on 24 October 2007
This book details the life of the great French mountaineer and guide, Lionel Terray, who died tragically in a rockfall in 1965. The first chapter deals with his early years, and his fight to counter the prejudice of the man on the street against climbing. The second chapter (off the top of my head) is about early climbs. The third chapter concentrates on his role as a mountaineer in fighting the German occupiers in France. In the fourth chapter, we find Lionel tacking some of the hardest alpine faces, such as the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses. The fifth chapter details his successful attempt, with his great friend Louis Lachenal, on the north face of the Eiger, preceded by a description of the (mainly) tragic early attempts on the mountain, and followed by the jinxed rescue mission on the mountain in 1957. The next chapter describes the succesful French expedition to Annapurna in 1950, and the amazing escape from the mountain in dreadful weather after it had been climbed. It was the first ascent of an 8000 meter peak. This is followed by a chapter which includes his description of his work as a ski instructor in Canada (Terray was also an expert skier). Finally, the book closes with a description of his later climbs in the Himalayas and the Andes.
I first read this book when I was twelve, after having watched a documentary aboout an ascent of the Eiger on the TV. It immediately sent me into another world (not literally!). I have read this book seven times at various stages in my life, and like to compare my thoughts on life with Terray's, because this book is not just a description of climbs, but a muse on climbing philosophy, and an insight into society and life in general.
I last read this book nine years ago, and that was for the seventh time. Next read is overdue, I think. Marvellous!
on 16 January 2010
I've read a fair number of climbing books but Terray's is simply the most satisfying. Always humble, always insightful, Terray humanises climbing and the motivations behind it in a way that no one else has. His accounts of each climb are gritty and unglossed. By the time you finish this autobiography you feel as though you have gotten to know a man well worth knowing.
on 21 November 2001
This is a superb translation of a fantastic climbing autobiography. As well as climbing the hardest routes of the day, Terray also quotes Nietzsche and philosophises on the unconscious motivations that drive climbers. It is by turns humorous and gripping. I strongly recommend anyone at all interested in climbing to read it.
on 2 August 2013
Conquistadors of the Useless is a fantastic window into what it was like mountaineering on the brink of what I would consider 'the modern era'. Terray lived in a time where they were actually transitioning from old methods to new, and in his book he gives huge insight to what it was like going into desperately hostile places, where none had been before, without the necessary tools. He and his fellow men climbed in a day where hindsight didn't mean going to an outdoors shop and buying a portaledge, but actually designing and inventing new tools that would make the job easier the next time around. I am certain that a large part of the adventure they experienced has been lost with the advent of modern equipment.
I'd wanted to read a mountaineering book by a French author for a while, and being a french speaker was a little hesitant to read a translation, but Geoffrey Sutton has managed to capture the fire Terray obviously felt when he was amongst the mountains. His philosophies and ideals are hugely intriguing, and the descriptions of his experiences in the mountains could only inspire excitement at my own future endeavours. I was truly gripped by his account of the Annapurna expedition, realising that in those days success had little to do with equipment and everything to do with the willpower and loyalty of the participating men. Of course the latter are still important facets of mountaineering today, but we live in an age where honour has to a greater or lesser degree been lost. Terray manages to portray honour and loyalty as deeply powerful and important emotions, as if not more important than love, and it is surely his commitment to these feelings that brought him such successes as he describes.
Such emotions were surely deep rooted through his time serving during the war, and it was incredibly interesting to hear about how it actually was during that time in the alps. Despite his descriptions, the suffering they went through is unimaginable, but it seems they went through it with such a sense of camaraderie that I can only feel inspired. In all the book was inspirational and motivating, showing me that I have never really been tired, and that I have never really tried my hardest. Having read it, I feel inclined to commit myself more deeply to the sport I already love.
on 17 August 2015
I first started reading this in the library in Calgary about 30 years ago when on a climbing holiday over there. I didn't have time to finish the book and have wanted to complete it ever since. I recently bought the Kindle version and read the complete book. My first impressions of 30 years ago haven't changed. It's one of the best mountaineering books I have read. Apparently there was some doubt as to whether Terray had written the book himself. However, the translator discovered the original manuscript written in Terray's own hand.
Judging by his descriptions of his guiding and other climbs, he seemed to have almost limitless energy. Although he climbed with many different people, he seemed to have a special bond with Lachenal and did many of his greatest routes with him. Unfortunately, Lachenal suffered serious frostbite on Annaourna and never recovered fully, eventually being killed in a skiing accident.
on 17 January 2014
Good to see this available again. A stunning read by one of the greats of the grande époque of French climbing. His is the best account of the ascent of Annapurna, brings out the drama of all the things that went wrong. Compared to this the military type success of the Everest ascent seems almost boring.
on 26 January 2012
This book is a great read. Highly entertaining throughout, much more than just another mountaineering book. I'm no mountaineering buff and had never heard of Terray before reading this book, but I was drawn in by the intruiging title, which hints at some of the wit and comedy contained within.
I'm not really into dry historical accounts of first ascents or prestigious 'ticks', and thankfully this book was nothing of the sort. I couldn't possibly do justice to the fascinatting tales contained within the book but if you like a good adventure (albeit slightly exaggerated) then you won't be disappointed.
on 25 February 2013
I first read this book as a schoolboy which was, ahem, quite some time ago. The contents have stuck with me in a way those of few other books have. The title alone encapsulates something very special - the climber as warrior doing something that seems at the time to be so very important, but in the grand scheme is worth precisely nothing. To risk a lot (and sometimes all) for something that counts for pretty much nothing. Which isn't to say Terray wasn't involved in some pretty big ascents, just that you know, it's only climbing. Only.
on 20 September 2014
I knew the name well and the era, but little of the man himself. This book has certainly cleared that up. It is well written and maintains a constant tempo. Lionel Terray was a leading climber in the Alps and further afield and is associated with a number of famous climbs, such as Annapurna and a number of famous climbers, such as Gaston Rebuffat. What a shame his life should end at such a young age. One can't help but wonder how his life would have panned out had it not been cut short.
on 14 September 2015
For me the best bits of the mountaineering/endurance books are the bits where they're climbing, dealing with danger, and facing the Fates, and in my view Lionel Terray is the most gripping of the mountaineer writers to read when he's on that mountain.