Reading List


My understanding of the Lunar-Stellar path was shaped by 48 hours stuck in a house belonging to someone who really loves disasters-up-a-mountain nonfic. I read like eight of those things back to back. The disasters-up-a-mountain genre explore the meeting of things Lunar - man's indomitable willpower, his immense technical skill, his ambition to conquer - with things Stellar - the implacable wild, the impossibility of surviving where man ought not to go, the terror of fate and of discovering all too late that you are small, and fragile, and not at all special. The Lunar-Stellar landscape is typically understood as wet and cold - be that like the sea, the mountains, or the arctic. You needn't read a lot of mountain books, but a couple of the best will well reward your time - just for a sense of the horror that is the mountains and the lessons it has for us.

The Climb (1998) - Anatoli Boukreev


Book | An important book: Boukreev was painted as the "villain" of an Everest tragedy by the author of mountaineering classic Into Thin Air. Given the hostile conditions on such a dangerous mountain, it seems a little tasteless to scapegoat a single person for a tragedy; the reality of extreme mountaineering is that death happens. It's only human to want to assign blame, but I believe unkind and unproductive. In this book, Boukreev attempts to set the record straight by retelling the events from his perspective. It's fairly sparsely written - Boukreev was a mountaineer, not an author, writing with the help of a friend in a second language. Into Thin Air, written by a journalist, is easily the better *book*. But this is comprehensive, and it's worth reading both.

No Way Down:Life and Death on K2 (2010) - Graham Bowley


Book | Non-fiction about the 2008 disaster on K2. It's been a long time since I read these mountain books, but I remember this one being "meaty", substantial and good.

High Exposure (2000) - David Breashaws

Book | I've read so many of these I can't tell them apart. Maybe I've not read this one yet.

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident (2013) - Donnie Eichar


Book | I literally read all these mountain books in about 48 hours while staying somewhere with an unusually well-stocked library. Dyatlov Pass is not only a mountain disaster, it also has "fortean" elements of strangeness. The combination of mountains and an unsettling, perhaps supernatural, mystery, is the essence of approaching the Stellar. Elements like the haunting recovery of a camera filled with eerie photos; the possibility that sound itself, whipping over the mountain, caused terror and death; mystery military installations; radiation; tantalising signs of assailants who vanished into the snow; and so forth. I remember this as one of the least good books, but one of the most ✪ incidents for our purposes.

Dark Summit (2008) - Nick Heil


Book | A popular non-fiction book about a controversial incident of a climber being left to die on Everest. It's been a while since I read the mountain books, but I remember this one as being fairly lightweight and somewhat sensationalist - being focused on a single, rather horrifiying and "marketable cause celebre" death. I personally think the sensationalism surrounding the death of David Sharp is a little overstated. Far from being the tale of 40 people ignoring a climber in distress preferring to climb a mountain, the accounts of Sharp by those who saw him last are a tally of people who did indeed stop, and attempt to help. That they could not reflects more on the hostile environment of the mountain than the callousness of climbers. But callous individualism is a Lunar (trending Stellar) characteristic too, the becoming less-than-humane in the attempt to become more-than-human; the state of only seeing your self, or the state of only seeing your goal, or of seeing yourself and discovering something horrible about it. Stood opposite the Solar, it is the reveleation that people aren't all that: the profound absence of togetherness and support.

Touching the Void (2004) - Joe Simpson


Book | One of the best-known examples of the "peril up a mountain" genre. It's very good, and focuses on the first-person survival experience over documenting a moment in mountaineering history. The only one I own. The descriptions of the mingled beauty, terror and isolation of being alone, and knowing death is inevitable, but still seeing nature nontheless, is a very Stellar sensory. In a later book, Simpson notes how frequently people will message him for morbid interviews about what it feels like to know you're going to die; it's rather an unforgettable feeling (and I'm familiar with the bizzare social ettiquette of people asking about it), and it's governed by this path between the Moon and the Star, blasted white by the snow and black by the empty sky.

Left for Dead (2015) - Beck Weathers


Book | Beck Weathers narrowly survived the 1996 Everest disaster. This non-fiction book isn't as well written or compellingly horrifying as others I've read, but it nevertheless stood out. Weathers and his wife alternate chapters, telling of his earlier mountaining adventures as well as his fateful near-miss. It does a good job of depicting the "mountaineering mind" - the drive that takes people into extreme places, and the strain it puts on their families.

Buried in the Sky (2012) - Peter Zuckerman, Amanda Padoan


Book | Of all the mountain memoir's I've read, easily one of the best. Clearly written, admirable focus on the non-Western climbers, and packed with interesting stuff about mountain culture, religion, language. Bit less visceral existentialist horror than others in the genre, but this is no bad thing; and what stands out is the spirituality of the mountain guides as well as the complex consent of those who work in this job. All in all, maybe not essential to learn about the LunarStellar, but a really good read.