretty much lost my zeal for mountains. It was probably the magnificent illustrations and that it looked kind of interesting.

When I started reading it, however, I couldn't put it down. It was so interesting and inspiring. Stephen Venables has that so special writing skill - he can communicate the emotion of a situation to a reader.

This is a book that can also appeal to a wide audience. It is a great introduction to the beauty, joys and challenges of mountains. To the climber it can evoke deep memories of successes and dangers. (Martin Boysen's jammed knee struck a real chord in me. That weird acceptance of "I'm stuffed" deep in the pit of your stomach when you seemed trapped in a situation there seems no way out of, and the shock that comes later when you do unexpectedly get out.)

The superb photographs and easy-to-read episodic nature of the book mean that it could also double up as a volume for the coffee table or waiting room.

This is a great read - and is now one of my very favourite books. Definitely five stars.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For a coffeetable book, there is a lot to read in this book. In fact, the book describes itself as "accounts of the first to conquer the world's greatest mountains".

Holding books like this one in hand, the tendency is naturally just to look at the pictures. And the pictures are stunning. Nevertheless, a lot of writing goes into this book, starting off with the earliest history of pilgrims climbing for religious merit or high altitude sacrifice. The explorers came later and it would seem that with nothing more to explore, people are climbing to make "sacrifices" as well.

The book proper starts off with the race for Denali, blowing Cook's hoax, Kilimanjaro, Kenya, Mt Cook, smaller peaks in Scotland etc. It's not until page 57 that the author touches on the Himalayas. But after providing some information on early attempts on Nanda Devi and Everest, the author digresses to talk about alpine walls in Europe!

Thankfully, he talks about 8000m peaks in the next chanpter, but a few pages later, he's talking about rock walls and towers in Yosemite. The author then goes back to "Himalayan Renaissance", covering Annapurna, Makalu, Karakoram peaks and Everest - briefly. Then, it's back to rock walls and towers again.

I can't deny that the book is well-done, but being a fan of the Himalayas, I find the author's coverage on the rooftop of the world a little disappointing. What about peaks in China, Bhutan, Myanmar, South America and Indonesia? Maybe it's my personal preference, but somehow, I find that the author's focus a little off.
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By readmore on April 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I admit I grabbed this book off the shelf because I liked the cover photo so much. The book more than proved its worth, however. I enjoyed the chronology of climbing, illustrating how the social mores of climbing have changed, eg, from initially climbing with only shoes and hands, to ropes, to oxygen, to bolting routes. The accounts of early explorers has a nice sort of Victorian read to it, or perhaps it reflects the Victorian era ethos of adventure. Whichever one, I enjoyed these tales of early mountaineers.

The photos are well-chosen, not simply panoramas. For example, nice pictures of the pioneer climbers of Half-Dome in California with a full array of climbing anchors.

I liked the historical and technical approach in this book, so I have bought it for two friends who are into lead climbing. And it inspired me to get a move-on for some of the climbs within.

Notably, the author Stephen Venables has climbed Mount Everest. He writes with perspective. And what I like is that this is NOT another book about Mt. Everest (nice enough mountain but it has saturated the book scene quite enough).

I suppose if the book could have used something, it might have been one of those small inset maps to show where a mountain or range is located, but in a way I was glad it didn't because then it starts to look too Lonely Planet.
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Format: Hardcover
A very good overview of most of the first ascents that shaped Mountaineering, from its early Victorian days to modern free ascents. From Mummery to Moon, its all here... the format is brisk and you can cover a lot of historical ground if you are so inclined... Or, conversely, you can entertain yourself for 15 Min.s on Bonatti's one-man ascent of the Petit Dru in winter or wonder what on earth Mummery was doing in central Asia climbing routes in the 1880s in 8 hours that typically take modern-day technical teams a good two days.

Nice pictures, all angles, from big California walls and the wierd Warren Harding engaging in a bolt-chopping war with Royal Robbins, to Doug Scott and Dougal Haston bivvying 200 feet below the summit of Mt. Everest in a snow cave.

First Ascents gets you away from the commercial-fueled media circuses and reminds us that moutaineering was, and properly is, still the first sport for those who want to challenge everything, risk all in a massive throw of the life affirming dice.

The mountaineering genre has yeilded a lot of tripe lately, but I enjoyed Stephen Venables book on his own personal experiences and this one also does not dissapoint.
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