2019 Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature Shortlist Announced

shortlist announcment website image.jpg

The Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature continues to attract a substantial level of entries. This year there were 32 entries, from Great Britain, Canada, Italy, New Zealand and the USA. The Award will be made at the Boardman Tasker event at the Kendal Mountain Festival, on Friday November 15th 2019.

The judges for 2019 are Roger Hubank (Chair), Katie Ives and Tony Shaw. 

They have selected the following 6 books for this year’s shortlist:

cover with outline.jpg

Mick Fowler

No Easy Way 

Vertebrate Publishing

A third volume of memoirs of mountaineering in the greater ranges, written in Fowler’s inimitable style; self-deprecating, understated, never taking himself too seriously while at the same time conveying that what he is engaged in is very serious indeed.


Kate Harris

Lands of Lost Borders

Dey Street Books

A gripping account of an epic journey, fraught with difficulties and dangers, made by the writer and her partner following the old Silk Road through many different countries.


Geoff Powter

Inner Ranges

Rocky Mountain Books

A wide-ranging anthology of essays and articles by the prize-winning Canadian climber and journalist reflecting his life-long affair with mountains and mountain people.


David Smart

Paul Preuss

Rocky Mountain Books

An account of the life and death of the influential Austrian climber who soloed many first ascents In the Eastern Alps scorning artificial aids in preference for an ethically pure Alpine style.

hangdog days.jpg

Jeff Smoot

Hangdog Days

Mountaineers Books

An engaging account of the changes that took place in American rock climbing in the ‘70s and ‘80s told with great verve, through the stories of some fascinating characters from dyed-in-the-wool bottom-up traditionalists to top-down rap-bolters.

cover with outline.jpg

David Wilson

The Equilibrium Line

The Poetry Business

‘Poems inspired by climbing.’ An outstanding second collection by the poet and novelist examining ambition, failure, risk and where to draw the line in settings ranging from the gritstone crags to the Alps and further afield.

Once again the Award has generated more than 30 entries and it continues to attract a high level of interest.

Steve Dean, Secretary

Boardman Tasker Charitable Trust


Kangchenjunga 1979


2019 is the fortieth anniversary of the ascent of Kangchenjunga by Joe Tasker, Peter Boardman and Doug Scott, the three of them reaching the summit on May 16th 1979. At over 28,000ft Kangchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world. It was first climbed in May 1955 by Joe Brown and George Band followed a day later by Norman Hardie and Tony Streather. The British expedition climbed the mountain from the west by the Yalung face and the West Ridge. The mountain was not climbed again until 1977 when an Indian climber and a Sherpa repeated the British route.  In respect to the belief of the Sikkim no one had set foot on the actual summit itself. 

In late 1978 Doug approached Joe and Pete regarding making an attempt to climb Kangchenjunga from the north, without oxygen. It was a very considerable undertaking; the mountain had not been attempted from the north since 1930, and no mountain of this height and overall scale had been attempted by a new and difficult route without the use of oxygen, and with such a small team. 

It was decided to add another climber to the team and they invited Georges Bettembourg to join them.  Georges was a top class French alpinist and had recently made a very rapid ascent of Broad Peak with Yannick Seigneur.

The team set up Base Camp in early April and then set about establishing a route to the North Col of the mountain.  By April 13th they had set up Camp 2 at 22,500ft. The next couple of weeks were spent climbing and fixing rope on the wall and by April 27th Camp 3 had been established on the North Ridge. At this time Pete was injured by rockfall and descended to Camp 2 to recover. He returned to the North Col camp three days later, but Joe was forced to go down to Base Camp suffering badly from the altitude. On May 1st while Joe descended, Pete, Doug and Georges set off up the North Ridge and dug out a snow cave for Camp 4.

Over the next three days Pete, Doug and Georges pushed on up the mountain, and set up a camp on the North Ridge at 26,0000ft. The camp consisted of a small tent on the east side of the ridge below the crest, where they were sheltered from the wind. All three of them were squashed into the tent that night (May 4th/5th) and the wind gradually changed direction and began to not only increase in strength rapidly but hammered the tent and began to damage it. At about 2am the tent fabric was ripped open and the centre hoop snapped. Doug held the other poles, and tried in vain to hold the tent together, and the three of them were confronted with a potentially fatal situation.

