For many readers, the best “beach reads” are light, low-consequence, and carefree stories. However, lovers of mountain writing may want to dip their minds into the cold and unforgiving high alpine while their feet are still on the warm sand. For those who prefer icy peaks to sun-baked beaches, here are five mountaineering books to put on your summer reading list.

Five Must-Read Mountaineering Books

An Eye at the Top of the World – Pete Takeda

An Eye at the Top of the World: The Terrifying Legacy of the Cold War’s Most Daring CIA Operation blends history, mystery, and mountain adventure into one compelling nonfiction work. The book tells two parallel stories. One details the CIA’s attempt to place a nuclear-powered listening device near the summit of Nanda Devi—one of the world’s tallest and most sacred mountains—to spy on the Chinese. The device was abandoned at 24,000 feet, melted into the snow, and disappeared. The other is the tale of the author’s expedition and harrowing experiences on the Himalayan peak Nanda Kot—where another nuclear-powered listening device was placed in 1967.

Takeda takes the reader on a journey, following him from when he first heard the tale around a Yosemite campfire in the 1980s to his obsession and pursuit of the story to his expedition to the scene of the tale and effort to follow in the footsteps of the climbers that executed the daring and ill-conceived mission.

Minus 148° – Art Davidson

An absolute classic piece of mountaineering literature and gripping story, Minus 148°: The First Winter Ascent of Mount McKinley, details the 1967 attempt by eight men to make the first winter ascent of Denali, North America’s highest summit. This mountaineering book provides a personal account of the author’s experience on the expedition—he was one of just three climbers on the team to reach the summit—while supplementing his narrative with journal entries of other team members.

Minus 148° possesses all the elements of an exceptional adventure, which is likely why it continues to resonate with climbers today, more than five decades after its first publication. The story is an extremely honest portrayal that blends triumph, tragedy, struggle, and resilience, marking one of mountaineering’s most historic ascents.

For example, a team member died just days into the climb (tragedy), three team members stood on the summit (success), and those team members were pinned by whipping winds and temperatures as low as -148°F in an ice cave at over 18,000 feet on their descent for days as their morale sank along with their stores of food and fuel (struggle)—yet, those climbers ultimately survived (resilience).

The Bond – Simon McCartney

Author Simon McCartney provides another epic Alaska survival story in his book The Bond: Survival on Denali and Mount Huntington—a lesser-known work of mountain writing that belongs on every armchair mountaineer’s bookshelf. The work centers on two climbs by the author and his climbing partner, Jack Roberts, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, one on the North Face of Mount Huntington and the other on the Denali Diamond.

The two routes set the men on different trajectories; after Denali, Roberts remained immersed in climbing, continuing to pursue first accents, guiding, and publishing guidebooks. On the other hand, McCartney—who was almost killed by cerebral edema on Denali—had quit climbing altogether within a year of their adventure.

There is plenty of adventure in this story, but what makes it stand apart from other mountaineering books is the relationship between McCartney and Roberts (McCartney was British, and Roberts a California climber who cut his teeth in Yosemite) and the connection they formed during their cutting-edge climbs.

Art of Freedom – Bernadette McDonald

Art of Freedom: The Life and Climbs of Vytek Kurtyka wonderfully explores the life and growth of one of the most ambitious, successful, and lesser-known mountaineers of the 1970s and 1980s. A testament to Kurtyka’s activity in the mountains is the “Chronology of Selected Climbs” in the book’s appendix—which spans seven pages and includes expeditions ranging everywhere from the French Alps to Norway’s Troll Wall to the Karakoram to the Himalaya.

There’s no shortage of adventure in Art of Freedom and readers are treated to tales of Kurtyka’s exploits in the mountains where he was known for seeking out big, obscure lines and first ascents while eschewing stocked camps, fixed ropes, and small teams. It’s also in the mountains where Kurtyka found the freedom not readily available in his home of pre-Solidarity Poland.

While stories of Kurtyka’s climbs can fill a book—and they do—perhaps the most interesting aspect of Art of Freedom is his evolution from a brash young climber smuggling goods to fund his expeditions to a mountaineer who shied away from the spotlight to someone who finally accepts a Piolets d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award (climbing’s most prestigious award) after years of refusal. Kurtyka even shifts his focus from the giant snow-covered peaks of the Himalaya to rock climbs closer to home.

One Day As a Tiger – John Porter

One Day As a Tiger: Alex MacIntyre and the Birth of Light and Fast Alpinism details the short yet brilliant life of British climber Alex MacIntyre as told by his friend and climbing partner, John Porter. While MacIntyre’s name isn’t particularly well known in the U.S., he was one of the world’s most prolific and daring mountaineers in the 1970s and 1980s.

In a way, MacIntyre is the perfect contrast to Vytek Kurtyka: he was brash, ambitious, and had a reputation for being prickly. His appetite for climbing often chewed up his relationships. Ironically, Kurtyka and Macintyre teamed up more than once; in 1978 on Changbang, in 1980 on Dhulgari, and in 1981 on Makalu. While the personalities of the two men lay at opposite ends of the spectrum, both shared a commitment to pursuing cutting-edge climbs in a lightweight, minimal, and simple style that left a relatively slim margin for error.

MacIntyre’s star burned bright—he put up audacious accents in the Alps, the Andes, and the Himalaya—but it was short-lived; he was killed by rockfall on the south face of Annapurna when he was just 28 years old. The book takes its name from a memorial stone for MacIntyre at the base of the mountain that reads: “Better to live one day as a tiger than to live for a thousand years as a sheep.”

What’s Your Favorite Mountaineering Book?

We’re looking for beach reads that transport us to the vertical walls, icy ribbons, and snowy slopes of the mountains. If there’s a mountaineering book that you couldn’t put down, tell us about it in the comments below!