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Freedom of the Hills: An Outdoor Classic Turns 50

Is it the Bible of mountaineering? After circulating for 50 years and being translated into 10 languages, it would appear that Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills really has taken root as a sacred text of climbing and alpine adventure.

Freedom of the HillsFreedom debuted in 1960 as the first book produced by The Mountaineers Books, the publishing division of The Mountaineers -- a nonprofit, Seattle-based club founded in 1906 to further outdoor recreation and conservation through lectures and field trips.

That first edition represented the work of 68 volunteer climbers-authors, several illustrators, hundreds of pre-publication reviewers and 100 club members who collectively ponied up $12,500 to finance the first press run.

For 5 years prior to that initial release, even as some club members fretted the project was too complex and costly, volunteers contributed their expertise (sometimes with no small wrangling over whose expertise was best) to create what the club felt was an essential resource for a fast-growing outdoor community -- a comprehensive textbook of best practices for high-elevation adventure and safety.

The book exceeded expectations. The first copy was purchased in 1960 by a Seattle woman, Nancy Miller, and more than 600,000 additional copies have been sold since.

Last month, to coincide with its 50th anniversary, The Mountaineers Books released the eighth edition of Freedom, now a 592-page tome that features the input of more than 40 modern-day climbers and outdoor educators. Topics range from The Ten Essentials to the intricacies of crevasse rescue. Can you tell a piton from an adze? Freedom can clear that up for you.

The Mountaineers Books is awash with testimonials for the book from many of climbing's preeminent figures:

Ed Viesturs (the first American, and fifth person in the world, to climb all 14 of the world's highest mountains, above 8,000 meters, without supplemental oxygen): "I purchased my first copy of The Freedom of the Hills in 1976 and consumed it several times, well before I ever set foot in the mountains. Though the years, my well-worn copy became my guide and reference for the art of mountaineering. I would highly recommend this book as a 'must have' for any aspiring mountaineer's library."

Jim Whittaker (the first American to climb Mt. Everest): "The lessons I learned in the Mountaineers climbing course in 1945 stood me on the summit of Mt. Everest in 1963. To see that knowledge, accumulated by so many individuals in 1960, put into a book was wonderful. That it evolved into the best book on climbing, continually updated by active climbers, is remarkable. I have told many people, including my sons, if you want to climb mountains, read Freedom of the Hills. Then read it again, so you know for sure how to get down."

Conrad Anker (whose search for the body of legendary British climber George Mallory on the slopes of Everest is told in the film The Wildest Dream): "If there is only one how-to book to read for aspirant and expert alike, it is Freedom of the Hills. In fact, it is fair to say that Freedom is the definitive guide to mountains and climbing and has influenced pretty much every climber."

Helen Cherullo, publisher of The Mountaineers Books, says many veteran climbers have told her they learned to climb using the book, and know which edition they used. "First edition," Cherullo said. "Third edition. Fifth edition."

Since 1960 The Mountaineers Books has built a catalog of more than 500 titles, but Freedom remains its best-seller. Why such longevity? "Because of the commitment to keep the information current and state of the art over the years," Cherullo said. "Every time a new edition comes up, several years of work go into it -- many volunteer hours and lots of debate. So it really is the gold standard of mountaineering how-to information."

Harvey ManningCherullo, a Chicago native who elected to study at the University of Montana principally because it was located close to large expanses of wilderness lands, recalls a conversation about the book with the first edition's editorial chairman, the late guidebook author and conservationist Harvey Manning.

"Harvey had this lovely phrase he used when discussing Freedom," Cherullo said. "He said it was about providing lessons as well as the pleasures of the great outdoors. Those are the things we're still trying to deliver today."

Note: The Mountaineers Books is hosting a 50th anniversary event and Freedom of the Hills celebration Oct. 15 at The Mountaineers Program Center in Seattle at 7700 Sand Point Way NE. The event runs 7-10 p.m. and the public is welcomed. Numerous climbers (Jim Whittaker, for one) and authors (Paul Bannick, The Owl and the Woodpecker) will be among the guests. A business-oriented article that I authored on Freedom and the 50th anniversary of The Mountaineers was published in The Seattle Times.

Photo note: The late author/conservationist Harvey Manning is shown in a whimsical promotional black-and-white photo connected to his Footsore guidebook series from the 1970s.

Some 2010 best-sellers from The Mountaineers Books:

Freedom of the Hills (hard cover or soft cover)
A Long Trek Home
Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain
Rock Climbing: Mastering Basic Skills
Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula
Mountaineering First Aid

Some all-time best-sellers:

Freedom of the Hills (hard cover or soft cover)
Medicine for Mountaineering
Mountaineering First Aid
GPS Made Easy

Wilderness Navigation

Ghosts of Everest
Best Hikes with Kids/Children regional guidebooks:
• Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island
• Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine
• Catskills and Hudson River Valley
• New Jersey
• Western Washington
• Oregon
• San Francisco Bay Area
• Colorado
• Utah
• New Mexico
• Michigan


Posted on at 10:45 AM

Tagged: Ed Viesturs, Jim Whittaker, Mountaineering Freedom of the Hills, The Mountaineers, The Mountaineers Books and conrad anker

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Funny, I just ordered this book a few days ago. Now I want to read it even more.

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