Winner! 2011 Munday Award, Banff Mountain Festival (CANADA)
Winner! 2011 Boardman Tasker Prize, Kendal Mountain Festival (UNITED KINGDOM)
Freedom Climbers—the most honoured book of mountaineering literature published in Canada—tells the story of a group of extraordinary Polish adventurers who emerged from under the blanket of oppression following the Second World War to become the world's leading Himalayan climbers. Although they lived in a dreary, war-ravaged landscape, with seemingly no hope of creating a meaningful life, these curious, motivated and skilled mountaineers created their own free-market economy under the very noses of their Communist bosses and climbed their way to liberation. At a time when Polish citizens were locked behind the Iron Curtain, these intrepid explorers found a way to travel the world in search of extreme adventure—to Alaska, South America and Europe, but mostly to the highest and most inspiring mountains of the world. To this end, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Nepal became their second homes as they evolved into the toughest group of Himalayan climbers the world has ever known.
Bernadette McDonald is the founding vice-president of Mountain Culture at the Banff Centre and author of seven books on international mountaineering, including Toma* Humar (Random House UK, 2008); Brotherhood of the Rope (The Mountaineers Books, 2007) and I’ll Call You in Kathmandu (The Mountaineers Books, 2005). McDonald is the winner of numerous awards, including Italy’s ITAS Prize for mountain writing (2010) and is a two-time winner of India’s Kekoo Naoroji Award for Mountain Literature (2009 and 2008). She has also received the Alberta Order of Excellence (2010), the Summit of Excellence Award from the Banff Centre (2007), the King Albert Award for international leadership in the field of mountain culture and environment (2006), and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (2002). Freedom Climbers is her first book with RMB.
After the Second World War a period of relative calm began in Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslavia. During the next thirty years citizens could travel freely if they had the money. Most did not, but alpinists did.
Through elaborate training régimes and state-supported expeditions abroad, Yugoslavian alpinists began making impressive climbs in the Himalaya as early as 1960. By the ’70s, they were ascending the 8000ers. These teams were dominated by Slovenian climbers, since their region includes the Julian Alps, a fiercely steep range of limestone peaks that provided the ideal training ground.
After Tito died in 1980, however, the calm ended. Inter-ethnic conflict and economic decline ripped Yugoslavia apart. But Serbian strongman Slobodan Miloševic misread the courage and character of several Yugoslavian states, including Slovenia, and by 1991 Slovenia was independent.
The new country continued its support for climbers, and success bred success. By 1995, all of the 8000ers had been climbed by Slovenian teams. And in the next ten years, some of the most dramatic and futuristic climbs were made by these ferocious alpinists. Apart from a few superstars, most of these amazing athletes remain unknown in the West.
Years before, as communism was collapsing and the Balkans slid into chaos, Humar was unceremoniously conscripted into a dirty war that he despised, where he observed brutal and inhumane atrocities that disgusted him. Finally he did the unthinkable: he left and finally arrived home in what had become a new country - Slovenia.
He returned to climbing, and within very few years, he was among the best in the world. Reinhold Messner, among others, called him the most remarkable mountain climber of his generation. His routes are seldom repeated; most consider them to be suicidal; yet he often climbs them solo. As this book was being written, he achieved the first-ever solo ascent of the east summit of Annapurna.
Tomaž Humar has cooperated with Bernadette McDonald, the distinguished former director of the Banff Festival and author of several books on mountaineering, to tell his utterly remarkable story.
See this book trailer for Freedom Climbers made by RMB Books, its publisher in Canada, where the cover is slightly different from the Mountaineers Books U.S. edition
* Behind the Iron Curtain, Cold War mountaineers found freedom on the world's highest peaks—and paid an awful price to achieve it
* Winner of the Boardman-Tasker Prize, Banff Grand Prize, and American Alpine Club Literary Award
Freedom Climbers tells the story of Poland's truly remarkable mountaineers who dominated Himalayan climbing during the period between the end of World War II and the start of the new millennium. The emphasis here is on their "golden age" in the 1980s and 1990s when, despite the economic and social baggage of their struggling country, Polish climbers were the first to tackle the world's highest mountains during winter, including the first winter ascents on seven of the world's fourteen 8000-meter peaks: Everest, Manaslu, Dhaulagiri, Cho Oyu, Kanchenjunga, Annapurna, and Lhotse. Such successes, however, came at a serious cost: 80 percent of Poland's finest high-altitude climbers died on the high mountains during the same period they were pursuing these first ascents.
Award-winning writer Bernadette McDonald addresses the social, political, and cultural context of this golden age, and the hardships of life under Soviet rule. Polish climbers, she argues, were so tough because their lives at home were so tough—they lost family members to World War II and its aftermath and were so much more poverty-stricken than their Western counterparts that they made much of their own climbing gear. While Freedom Climbers tells the larger story of an era, McDonald shares charismatic personal narratives such as that of Wanda Rutkiewicz, expected to be the first woman to climb all 8000-meter peaks until she disappeared on Kanchenjunga in 1992; Jerzy Kukuczka, who died in a fall while attempting the south face of Lhotse; and numerous other renowned climbers including Voytek Kurtyka, Artur Hajzer, Andrej Zawaka, and Krzysztof Wielicki.
This is a fascinating window into a different world, far-removed from modernity yet connected by the strange allure of the mountain landscape, and a story of inspiring passion against all odds.
Explore the entire length of the Okanagan Valley, with experiences such as spying a rare canyon wren, cycling the historic Kettle Valley Railroad across heart-stopping trestle bridges or among neatly planted vineyards, hiking through fields of spring flowers, paddling in a protected bay, and climbing on the world-famous gneiss of the Skaha Bluffs. Use the wonderful resource of Okanagan Valley farmers' markets at the back of the book to guide your shopping in the region.
Eat local, buy local, cook the food yourself, pair dishes with local vintages, and have a lot of fun in the process. Take your time. Slow down. Taste. Smell. Those are the messages of Okanagan Slow Road.