When Gordon Stainforth told me about his book I thought it sounded quite promising. And then it arrived (suitably on the day when I had happily blogged about danger), and I had a little look, and almost immediately went into lock-down over dangerous behaviour on mountains. It’s something I find really hard to deal with. This being non-fiction makes it harder still, because it’s real, and not even the fact that Gordon survived to write the book made all that much difference. (Although I am obviously glad he did survive.)
So I handed the book over to the Resident IT Consultant who does not suffer from stupid nervous mountain afflictions.
‘In the summer of 1969, as Apollo 11 was blasting off to the moon, two teenage twin brothers, with only three years’ mountaineering experience, set off to climb one of the highest rock faces in Europe. With just two bars of chocolate, some sandwiches, a four-sentence route description and an old sketch map, they left their tent early one morning with the full expectation of being back in time for tea. Within a few hours things had gone badly wrong, they were looking death in the face, and the English Home Counties seemed very far away …’
I really enjoyed reading Gordon Stainforth’s Fiva, An Adventure That Went Wrong. It reminded me of some of the books that I used to borrow from the local library when I was fifteen or sixteen. There was a good supply of mountaineering classics, and I worked my way through them all. Their focus was mainly on the Himalayas: I particularly remember Maurice Herzog’s Annapurna. The sense of endeavour in faraway places appealed to me.
Fiva is a real life account of an ascent of the Fiva route climb on Trollveggen in Norway, written by a participant from the perspective of his nineteen-year-old self. It successfully recreates the atmosphere of the late 1960s and both the enthusiastic capability and the inexperience and impulsiveness of youth.
Would it appeal to today’s fifteen and sixteen-year-olds? It is clearly written and energetically paced. The account of the climb is both exciting and graphically described. It is accessible: there is enough explanation of rock climbing, and a brief glossary. The author’s perspective ensures it avoids becoming condescending.
The circumstances of today’s teenagers are very different. I enjoyed the period feel of the book but might they find it hard to identify with two public school-educated nineteen-year-olds from 1969? I think we underestimate them. Teenage energy and enthusiasm were not so very different then. What was different was the opportunity to pursue them. We had the freedom to do things that would be unthinkable today. I was munro-bagging by the age of fifteen.
Might the book encourage readers to emulate the authors (who both come out of their adventure suffering no real harm)? If it did I think it would be no bad thing. There is enough description of the dangers for an imaginative reader to appreciate them.
In other words, let’s embrace danger!