Quest into the Unknown: My life as a climbing nomad (Paperback)

Informative and Inspirational
Customer rating 5.0/5.0
4 April 2019 By D. Elliott
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Climbing adventurer Tony Howard first came to my attention in 1965 when he was part of a team making an awe-inspiring first ascent of the formidable North Face of Trollryggen in Norway. Their success was admired but no account was published until 2011 in Tony’s book ‘Troll Wall’ which was a partial autobiography incorporating additional material describing his introduction to climbing with brief details of later exploits. I appreciated ‘Troll Wall’ for not just his achievements but also Tony’s youthful exuberance and boldness, and I am delighted he has been persuaded to write ‘Quest Into The Unknown’, with explanatory sub-title ‘My Life As A Climbing Nomad’.

I am a little bit older than Tony and I share experiences of his entry into the climbing scene, and my first years of climbing followed a similar path to accounts of ‘Early Days’, ‘Teenage Kicks’ and ‘The Rimmon’. While I settled down to marriage and four children Tony upped the tempo and dedicated himself to discovery-climbing around the world. However my own exploits and places visited overlap some of Tony’s, such a South Ridge of Chir Mhor on Arran or Gardyloo Gully on Ben Nevis, or visits to Wadi Rum in Jordan or warm winter rock in Spain. For many older readers ‘Quest Into The Unknown’ will be a nostalgic glimpse back to the values prevailing before today’s bewilderingly vast range of hardware, footwear and ‘what to wear’. For those coming after Tony his book is informative and inspirational, and as an autobiography it is a magnificent contribution to our sport’s huge volume of literature on climbing, mountaineering and associated activities. It is unlikely there will ever be a climbing adventurer with a career to include as many first ascents as achieved by Tony Howard.

It is not practicable to deal with all material gathered into ‘Quest Into The Unknown’ as Tony has accomplished so much, and as a raconteur he presents his recollections, reminiscences and observations in an engaging piecemeal manner. This is totally compelling as he manages to inject appropriate levels of detail and he does so with a high degree of humour. I first read the book from cover to cover but since have dipped into isolated chapters which do not follow a strict chronological sequence yet fit comfortably according to subject matter. For Tony his pioneering exploration is as important as technical climbing, and his friends and those he meets are as important as his adventurous discoveries, and his feelings are as important as his physical surroundings.

Tony chose to divide his narrative into two main parts with a total of sixty-eight chapters from ‘Early Days’ to a ‘Postscript’ referring to what is probably the highlight of a life of highlights being his legacy: establishment of the Jordan Trail to underpin the country’s adventure tourism. In addition to climbing a sparse indication of pursuits covered includes travel, trekking, sailing, canyoning and caving, with links to historical, political and cultural issues alongside trials and tribulations of a successful calling that is anything but easy. A further indicator of content stems from the countries where Tony has travelled, including Jordan, Oman, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Ethiopia, India, Thailand and Madagascar; and the coverage of portrayals are demonstrated by over one hundred colour photographs supporting narrative.

To assist dealings and developments with various authorities, travel and business operations Tony dreamt up the introductory wheeze of n.o.m.a.d.s: ‘New Opportunities for Mountaineering Adventure and Desert Sports’. A major part of his autobiography relates to his involvement with Troll as producer of climbing gear, consultancy services and writer of guidebooks, together with emphasis on camaraderie of colleagues, ethics of commercial behaviour and contradictions of religions. Also Tony inserts commentary on family matters, especially where connected to travelling and taking part in activities. His writing is as fresh as ‘Troll Wall’ first drafted over fifty years ago, and his updated collection of recollections has something for everyone. Tony Howard’s life goes on, and he finishes his informative and inspirational ‘Quest Into The Unknown’ with the homily: ‘you never know unless you go … ’

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