Alpine Warriors by Bernadette McDonald Release Date: 21/09/2015 ISBN 9781771601092 6 x 9 inches 336 pages hardcover $30.00 (CAD)
Winner of the 2015 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival award for Mountaineering History
After the Second World War a period of relative calm began in Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslavia. During the next thirty years citizens could travel freely if they had the money. Most did not, but alpinists did.
Through elaborate training régimes and state-supported expeditions abroad, Yugoslavian alpinists began making impressive climbs in the Himalaya as early as 1960. By the ’70s, they were ascending the 8000ers. These teams were dominated by Slovenian climbers, since their region includes the Julian Alps, a fiercely steep range of limestone peaks that provided the ideal training ground.
After Tito died in 1980, however, the calm ended. Inter-ethnic conflict and economic decline ripped Yugoslavia apart. But Serbian strongman Slobodan Miloševic misread the courage and character of several Yugoslavian states, including Slovenia, and by 1991 Slovenia was independent.
The new country continued its support for climbers, and success bred success. By 1995, all of the 8000ers had been climbed by Slovenian teams. And in the next ten years, some of the most dramatic and futuristic climbs were made by these ferocious alpinists. Apart from a few superstars, most of these amazing athletes remain unknown in the West.
With its colorful characters and the fascinating thread of Pot running throughout, plus a lighter, more agile touch in her writing, Alpine Warriors is McDonald's best book yet.—Dougald MacDonald, American Alpine Journal
With Alpine Warriors, Bernadette McDonald proves once again why she is one of the most distinguished mountain chroniclers of our times…. This book is a remarkable work of history which will be a primary reference point for Slovenian alpinism.—Smruthi Ranganathan, The Himalayan Club
The book discusses the philosophy and experiences that drove so many Slovenian alpinists to climb to such heights. McDonald quotes extensively from Nejc Zaplotnik’s Pot, a poetic account of Zaplotnik’s climbing experiences, and offers a fascinating, lyrical history of the Slovenians’ many mountaineering triumphs.—Stephen Shapiro, The Devil of History
Beautifully written with captivation anecdotes, McDonald opens the door to a chapter in international climbing few know about. From brotherhood, hard times and love to discovery and patriotism, this is one of the most important mountaineering books of the decade. Whether you’re a climbing history fanatic or one who enjoys reading about heroes and legends, Alpine Warriors is for you.—Gripped Magazine
Through meticulous research and captivating anecdotes, Bernadette McDonald describes the tumultuous times that led to the fall of Yugoslavia and how the mountains pulled its people together. She provides a glimpse into the minds of the men who were climbing for discovery, patriotism, brotherhood, and love.—John Reid, Crowfoot Media
Well researched and beautifully written, Alpine Warriors is an intimate glimpse into the rich, complicated, relatively unknown Slovenian climbing world, and its towering influence on the global mountaineering stage. But it's far more than just a mountaineering tale. It's first-rate social history. This is a story that needed to be told.—Zac Robinson, editor of Conrad Kain: Letters from a Wandering Mountain Guide 1903-1933
In this sweeping narrative, Bernadette McDonald casts a spotlight on the history of Slovenian alpinism. She tells the story of a nation’s love affair with mountains, played out through the exploits of an elite and uncompromising band of high altitude athletes. Her accounts of their audacious expeditions make for compelling, and sometimes harrowing, reading. Throughout the book she threads the inspired writing of the legendary climber Nejc Zaplotnik, helping us to understand what drove these mountaineers and what - despite the attrition - kept them on their path. An important story, meticulously researched and skillfully told.—Maria Coffey, author of Where the Mountain Casts its Shadow and Explorers of the Infinite.
