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In this book, renowned British mountaineer Alan Hinkes relates his experiences of climbing all 14 of the peaks over 8000m: the world's highest mountains. Alongside stunning photography, he describes his expeditions - many as Alpine-style ascents - capturing the beauty, harshness and danger of these mountains.
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To climb one 8000 metre peak is extraordinary. To conquer all 14 is an almost incomprehensible challenge. Only 14 men had ever completed the 8000ers, until 2005, when Alan Hinkes became the first Briton to climb his way into that rarefied club.
This book is the first autobiographical work by Hinkes, and chronicles his expeditions to the Himalaya in Nepal, Pakistan and Tibet, and his climbs; from the first British ascent of Manaslu, to multiple 'Alpine style' ascents and the final test of snow-bound Kangchenjunga. High-altitude climbing is a dangerous business, but Hinkes balances nail-biting moments of avalanches, extreme cold and dealing with the 'Death Zone' with memories of great climbing companions, base-camp communities and the pleasure of a good cup of tea once the climb is done.
As well as being an exceptional mountaineer, Alan Hinkes is also a professional photographer. Taking great pictures at high-altitude is notoriously difficult, given the environmental dangers to both camera and cameraman. But Hinkes has collected together his most outstanding shots which capture the true nature of the world's highest mountains.
'No mountain is worth a life, coming back is a success and the summit is only a bonus.' This philosophy carried Hinkes over one of the harshest landscapes on Earth, and follows him into his book. Above all, Hinkes writes of his love of the mountains; his story is not one of cheating death, but of living life to its fullest, and highest extent.
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The Himalaya and Karakoram Mountains
Foreword by Brian Blessed
Jerzy Kukuczka & the Polish Climbers
Summit Flags & Fiona
Chapatti & Chips
The Death Zone
Mallory & Irvine
Coffee or Tea?
Photography & filming
Dealing with Death
Dressed to Survive
The Incident Pit
Shooting the Summits by Joe Cornish
1 The 8000m peaks and their first ascents
2 Alan Hinkes Expeditions
I have always been adventurous. As a child I was outside at every opportunity, ‘raking about’ as they say in Yorkshire, exploring the becks, woods and fields near where I lived in Northallerton. On family drives into the Yorkshire Dales or the North York Moors I felt attracted to the wild, rugged hilly landscape. In my teens, when the chance came to take up climbing on trips with Northallerton Grammar School, the seed was well and truly sown and it very quickly germinated into a passion, eventually becoming a way of life. I knew from the first time that I went out on the moors and fells that it was where I wanted to be. It was a kind of ‘calling’.
Going out into the hills of Northern England was an exciting adventure, especially in bad weather. It often seemed to be wet and windy and I quickly learned to cope with and enjoy inclement conditions. In real terms it was more committing than today if only because, in those days before GPS and mobile phones, you had to be more self-reliant. I relished the physical exertion as well as learning the skills of survival and navigation using an Ordnance Survey map and compass. Geography was my favourite subject and to this day I find maps interesting; you could say that I enjoy a good map read. I had a natural talent and quickly became competent at finding my way in the hills, even in poor visibility. I delighted in the challenge of navigating in bad weather and would often go out on the North York Moors in thick hill fog and rain just for fun, to practise map, compass and navigation skills. The vagaries of dense cloud, rain and wind out on the hills and fells did not put me off. I enjoyed the battle against the elements.
Sometimes, just for fun, I would go out onto the moors for a survival experience and spend a night in a ‘bivvy bag’ – a heavy-duty plastic bag, about the size of a sleeping bag. I learned about exhaustion, exposure and hypothermia, and developed an innate resilience that has served me well. You might have an uncomfortable night, you might be shivering, but as long as you can protect yourself from the wind you will at least survive. Later, I practised bivouacking on small ledges, 25 metres up cliff faces. Cramped on such rocky eyries, I had to be tied on all night. Although I was then still at school, I knew that this would be good practice for the bigger mountain faces I would one day climb. Even then, I saw myself ascending Alpine peaks and difficult big walls, such as the North Face of the Eiger, although the Himalaya seemed an unattainable dream.
Progressing from hill walking on the North York Moors, my first mountain was Helvellyn in the Lake District, which I ascended along the rocky knife-edged ridge known as Striding Edge. The topography was a revelation. The peak was like a giant page out of my Physical Geography textbook. In a corrie below the steep summit slopes of Helvellyn there is a small lake called Red Tarn, the last remnant of a melted glacier. Rocky arêtes cradle Red Tarn, Striding Edge to the south and Swirral Edge to the north. Helvellyn remains one of my favourite hills and the climb via Striding Edge above Red Tarn and descent by Swirral Edge is a classic mountain scramble.
On this first scramble it was a wet, windy day, the rock was slippery and I was nearly blown off the ridge by crosswinds. I did not have a waterproof mountain jacket and instead wore a voluminous plastic cycle cape that acted like a parachute, catching the wind and trying to drag me off the mountainside. The experience did not put me off. My passion for the hills and mountains only grew stronger and I wanted more. I yearned for bigger, more testing challenges.