Freedom Climbers by Bernadette McDonald ISBN 9781926855608 6 x 9 inches 352 pages hardcover $32.95 (CAD)
Winner! 2012 American Alpine Club Literary Prize (USA)
Winner! 2011 Munday Award, Banff Mountain Festival (CANADA)
Winner! 2011 Boardman Tasker Prize, Kendal Mountain Festival (UNITED KINGDOM)
Freedom Climbers—the most honoured book of mountaineering literature published in Canada—tells the story of a group of extraordinary Polish adventurers who emerged from under the blanket of oppression following the Second World War to become the world's leading Himalayan climbers. Although they lived in a dreary, war-ravaged landscape, with seemingly no hope of creating a meaningful life, these curious, motivated and skilled mountaineers created their own free-market economy under the very noses of their Communist bosses and climbed their way to liberation. At a time when Polish citizens were locked behind the Iron Curtain, these intrepid explorers found a way to travel the world in search of extreme adventure—to Alaska, South America and Europe, but mostly to the highest and most inspiring mountains of the world. To this end, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Nepal became their second homes as they evolved into the toughest group of Himalayan climbers the world has ever known.
"This is certainly McDonald's best book. Her writing is more nuanced and complex, and she is less of a cheerleader for her subjects than she has been in the past. She deserves great credit – and I have to admit to envy here – for bringing this subject to a wider public. Pursuing the same aim, editors told me that there wasn't a market for this kind of thing. It seems McDonald is proving them wrong." -Ted Douglas, UK Climbing, February 2012
"Hard to put down, Freedom Climbers is expertly and engagingly penned by Bernadette McDonald, the author of a number of prize-winning books on mountaineering. This time she has painstakingly pieced together a story of the over two decades of Himalayan exploits of Polish climbers, women as well as men, many of whom she knew personally. The figures and events of the glory days of Polish mountaineering are brought vividly to life. Both story and book are fully deserving of the years of attention lavished on them." - Patrice M. Dabrowski, The Cosmopolitan Review, May 12, 2012
"McDonald’s greatest gift remains her ability to tap into the complexities of her characters. Freedom Climbers is a versatile text, but it is at its strongest when it plays up the human drama at hand: nothing rings truer or hits harder than the euphoric triumphs or the crushing defeats these characters face along their respective arcs, from their first moments at the peak of Mount Everest to the very edge of doom." - Craig Manning, Independent Publisher, July 2012
“I have to admit that I always dreamed about one day winning the Boardman Tasker award: what mountain author wouldn’t?” McDonald said. “But the Banff grand prize? No, I never even aspired to that. So to win them both within 10 days for a book that I’ve wanted to write since 1993 is beyond my imagination.”
-The Rocky Mountain Outlook, December 1, 2011
"The book offers an unflinching examination of the psychology of risk, the extent to which one’s personality is shaped by one’s time and place, the connection between nature and spirituality, and the danger of egotism. McDonald ... shows the lengths to which these climbers went to imbue their lives with meaning, and then asks: was it worth it?"
Angie Abdou, Quill and Quire, November 2011.
“A gripping read, bound to become a classic of mountain literature.” —Maria Coffey, author of Explorers of the Infinite
“A brilliantly crafted tale of mountain and political adventure that reveals a golden era in Himalayan climbing that was as glorious as it was tragic.” —Sir Chris Bonington, author of Chris Bonington’s Everest
“McDonald deserves special praise for bringing to light the stories of these remarkable men and women, and doing so in a manner that does honour to their memory.” —Wade Davis, author of Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest
“This important book is about the significant Polish contribution to Himalayan mountain climbing made during a period that, paradoxically, was one of adversity for our nation. It is the story of how Poles, in their quest for freedom, challenged others with the new standards they set — all the while carrying the Polish flag to the world's highest summits.” —Krzysztof Wielicki, renowned Polish alpine and high-altitude climber
"With this fourth mountain history book, McDonald climbs right up into the ranks of the best mountain chroniclers. Freedom Climbers builds around the elements that have made all of McDonald's books so good — superb research, deep access to the climbers themselves, even deeper passion for and understanding of the mountain world — and then becomes so much more: this is a history of a nation, a time, and a very unique tribe whose story is finally told, and told very, very well." —Geoff Powter, author of Strange and Dangerous Dreams
"Page turning accounts of suffer-fests on bold new routes, many of them done 'fast and light' in winter, from the golden age of Polish mountaineering in the Himalaya and Greater Ranges. Heart-wrenching tales of friends and families who were abandoned to their dreary Soviet era lives when the mountains claimed their loved ones. Best of all, this book lays bare the complex mix of patriotic fervor and ravenous egos that led to a legacy of insanely difficult climbs on the 7 and 8000ers unmatched by any other nation before or since." —Pat Morrow, mountaineer, photographer and author of Beyond Everest
"Talk about labour of love! A book like this takes years. Writing with authority from inside mountaineering, and also as a woman in a fiercely male world, Bernadette McDonald has crafted a real-life page-turner about dangerous heroics and obsessive derring-do. This work is built to last." —Ken McGoogan, author of Fatal Passage, Ancient Mariner, Lady Franklin’s Revenge, and Race to the Polar Sea
"Painstakingly researched and well crafted, this remarkable book acknowledges the significance of Polish mountaineers during the Golden Age of Himalayan exploration. Resourceful, stoic and visionary, these climbers seem to draw strength from the adverse political system they find themselves in. Fascinating." —Andy Cave, author of The Thin White Line and Learning to Breath
"For many years, we in the climbing community have stood in awe of the accomplishments of Polish climbers. Relatively late into the Himalyan game due to political and monetary restrictions enforced onto them within their own country, the Poles sought the mountains as their escape. It was in fact the hardships they endured within Poland that hardened them physically and emotionally to seek out and endure the toughest climbs in the world. Freedom Climbers is a very enlightening and captivating look at the Polish climbing superstars, what drives them, their amazing accomplishments and their continuing role in pushing the limits in the mountain arena." –Ed Viesturs, author of No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks and K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain
"This well-researched book fills a big gap in mountain writing and will be a revelation to many afficianados of alpine literature. In describing how Polish climbers outwitted their Communist leaders and came to dominate Himalayan mountaineering in the 1980s, Bernadette McDonald introduces us to the country's key mountaineers, taking the reader from deep within Communist controlled Poland and into the lonely, dramatic landscapes of the world's most formidable mountain ranges." –Jim Curran, artist, climber and author of High Achiever: The Life and Climbs of Chris Bonington, K2: The Story of the Savage Mountain and The Nameless Tower