"Freedom Climbers", a novel about Polish climbing achievements in the Himalayas written by Canadian author Bernadette McDonald was given the top literary prize at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival.
Bernadette McDonald's new book, published by Rocky Mountain Books in October 2011, gives an account of the bravery and dedication of Polish climbers and their race for Himalayan peaks in the 1980s. McDonald puts forth the theory that the difficult conditions that martial law imposed on Polish society charged these climbers with the resilience to be the best in the world.
The book recreates the challenges that Polish climbers faced in pursuing their sky-high goals, detailing Voytek Kurtyka's remarkable conquest of Gasherbrum IV and Wanda Rutkiewicz's pioneer ascent of K2 as the first woman to do so in history, along with the personal stories of their friends and colleagues, many of whom perished in the punishing conditions of winter in the Himalayas.
World-renowned climber Reinhold Messner himself expresses his admiration of Polish climbers in the book, remarking that
Between 1980 and 1989, Polish climbers were giant, worldwide leaders as high-altitude climbers, especially in the Himalayas. This volume documents those charismatic leaders and their iconic climbs in a defining chapter of Himalayan climbing history.
According to the publisher's note,
the author weaves a passionate and literary tale of adventure, politics, suffering, death and—ultimately—inspiration. Freedom Climbers 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.
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). She met many of the Polish climbers she writes about in "Freedom Climbers" in her time as director of the Banff Mountain Film Festivals.
The Boardman Tasker Prize is given to the author or co-authors of an original work which has made an outstanding contribution to mountain literature. Established in 1984, the award honors the lives of Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker, two British alpinists who not only pioneered first ascents in the Himalayas but made a lasting contribution to mountain literature with their books. Boardman and Tasker perished on the unclimbed North Ridge of Everest in 1982. The award comes with a monetary stipend of £3,000 ($4,740).
This year McDonald was up against 4 other books of the climbing genre. She was announced the winner was announced on Friday, November 18, at the Kendall Mountain Film Festival, England. She also won main prize at the at Canada's Banff Mountain Book Festival earlier this year.
In an interview with online mountaineering magazine Rock and Ice, McDonald remarked,
I guess the underlying theme has to do with what motivated this group of superb Himalayan climbers, and my take on it is that climbing allowed them to be free. Their life in Poland was so stifling; they were so oppressed; and yet they were vibrant, active, educated, creative and talented individuals. Climbing gave them an avenue to express themselves, to see the world, to have lives that were full of adventure and meaning.
Read the full interview on rockandice.com
The remaining nominees for the 2011 Boardman Taskman prize are:
Steve 'Crusher' Bartlett - "Desert Towers"
Tim Hannigan - "Murder in the Hindu Kush"
Joe Simpson - "The Sound of Gravity"
Ian Smith - "Shadow of the Matterhorn"
"Freedom Climbers" by Bernadette McDonald
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Rocky Mountain Books (October 15, 2011)
Purchase the book online at Amazon.com and Rocky Mountain Books
Currently, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute is producing a film on the phenomenon of Polish Climbers in the Himalayas. Art of Freedom is part of the five-part documentary series titled Guide to the Poles, a major film project conceived as part of the Cultural Programme of the Polish EU Presidency in 2011.
See more on "Art of Freedon"
Press reviews of Freedom Climbers
A brilliantly crafted tale of mountain and political adventure that reveals a golden era in Himalayan climbing that was as glorious as it was tragic.
- Sir Chris Bonington, author of Chris Bonington’s Everest
Page turning accounts of suffer-fests on bold new routes, many of them done 'fast and light' in winter, from the golden age of Polish mountaineering in the Himalaya and Greater Ranges. Heart-wrenching tales of friends and families who were abandoned to their dreary Soviet era lives when the mountains claimed their loved ones. Best of all, this book lays bare the complex mix of patriotic fervor and ravenous egos that led to a legacy of insanely difficult climbs on the 7 and 8000ers unmatched by any other nation before or since.
- Pat Morrow, mountaineer, photographer and author of Beyond Everest
For many years, we in the climbing community have stood in awe of the accomplishments of Polish climbers. Relatively late into the Himalyan game due to political and monetary restrictions enforced onto them within their own country, the Poles sought the mountains as their escape. It was in fact the hardships they endured within Poland that hardened them physically and emotionally to seek out and endure the toughest climbs in the world. Freedom Climbers is a very enlightening and captivating look at the Polish climbing superstars, what drives them, their amazing accomplishments and their continuing role in pushing the limits in the mountain arena.
- Ed Viesturs, author of No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks and K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain
Source: boardmantasker.com, rockandice.com, amazon.com, rmbooks.com