Christmas Card (by The Association of British Mountain Guides) sent by Hilary and Peter Boardman to Maggie Body, Editor Hodder & Stoughton, later Secretary of BT.
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
Shortlisted author Helen Y. Rolfe sent us this letter:
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
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”.
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:
TIDES: A Climber’s Voyage
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
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.
Ed Douglas and John Beatty
KINDER SCOUT: The People’s Mountain
An evocative celebration of a much-loved mountain, presented by a partnership between two of Britain’s finest mountain writers and photographers.
THE FLYING MOUNTAIN
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
An enthralling examination – part history, part memoir – of the motivations of mountaineers and other explorers, related by veteran US author and climber David Roberts.
THE OGRE: Biography of a mountain and the dramatic story of the first ascent
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.
Junko Tabei and Helen Y. Rolfe
HONOURING HIGH PLACES: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei
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.
Boardman Tasker Charitable Trust
Submissions for the 2018 Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature is now closed.
From Rocksport Aug/Sept 1970
An exhibition celebrating the pioneering mountain climber, photographer, filmmaker and inspirational writer.
You can now submit your book to the 2018 Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature.
Bernadette MacDonald won the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature 2017 with her book 'The Art of Freedom: The Life and Climbs of Voytek Kurtyka'.