Books to read before you climb mount Everest

Climbing everest
Climbing everest

Thinking about climbing Mount Everest one day? It’s the ultimate summit – literally the top of the world. Whether it’s a genuine to-do list item for you, or a distant dream, here are five books to whet your appetite.

1. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, 1997

Into Thin Air is an account of the 1996 disaster on Mount Everest, where an unexpected storm claimed the lives of eight climbers and left many other stranded.

The book is Jon Krakauer’s personal account of events on the mountain. However, what’s interesting is that he never originally planned to climb the mountain. His tasking was to just get to base camp – like so many hundreds of others – and report on how commercialized the whole mountain had become. But the mountain was calling Krakauer and he managed to postpone the assignment for a year – enough time to train to reach the summit.


Like so many mountaineering disaster stories, Krakauer’s account has been criticised for inaccuracies, particularly by the people mentioned in the story. For an alternative account of the same incident, Anatoli Boukreev’s novel “The Climb” is also a bestseller.

Into thin air
Into thin air

2. The Ascent of Everest by John Hunt

This is an Everest classic. The book recounts the story of the first successful expedition to the summit of Everest, led by John Hunt himself. Although perhaps more famous names on the expedition are Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who touched the highest point on the planet.

The book was written in 1953, so don’t try to compare it to modern mountaineering books. It’s certainly not a tale of adversity and disaster, but of a group of resolute men fighting a mountain into submission.

The pictures inside are very enlightening. Take a look at what these guys were wearing when they took on Everest. Compared to what we have for mountaineering equipment today, it looks incredible that they ever made it up there. If you’re looking for inspiration and courage, I’d highly recommend giving this a look.

3. Just for the Love of It by Cathy O’Dowd

You probably haven’t heard of Cathy O’Dowd. Compared to the grand celebrities of Mount Everest, like George Mallory, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing she’s well out of the limelight. But in 1999, she was the first woman to climb Everest twice: once from the south side and once from the north side.

Her first attempt of Everest was in the same season described by Jon Krakaeur’s Into Thin Air and she was caught up in the same treacherous storm. She summited, but the group was struck by tragedy on the way down.

For the love of it
For the love of it

The book is called “Just for the Love of It” because this is Cathy O’Dowd’s reason for climbing Everest not once, but several times. Why do so many people attempt it each year? Especially with the high risks and numerous stories of death and disaster.

4. One Man’s Everest: The Autobiography of Kenton Cool (by Kenton Cool)

One man’s everest
One man’s everest

Think climbing up Everest once is enough? Well, not for Kenton Cool. He’s been up not once, or twice, but twelve times and counting! This book is the story of his mountaineering career – from early beginnings through adversity and injuries that should have left him unable to walk again, never mind climb.
This is a story not just of Everest, but a celebration of mountaineering as a discipline and a sport.

5. A Guidebook!

In all seriousness, it’s very easy to get swept up with the history and dream of Mount Everest. It’s the pinnacle of mountaineering, despite the fact that so many people trek up to base camp every year. If you’d like to be one of them, a little dose of reality might be good for you.

Lift your nose out of the literature and take a look at a factual guidebook. Since Everest is becoming such a popular destination, there are many to choose from: Cicerone, Lonely Planet, Bradt and just about any other travel book publisher will cover it somewhere. Good luck and be prepared.


Emily Woodhouse is a freelance outdoors writer, with a love for adventure and inspiring others. Her obsession with mountains probably started in Yosemite, aged about 2. Born in the US but now based in the UK, she enjoys traveling in Europe and camping under the stars. Read more or follow on Twitter (@TravellingLine) and Facebook.
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emily-woodhouse is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival