Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature preview

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With the winner of this year’s Boardman Tasker award for mountain literature being announced one week today at Kendal Mountain Festival, we ask Helen Mort – chair of the judges – to introduce this year’s shortlisted books…

Judging a prize like the Boardman Tasker inevitably prompts us to debate what we mean by ‘mountain literature’ and which books can be considered ‘literary’. Every year, the prize receives a dazzling wealth of submissions, from huge illustrated books to slim volumes of essays, from novels and short stories to harrowing, exhilarating non-fiction. And each author has a different approach too.

We’ve tried to reflect some of that range in the books we’ve chosen this year with quiet, contemplative studies of landscape alongside classic adventure narratives. In particular, we were looking for writing that subtly challenges our assumptions about what books about mountains should be. Every judge says choosing is difficult. That’s because it’s true – at times, it’s almost impossible. Every selection is partial, but we hope ours presents an interesting cross section of what’s happening in mountain literature in 2017.

‘The Push’ by Tommy Caldwell
(Penguin Random House)
A candid, bold and compelling book which doesn’t shy away from delving into psychoanalytic territory. Tommy Caldwell’s climbing achievements are remarkable and ‘The Push’ offers a fascinating insight into big wall free climbing and the unexpected challenges that characterise a life in sport.

‘Days to Remember’ by Rob Collister
(Baton Wicks)
This is a thoughtful, varied and highly literate book, evoking journeys in mountain landscapes that are often solitary, but seldom lonely. There’s a sense of honesty and humility in Rob Collister’s prose and his reflections on life as a mountain guide.

‘The Magician’s Glass’, by Ed Douglas
(Vertebrate Publishing)
A finely-crafted set of essays exploring climbing controversies, failures and the impact mountaineering has on local communities. This collection sees Ed Douglas training his keen eye on some of the most celebrated – and infamous – stories and personalities in the climbing world.

‘Night Naked’, by Erhard Loretan and Jean Ammann
(Mountaineers Books)
This first account of Erhard Loretan’s achievements in English is well paced and literary, characterised by a wide, lively, thoughtful choice of vocabulary, interesting figurative language and self-deprecating, ironic humour.

‘Art of Freedom’, by Bernadette McDonald
(Vertebrate Publishing)
A very accomplished biography of one of the greatest alpinists of all time, lucidly and economically written. ‘Art of Freedom’ is a profound and subtle profile of one of the international climbing world’s most complex and reclusive mountaineers, Voytek Kurtyka.

‘Among the Summer Snows’, by Christopher Nicholson
(September Publishing)
Lyrical and elegaic, this debut is a tender account of an unusual fascination with the remaining snows of the Scottish Highlands. Nicholson offers us a wry, self-aware take on the relationship between humans and the changed (and changing) natural world.

For more info on the awards, go to

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