This time of year it’s a treat to spend an evening reading a great adventure book. A book full of timeless tales that when can re-read years after a first reading still have some impact.
In putting together my list of must-reads adventure books, it’s important to note that many of them are little known or out of print and may now be only available at a quality used book outlet or via Amazon.com.
The Journals of Lewis and Clark as edited and interpreted by Bernard DeVoto. The Expedition of Discovery is still one of the great adventure tales of all time and while Lewis and Clark’s journals don’t offer high drama they give a fascinating account of the expedition. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to see the original journals with their drawings of flora and fauna found along the route at the rare book museum at Yale University. Impressive indeed.
The Thousand Mile Summer by Colin Fletcher. Welshman Fletcher’s tale of his 1964 six-month walk from the Mexican border up eastern flank of California’s mountain ranges to the Oregon border proved one of the catalysts that would set off the backpacking boom a few years later.
The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer. For years the north face (nordwand) of the Eiger was the tantalizing first ascent prize for alpine climbers worldwide. Harrer captures all the tragedy and drama of the early attempts to ascend the face in this now classic book.
Weird and Tragic Shores by Chauncey Loomis. In the late 1890s, Ohioan Charles Francis Hall claims he’s received a sign from God that he must be the first person to get to the North Pole. Armed with faith and no experience, Hall makes several arctic forays before leading a failed polar expedition. He got very close to being the first man to the pole and years later his method of adopting the survival techniques of the native Eskimos became widely accepted by other polar explorers.
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby. London apparel salesman Newbie decides, after being sacked, to take an extended holiday that turns into a grand adventure with the ascent of a mountain thrown in for good measure.
An Innocent on The Middle Fork by Eliot Dubois. Between his junior and senior years at Yale University in 1941, Dubois heads off to Idaho to make a solo run of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in his Foldboat kayak. Presumed dead at one point, Dubois returns alive after some harrowing experiences.
Four Against Everest by Woodrow Wilson Sayre. Sayre and three Harvard friends sneak into Tibet and try to climb Everest. Despite limited big mountain climbing experience they get within a couple of thousand feet of the summit and survive to tell their tale.
Among the truly arcane books, but well worth reading, are:
Three in Norway by Two of Them By Lees and Clutterbuck. A trio of upper crust Brits set off in 1881 to explore Norway’s remote regions. What ensues is at once funny and poignant, as they prove inept but cheerful in their blundering.
The Lure of The Wild Labrador by Dillon Wallace. A 1903 canoe expedition takes the wrong fork in the river and after many other such turns is hopelessly lost. A year later the canoeists appear back in civilization barely alive and looking like wild beasts to those they first encounter.
Mount Everest 1938 by H.W. Tilman. As the great British climber and explorer Eric Shipton once declared: “our expeditions in those days were done when we all had some holiday time. They were more or less done on a lark.” This lark almost succeeds in conquering Everest.
And finally to the out-of-category adventure story of adventure stories: Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 voyage to the Antarctic region where his ship (The Endurance ) gets iced in, a small group sails off in a dinghy looking for help, and all save one expedition member survive a year of being stranded on an island. This is the granddaddy of all adventure stories. One of the many versions of the story worth a read is: “Endurance-Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage”, by Alfred Lansing.