Survival lay only in descent and after the tent was blown away into the night; they struggled downhill, often on all fours, in appalling conditions. Pete describes this epic situation forcefully in Sacred Summits (Pages 137-138) and only their combined resilience and experience allowed them to escape with their lives. Both Pete and Doug experienced frostbite trying to save the tent, while Georges was starting to suffer from snowblindness.

After an epic retreat down to Base Camp, the team set about recovering, and four days later on May 9th Joe, Pete, Doug and Georges all went back up to Camp 2. From there they made a concerted attempt to get to the summit, spending some recovery time at the Snow Cave at Camp 4 (24,500ft.). From there the summit was some two miles away with almost 4,000ft of ascent. On May 14th they set off for the summit but the strength of the wind, the cold and the difficulty of the route caused them to spend a day in a snow cave some 2,000ft below the summit. It was at this point that Georges decided to go down, deciding that he could go no further. While Georges descended, Joe, Pete and Doug set off for the summit spending the night of May 15th in a cave in a crevasse. On May 16th they set off early and after a struggle on a rock buttress led by Joe they pressed on and reached the summit of Kanchenjunga (at 28,208 ft.) at 4-45pm, with barely an hour of daylight left. They had an arduous descent in failing daylight to the crevasse cave, but reached it safely by 8pm in total darkness. The descent to Base Camp took them two days and they were then able to rest and recover after being the first people to climb the mountain from the north side.   By May 29th the team were back in Kathmandu.

Both Pete and Joe wrote extensive accounts of their Kangchenjunga adventures in their books: 

            Savage Arena    Pages 159 - 213

            Sacred Summits    Pages 85 - 168

At present Doug is working on a history of climbing on Kangchenjunga to be published soon.

The ascent of the mountain by this difficult and dangerous route was, along with their ascent of the West face of Changabang, perhaps Joe and Pete’s finest achievement in the Himalayas. For Doug, the ascent of two of the ‘Big Three’ (Everest and Kanchenjunga) and both by new and difficult routes placed him at the forefront of high altitude mountaineering. Of the first nine people to climb Kangchenjunga, seven had been British.

Steve Dean


A few words from Doug Scott, 40 years on from the Kangchenjunga ascent:

Three years after we climbed Kangchenjunga I was returning across Tibet from climbing Shishapangma when I heard the awful news from Charlie Clarke whom we met in Shigatse that Pete and Joe had disappeared on the North East ridge of Everest. It seemed unbelievable that two of Britain's strongest Himalayan climbers should have perished on Everest. They had, not only, on account of their great climbs but mainly through their literary abilities inspired a generation of climbers, Pete with his 'Shining Mountain' and Joe with his 'Savage Arena'.

It is entirely appropriate that they should be remembered today, for their climbs, their writing and the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature.           



Tim Noble “Writing on Rock” 1950 – 2014


Tim was a long time supporter of our Award and was a BT Panel Judge in 2007, and Chair of Judges the following year.  He made a particularly fine and controversial speech at Kendal, which indicated his fine grasp of language and his love of the mountains.  Tim was the Editor of the Climbers Club Journal for several years, working hard to encourage members to contribute material.

Sadly, Tim died suddenly in 2014 when he was only in his mid sixties.  An experienced climber, Tim also had a distinguished career as a teacher and educationalist in particular projecting his deep love of Shakespeare to large numbers of pupils over the years.

Tim’s friends and family have put together a delightful collection of his prose and poetry entitled “Writing on Rock”.

Copies are available here.

Tim was a lovely bloke and a good friend, and is greatly missed in the climbing community.

An article about Tim’s writing has been published in the March/April edition of Climber magazine.

