Ascent: A Life Spent Climbing on the Edge by Sir Chris Bonington
This is a very full and rounded autobiography which encompasses several generations of the Bonington family, and expeditions and visits in many parts of the world. Although I am a hiker rather than a mountaineer, I enjoy non fiction works about the challenges and personalities involved in mountain narratives, and this book offers everything a mature autobiography should.
Sir Chris Bonington’s mountain career evolved from trips with climbing friends around Britain According to Wikipedia he has completed nineteen expeditions to the Himalayas, four of which were to Mount Everest, in addition to eleven notable first ascents. This autobiography describes in detail the successes and the tragedies from this distinctive CV.
These events are set against a moving personal narrative in which the author learns to appreciate his family, home and friends after many losses and long spells away. The family narrative is more than just a footnote to the mountaineering in this book. Many people who have been carers will relate to the description of his first wife Wendy’s battle with Motor Neurone Disease, which I found very affecting.
My Outdoor Life by Ray Mears.
In the course of the coverage of Mear’s education, career and personal life we are introduced to the philosophy of the martial arts training which formed part of his public school education. I found that an awareness of this philosophical framework served to shed light on the author’s life and the evolution of his thoughtful approach to the world in general and the outdoors in particular.
Failure to pass the Royal Marines eyesight test lead Mears to pursue a media career which he has said happened mainly because he was in the right place at the right time. Mear’s bushcraft company Woodlore is described as the culmination of his philosophical ideas.
This book combines coverage of all the events which we would expect from Mear’s autobiography, alongside the evolution of his world view, with rare consistency and continuity. I came away from the book feeling that these two aspects of Mear’s life are inseparable parts of his identity.