With Alpine Warriors, Bernadette McDonald cements her much-deserved place as the reigning mountain historian of our time. Once again, she’s unearthed a too-little-known story that needs to be told, and has written it beautifully. McDonald’s understanding of the complex story of Slovenian climbing is exceeded only by her obvious compassion for the climbers themselves. A great book.— Geoff Powter, author of Strange and Dangerous Dreams: The Fine Line Between Adventure and Madness
Alpine Warriors is one of the most important pieces of mountain literature of the decade. Bernadette McDonald shows us how Slovenian climbers helped push the limits of European and Himalayan alpinism. A combination of political, religious and economic factors played a major role in the formation of the country's impressive network of climbing clubs and questionable military-style ascents. But, as McDonald helps us understand, the solidarity that gave the Slovenians their winning edge, wouldn't last forever. A gripping historical read that belongs on every climber and armchair mountaineers bookshelf.—Brandon Pullan, author of The Bold and Cold
Slovenia is a small country with a large but little-known role in climbing history. Alpine Warriors brings this overlooked story to life at last— and what a story it is, brimming with philosophy, audacity and tragedy. McDonald’s cool prose and heartfelt insight are a gift.— J.B. MacKinnon, author of The Once and Future World
Expertly researched and elegantly written, Bernadette McDonald’s book gives a superb insight into the relatively unknown world of elite Slovenian alpinism— the motivations, philosophies and skills of these pioneering mountaineers. Alpine Warriors is a journey into the history and culture of Slovenia itself and the importance of mountains to the national psyche.— Andy Cave, alpinist, author of Learning to Breathe
People write books for all kinds of reasons: to make money, to become well known, to tell a story they think others will read. Sometimes, if they are good enough writers, they write books to answer questions in themselves, and in the course of satisfying their curiosity discover unknown worlds of profound detail and infinite adventure. Bernadette McDonald is that kind of writer, and Alpine Warriors is that kind of book, about a heroic clan of climbers inexorably tied to the tragic history of the former Yugoslavia. This is a chapter in the history not just of international alpinism, but of the world itself. It shouldn't be missed.—Ian Brown, author of The Boy in the Moon, feature writer at The Globe & Mail
The exhaustive intensity of the research in this volume reminds us of siege mountaineering techniques; the writing and the masterful exploration of human motivations is elegant, like alpine style. Bernadette McDonald shows us a mountain way that stands on the shoulders of giants.— Carlos Carsolio, alpinist
Slovenia has produced many of the best alpinists in the world, but most people can’t even find the place on a map. Bernadette McDonald has plunged into the culture, cults and controversies of the Slovenian climbing scene to produce a revealing portrait of a place where climbers enjoy the status of gurus, pro athletes and rock stars. It’s her best book yet.— Greg Child, alpinist, author of Over the Edge
Pound for pound, no country has influenced alpinism more directly or more deeply than Slovenia. The stories recounted here often seem heroic, but more importantly, they illuminate significant and little-known anecdotes from our common history as climbers. Slovenian alpinism encapsulates an approach that all climbers can aspire to.— Steve House, alpinist, author of Beyond the Mountain
Bernadette McDonald’s Alpine Warriors is a groundbreaking history of Slovenian mountaineering that flows like an epic poem. To read this book is to plunge into a world of forests of limestone spires; peaks of crystalline snow and searing light; the aftershocks of brutal warfare and political strife; and the mysterious manuscript of the legendary Nejc Zaplotnik, who taught that alpinism could be an eternal path, through solitude, to an ineffable freedom.—Katie Ives, editor-in-chief of Alpinist
Bernadette McDonald is the outstanding contemporary chronicler of international mountaineering. Her prolific output is notable for her participant’s understanding, elegant prose, diligent research and a gift for deft characterization. Her latest book, Alpine Warriors, is perhaps her best yet and relates the extraordinary story of post-war Slovenian climbing. The names here— Zaplotnik, Humar, Karo, Prezelj and many others—may not be household ones outside the small circle of mountain cognoscenti, but these are among the most impressive Greater Ranges activists in the history of the sport. Bernadette has done them justice, capturing the unique flavour of their small mountain country and its fierce individualism and pride. An enthralling read and the best mountain book you’ll pick up this year.—Jim Perrin, climber, author of The Villain
Why have so many Slovenian climbers done so well despite Slovenia's position – as measured in money or the height of its mountains – as a small and relatively poor country? Why are their climbs and climbers also so deeply complicated, from Tomaž Humar to Tomo Česen? What did America’s top alpinist, Steve House, learn when he was a teenage exchange student in Slovenia that helped shape his future? Alpine Warriors answers those questions, and many more that are specific to Slovenia but also universal to all climbers and anyone striving for a mountainous existence.