Steve Dean
Boardman Tasker Charitable Trust

March 2019

A Thank You Note to the Boardman Tasker Folks

David Roberts (c) Matt Hale_300dpi.jpg

Weeks after learning about the prize, I’m still vibrating gently with the buzz. I honestly didn’t expect the honor, given the uncertain state in which I composed the chapters that make up Limits of the Known. And in 2018 I still, I must confess, harbored an old preconception about the BT, that it was heavily weighted toward British writers. Of course I had not failed to notice that as early as 1993 Jeff Long had won the prize, or later that such North American cronies as Steve House and Bernadette McDonald had been likewise acclaimed. For that matter, who could ever quarrel with such masters as Steven Venables, Paul Pritchard, or Peter and Leni Gillman being laureled for their splendid books?

Why, for that matter, should the Boardman Tasker not emphasize the works of men and women who cut their climbing teeth on the crags and hills near Llanberis or Fort William? Mountaineering boasts an immensely rich literature, but by far the strongest contribution to it during the last two centuries (and counting) has come from British pens. My own apprenticeship in the craft was steeped in that tradition. My freshman year in college, the book I turned to each night when I couldn’t sleep wasn’t John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra or Belmore Browne’s The Conquest of Mount McKinley. It was a battered old green copy of Geoffrey Winthrop Young’s On High Hills. A few years later, my reading predilections were likewise Anglocentric. After all, wouldn’t I even now far rather read anything by Eric Shipton or Bill Tilman than the collected musings of J. Monroe Thorington or Francis Farquhar? (Not to mention—gadzooks—James Ramsey Ullman . . . .)

Since learning about my prize, I’ve reread Peter Boardman’s Sacred Summits. I was dazzled all over again by the nerve and skill of those three bold expeditions crammed almost back-to-back into a single year, and by the felicity and honesty of the writing. I’m pretty sure we’ll never know just what went wrong high on Everest in 1982. But it could so easily have gone wrong on Kangchenjunga in 1979. What a gutsy climb that was, in the face of such daunting objective dangers and unpredictable setbacks. It’s sobering to realize that by 1983, the only survivor of that landmark, under-appreciated ascent was the canny veteran Doug Scott, still with us, thank God, and writing well in his late seventies.

Peter and Joe knew full well just how dangerous mountaineering at the highest level was. But they also knew that it was “worth it” — whatever that shopworn formula means. The joy of those hard, uncertain days in the snow and wind still shines in their writing.

One of the completely unexpected delights of being honored with the BT is a handful of e-mail correspondences that have sprung up therefrom, including warm exchanges with Boardman’s widow, Hilary Rhodes, and Tasker’s sister, Terry Tasker. These budding friendships make me all the sorrier I didn’t manage to get myself to Kendal last month. I’ll try much harder next year, even without a book of my own to flog.

Meanwhile, may I express my thanks to what is clearly a special society: the folks who make the Boardman Tasker such an event each year, and such a fine thing to have been part of, even from the distance of five time zones and 3,000 miles. I couldn’t be more pleased or more grateful.

-- David Roberts

A letter from Helen Y. Rolfe

Shortlisted author Helen Y. Rolfe sent us this letter:

Copy of Honouring_High_Places_print-1.jpg

November 28, 2018

Dear Boardman Tasker Award Board of Trustees:

It is with a happy glow that I arrive back in Canada after experiencing the wonderful Kendal Mountain Festival, and in particular, the event for the Boardman Tasker Award. It was a privilege to be shortlisted and invited to attend. Thank you for making my trip possible. My conversation on stage with Stephen Venables was at first nerve-wracking then easy-going and enjoyable. The feedback from the jury was important and refreshing—it is not every day an author hears comments about their writing from such a high-level literary team. The audience was appreciative and lovely to converse with during the break, and they reminded me of exactly why I write—to share stories and connect with readers.

The energy in Kendal was totally upbeat, and I felt truly welcomed and part of the festival. Thank you, everyone, for the invitation to be there. The experience has already made me a better writer, and I now feel connected to the international world of wordsmiths.


Helen Y. Rolfe

Author of Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei



Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature 2018 – The Winner

2018 winner website.jpg
David Roberts (c) Matt Hale_300dpi.jpg

Our Congratulations to David Roberts for winning the 2018 Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature with his book ‘Limits of the Known’.

