Archive for the ‘book reviews’ Category

Sir Ranulph Fiennes, often called the world’s greatest living explorer… what an inspiration! I can’t believe that it has taken me so long to finally finish reading the book (I kept on getting distracted, but that wasn’t fault of the book, because when you are reading it, it is not easy to put down… just reading on São Paulo buses isn’t so easy!), though I will probably re-read it just to jot down more notes about everything…! Thanks to my sister Lesley for giving it to me as a present!

His autobiography, details his adventures from early ages, in the army, the Poles… seven marathons in seven continents in seven days; learning how to climb mountains (at over 60 years old and after having had a heart attack) in order to face his vertigo; his first attempt at Everest and his climb up the north face of the Eiger… cutting off his own frost-bitten fingers… In a word… wow!

The autobiography is honest: He gives fantastic insight into the life of adventuring around the world, what has driven him, and what it takes, not just to succeed but also to admit defeat when you are so close to your goal. He shows himself to be critical of himself and others in appraisals and very much self-deprecating. I might not necessarily agree with some of his opinions about some of the legendary polar explorers in history, but still the stories that he tells throughout the book are pretty gripping and told in a good no-nonsense style.

I think this book is essential reading for any potential explorer and anybody who wants to get inspired by ideas or journeys that are seemingly impossible. Indeed, as Sir Ranulph shows in the book, “impossible” is pretty much defined by our own minds and imagination.

Joe Simpson - Touching the Void

Joe Simpson – Touching the Void

Finished off another book this time quite an old and pretty well-known book by Joe Simpson, Touching the Void. Since being published it was also made into a film-documentary, which I haven’t seen yet though definitely would like to after having read this work.

Siula Grande

Siula Grande (EdsOpinion) – for a good review of the DVD see EdOpinion.com

As I say, it is pretty well-known, but in case you haven’t read it, in summary Joe was climbing with his friend Simon in the Peruvian Andes up a remote mountain, Siula Grande, which hadn’t been climbed before along the particular route they chose – the west face. It hadn’t been climbed that way for good reason: it was incredibly dangerous! The mountain presented a whole range of problems rested: cornices – massive snow over-hangs that had nothing supporting them, so any extra weight on top of them could lead them to collapse; mazes of snow flutings (very steep snow channels in powder snow that lead up the side of the mountain, that occasionally get closed off at the top – something that is difficult to see from the bottom – and can lead to climbers getting trapped); high altitude; ice falls; crevasses; weather; avalanches… basically a dangerous place.

Touching the Void - Route

(C) Joe Simpson, Touch the Void – The route and the accident

They managed to make the summit but on the way back down Joe got injured – he fell and badly broke his leg. Something like that on such a remote mountain invariably leads to death because of the altitude, the cold and because there is no way to rescue the climber. The two, however, managed to keep going, in spite of the pain Joe was feeling and both with worsening frost-bite and becoming increasingly weaker and dehydrated; with Simon lowering Joe, down as quickly as possible in order to get to safety. Because of their dwindling supplies they kept going into the night and through a storm, meaning they couldn’t see where they going. As a result, Joe fell down another, much longer drop and wasn’t able to get any grip or strength to climb back up. Simon was in the impossible position – his strength was also running out and he wasn’t able to pull Joe back. The only choice that he had – a choice that Joe also recognized as being the only one – was to die or to cut the rope that would lead to Joe plummeting from the cliff… He did the only thing he could do.

Yet both survived, and the story shows Joe’s incredible journey back through immense pain to the camp when all thought he was dead. It is definitely worth taking the time to read it really see this and this struggle for survival.

Now Natalia and I have only limited mountaineering experience in Bolivia, and we firmly intend to go back to the Andes and other mountain ranges to build on this. The whole book leads to people questioning Simon’s decision – I personally think he made the right thing; as does Joe. Though the book also begs the question – what would we do in such a situation? What would I do if Natalia was badly injured and we were both struggling to get off the mountain? Would I be able to cut the rope? What would Natalia do if she was in that position if I had such an accident? How would we react in such an extreme situation?? Now these are not nice thoughts or questions, and ones that I really hope to God that I never have to face, or have to ever answer. At the moment I can say that I do not know! Joe admits that the two mountaineers were a bit headstrong and a few mistakes were made in the climb and even before the climb at base camp – mistakes that with experience probably would mean that such an accident wouldn’t happen again. So the more experience we build, the better, so we can hopefully avoid such a terrible situation.

Rob Lilwall - Cycling Home from Siberia

Finished off reading another book the other day, this time by Rob Lilwall, Cycling Home from Siberia, and it was a pretty enjoyable read about a great journey.

Rob was a Geography teacher in England and decided to leave his job to go with his friend Al Humphries (who was on a round-the-world cycle journey) from the far east of Russia back to the UK, via Japan… though it ended up, for Rob at least, going over 30,000 miles through Korea, China, Papua New Guinea, Australia, China (again) and Tibet, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan…. to name but a few of the places! So quite an epic journey, and one that would take Rob a good three years to complete.

Rob's RouteAlong his journey he would face bitter and freezing temperatures and winds, jungles; highly dangerous and life threatening situations in some of the most hostile countries in the world; malaria… though at the same time, he shows how he met so many remarkable and fantastic people who would help him on his journey and show massive generosity to him so as to be of help. He even met his future wife along the route! While showing this, Rob also explores more into the spiritual side of things, particularly with his Christian beliefs, and it his interesting seeing his take on the various different religions that dominate the different countries he goes through. The way he respected and was open to learning about other beliefs – Islam, Buddhism, Orthodox Christianity, among others along the way, was also extremely interesting, especially as some of these subjects can be so sensitive these days.

The way that Rob just left everything behind to do this journey certainly attracted my attention – not even with any sponsorship; just life savings, and it’s quite inspirational in many senses. For anyone who is afraid of travelling around on a budget, the book is an eye-opener… he managed the three years on a total budget of about $18,500 (though his friend Al went around the world on about $11,000). He would camp and stay with people he met along the route and people he met through charities and organizations. Even in the most hostile of places, he was able to get support.

So yup, I would recommend this, even if you are not planning on going on a long distance bike ride like this – and who knows, by reading it, it might awaken ideas in you that might see you take off and get to know the world in ways you had never dreamed!

Aside from the book, check out Rob’s blog, http://roblilwall.com/ – since completing his journey he has also been on a few other adventures including walking home 5,000km from Mongolia to Hong Kong. He has also a television series for Nat Geo Adventure and you can find on YouTube 0 definitely worth checking out!