Bernadette McDonald’s latest book describes a country and people where every citizen feels obligated to climb the highest mountain in Slovenia at least once, even if they don’t have any arms or legs. Seriously. A country that helped shape a teenaged Steve House, produced Tomaž Humar, Tomo Česen, Marko Prezelj, Silvo Karo, and dozens more talented climbers who re-wrote alpinism wherever they went, despite limited resources. I always thought the water in Slovenia had some sort of alpinism juice in it, but the truth is way more interesting: There’s a bible for Slovenian climbers that you’ve never heard of, but you’ll know after reading this book.— Will Gadd, National Geographic Adventurer of the Year
Bernadette McDonald’s Alpine Warriors is an emotional, compassionate and respectful exploration of how the extraordinary climbs of the Slovenian mountaineers were influenced by nationalism, war, poetry and revolution. Deeply researched and highly readable.—David Chaundy-Smart, Gripped Magazine
Meticulously researched and gorgeously written, Alpine Warriors is a stirring love letter to the people of the mountains. Bernadette McDonald is at the peak of her game. Her writing sparkles with an energetic passion for adventure and love of a great wilderness story.—Angie Abdou, author of Between and The Bone Cage
In Alpine Warriors, Bernadette McDonald exposes the mysterious desire that drives climbers into the void, that alluring domain of space and light. Reading these stories helps me to maintain my pride in belonging to that human tribe called climbers.—Voytek Kurtyka, alpinist, author of Chiński Maharadża
A fascinating account of the extraordinary achievements of the alpinists from this tiny Slovenian nation which has spawned some of the most talented, colourful, controversial and innovative mountaineers of modern climbing history. Once started, I couldn’t put the book down till it was finished.—Sir Chris Bonington, alpinist, author of I Chose to Climb
To be sure, modern mountaineering is a British, and also a Central European, invention. Finally, after the Polish, Slovenian climbers took traditional alpinism one step further.—Reinhold Messner, alpinist, author of My Life at the Limit
Epic at every level – literary, historical and ruggedly spiritual – this chronicle of a remote mountain culture tucked away in Eastern Europe’s Julian Alps portrays ascent as both personal quest and national salvation. Welcome to Slovenia and its extraordinary alpinists, and to a thin, mysterious tome known as Pot, or The Path. In the 1970s, when climbers from an impoverished Cold War backwater, using homemade clothing and gear (wooden pitons!), barged into the arena of 8000-metre peaks, no one could explain them. Here at last is their story.
Alpine Warriors is an important book, possibly one of mountain literature’s greatest works, not only for its tale but also for the intelligence, agility and poetry that Bernadette McDonald brings to its telling. Weaving together generations of legendary climbers, she guides us into a land better known for its gypsies and castles through an ever-changing backdrop of violence (from the Second World War and post-war massacres to genocide in Bosnia).
Muscular and tautly drawn, the page-turning adventures in Alpine Warriors connect in the simple mysticism of Pot, a declaration of love for the mountains. Though its 31-year-old author, Nejc Zaplotnik, died in the Himalayas in 1983, his book within McDonald’s book became the bridge between his nation’s survival and its mountain soul.
A cross between the movie Chariots of Fire, Carlos Castaneda’s desert shaman in The Teachings of Don Juan, and certain rare histories written with a novelist’s palette such as Evan S. Connell's Son of the Morning Star, Alpine Warriors takes mountain literature – and mountain culture – to new heights.—Jeff Long, author of The Wall
We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts,
and of the province of British Columbia through the British Columbia Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.