David Roberts wrote the following post on his CaringBridge blog on 17th November:

Yesterday afternoon, at the Kendal Mountain Festival in England, this year’s winner of the Boardman Tasker prize for the best book about mountaineering and/or adventure was announced. I’d been shortlisted before, but I was stunned to learn that ‘Limits of the Known’ had won the award.

The BT, as it is known, has been granted every year since 1984, and it’s commonly regarded as the most prestigious prize of its kind internationally. I’d hoped to attend the Kendal Mountain Festival, but coming only two weeks after our visit to Banff, it seemed too much for Sharon and me to take on. There were a lot of reasons I didn’t think I had a chance to win. The laureates over the years have been predominantly British authors. But among the other shortlisted books were some truly estimable contenders, including Doug Scott’s personal account of the legendary first ascent-turned-survival epic on the Ogre in Pakistan in 1977, and a haunting, beautifully written novel about brotherhood in the Alps, called ‘The Eight Mountains’, by the Italian writer Paolo Cognetti. When I started to write Limits in the fall of 2015, I was still so weakened and demoralized by chemo and radiation that I wondered if I would live to finish the book. And as the pages slowly accreted, I wondered constantly whether what I was writing was any good. I’d seldom been so plagued by self-doubt. The BT prize doesn’t prove, of course, any lasting merit for my sometimes-scattershot musings on the meaning of adventure, but I can’t help basking in the vote of confidence from my peers that it may betoken.

In the 1970s Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker were the rising stars of British mountaineering in the great ranges, with audacious new routes in impeccable style on such dazzling peaks as Changabang and Dunagiri. And they were both brilliant writers, with a pair of books each under their belts by their early thirties, honing a prose that put a new edge on the classic Shipton-Tilman vein of wry understatement.

Then in 1982, above 8,000 meters on Everest, attempting a bolder route than anyone had achieved on the world’s highest mountain, the two men vanished together. The Boardman Tasker prize, with its sterling cachet, is their fitting memorial. I had corresponded with Boardman in the early 1980s, and looked forward to downing beers with him in a pub somewhere in the Lake District. Among the books in my library, I cherish a copy of his ‘The Shining Mountain’ with a generous inscription thanking me for influencing him as a writer. (It comes as a shock to remind myself that I was actually seven years Boardman’s senior.)

In the 34-year chronicle of the BT, four writers have won the prize twice. Two of them are good friends of mine. Bernadette McDonald, whose directorship of the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival put it on the map, turned herself into a prolific and versatile writer after she retired from the festival. Among her eleven books (and counting) are the two gems that snagged the BT: an insider account of the great Polish mountaineers who upped the game in the 1980s, called ‘Freedom Climbers’, and the biography of their enigmatic genius, Voytek Kurtyka, titled ‘Art of Freedom’.

Sharon and I climbed with Bernadette just last June at Skaha. And yesterday, she was the first person to e-mail me congrats, before I even knew the award had been announced.

The other friend is Paul Pritchard, whom I first met at Banff in 1999 and subsequently profiled for National Geographic Adventure. Like Boardman and Tasker, Paul was in the vanguard of the best young Brits on both native rock and in the great ranges, when, as he started up the Totem Pole, an otherworldly sea stack in Tasmania, a falling stone hit him square on the head and turned him into a hemiplegic.

Paul had already won the BT for his memoir, ‘Deep Play’, written before he turned thirty. But after the accident in Australia, he had to learn how to talk all over again. Few of his friends thought he might be able to write again, a loss almost as grievous as the end of his career as a climber. Astonishingly, within a year of the life-changing event, Paul wrote one of the true classics of our literature, a witty, unself-pitying, at times hallucinatory account of his ordeal and struggle toward recovery, titled simply ‘The Totem Pole’. A shoo-in for the BT in 1999.

Just two weeks ago, for the first time in eighteen years, Paul and I met again at the Banff festival. We renewed our friendship as if it had never been interrupted. I’m happy to say Paul is hard at work on another book, one that the climbing world will gladly wait in line to read.

