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.