It’s not often that you befriend winners in life as well as in the fitful art of crafting prose. In the company of Bernadette McDonald and Paul Pritchard, I am honored to take, however temporarily, a nearby seat.

As he was unable to attend the event, David Roberts sent us this video of him reading from ‘Limits of the Known’.

Paulo Cognetti was unable to attend the event, but sent us this video:

For those of you who don’t speak or understand Italian, Paolo chose the first paragraph of his book:

"My father had his own way of going to the mountains: scarcely inclined to meditation, full of obstinacy and arrogance.  He would climb headlong, without pacing himself, always competing with someone or something, and where the trail seemed overlong he would take a short cut via the steepest slope.  When you were with him it was forbidden to stop - complaining about hunger or the cold was not permitted - but you were allowed to sing a good song, especially when caught in a storm or in thick fog.  And to whoop whilst flinging yourself down a snowfield.”

John Beatty sent us this video interview with BT judge Helen Mort about ‘Kinder Scout’.

Simon Pare, Translator of Christoph Ransmayr’s ‘The Flying Mountain’, 2018 Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature Shortlisted Book sent us the following:

"Joe Tasker and Peter Boardman wrote powerfully about the attractions and dangers of the mountains, and the shortlisting of The Flying Mountain was both a fantastic honour and testimony to the jury's openmindedness. It was a pleasure to be able to represent the author Christoph Ransmayr at the ceremony and share the English version of his novel with such an attentive audience - and hopefully, thanks to the prize, with a wider public of literary mountain-lovers”.

2018 Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature Shortlist Announced

2018 shortlist.jpg

The Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature continues to attract a substantial number of entries of very varied character.  This year there were 38 entries, from Great Britain, USA, Canada, Austria, Ireland, South Africa, Switzerland and Italy. To receive entries from eight different countries is particularly welcomed. 

The Award will be made at The Boardman Tasker Shortlisted Authors event at the Kendal Mountain Festival on Friday November 16th 2018.

The 2018 Judges are: Peter Gillman (Chair), Roger Hubank and Kate Moorehead. They have selected the following seven books for this year’s shortlist:


Nick Bullock

TIDES: A Climber’s Voyage

Vertebrate Publishing

An enlightening memoir by an accomplished writer and climber that provides a window into the nature of extreme climbing now and over the past thirty years.

The Eight Mountains cover.jpg

Paolo Cognetti


Harvill Secker

A widely praised novel by an Italian author that details the intriguing friendship between a mountain cow herder and a city boy from Milan, played out over three decades in the Dolomites.

Kinder Scout.jpg

Ed Douglas and John Beatty

KINDER SCOUT: The People’s Mountain

Vertebrate Publishing

An evocative celebration of a much-loved mountain, presented by a partnership between two of Britain’s finest mountain writers and photographers.


Christoph Ransmayr


Seagull Books

A second work of fiction, audaciously told in blank verse by Austrian author Christoph Ransmayr, that follows the journey of two brothers from southwest Ireland as they pursue a quest for an unnamed mountain in Tibet.

Limits of the Known.jpg

David Roberts


W.W.Norton & Sons

An enthralling examination – part history, part memoir – of the motivations of mountaineers and other explorers, related by veteran US author and climber David Roberts.


Doug Scott

THE OGRE: Biography of a mountain and the dramatic story of the first ascent

Vertebrate Publishing

The long awaited full account of the epic accident and rescue on the Ogre in the Karakorum in 1977, together with an enlightening history of the exploration of the mountain.

Copy of Honouring_High_Places_print-1.jpg

Junko Tabei and Helen Y. Rolfe

HONOURING HIGH PLACES: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei

Rocky Mountain Books

A revealing biography of the life of the first woman to climb both Mount Everest and the Seven Summits, based on her memoirs and completed by Canadian writer Helen Rolfe.

This is the fifth year in succession that the BTAward has generated more than 30 entries and it continues to attract a high level of interest.

Steve Dean
Boardman Tasker Charitable Trust