The Campsite Reviews Climbing Fitz Roy, 1968: Reflections on the Lost Photos of the Third Ascent
By Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins, Dick Dorworth, Chris Jones and Lito Tejada-Flores
Patagonia Books, 2013
Reviewed by: Martin van den Akker
A few years back I watched a film called “180° South”, which partially retraced and celebrated a legendary 16,000-mile, six-month road trip that five climbers made to Patagonia in 1968. After surfing and skiing their way down the continent, these five “funhogs” – Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins, Dick Dorworth, Chris Jones and Lito Tejada-Flores – finalized the trip by making the third ascent of the giant granite spire called Fitz Roy, a neighbouring brother of the well-known Cerre Torre. Like this movie, the book, Climbing Fitz Roy, 1968, revisits this unique and well-celebrated trip, so I already had some exposure to the story.
The title of the book is hard to get excited about. To me, Climbing Fitz Roy, 1968 sounds a lot like a mundane title for a painfully long slideshow from a climber friend. Still, I agreed to take on the challenge of reading and reviewing this book because of the subtle promise that two of the climbers and the founders of influential businesses, Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia) and Doug Tompkins (The North Face), would reflect on the experiences this famous voyage provided for their actions and decisions later in life.
When I opened the box in the mail I was surprised to find what looks like a coffee table book. Not the typical soft-cover Krakauer a climber squeezes into a backpack and reads while socks dry above an alpine hut’s fireplace. Of the hundred thirty-something pages, only a mere forty turned out to be narrative. The other pages consisted of original photos of the climb, photos that were once thought to be lost. The re-surfacing of the photos was no doubt the catalyst for producing this book.
As it turns out, four out of the five climbers contribute small essays to this book; these are enjoyable to read and a give some context and flavour to the legendary adventure. I especially enjoyed reading Lito Tejada-Flores’ description of how he struggled to collect the film footage of the famous trip and climb – information otherwise gone missing that certainly enriches the story and history. In his short essay, Doug Tompkins writes about the forming influence this trip had on his life, which satisfied my appetite a little bit. The surprising fact that Chouinard himself, noted for books such as the The Responsible Company and Let My People Go Surfing, does not contribute in writing to this book was rather disappointing.
Select photos from Climbing Fitz Roy, 1968
Photography by Chris Jones
It was only when I ‘Youtubed’ the old movie, “Mountains of Storms, which was made from Tejada-Flores’ original footage, that the road trip and climb started to come to life for me. The footage of this film brings the viewer back to the 60’s lifestyle, the climbing gear and characters on the trip. The lost photos in the book do the same but can never compete with the original footage of the movie.
In summary, if you’re a part of the climbing community and familiar with some of the mountain icons of the past 50 years, you’ll appreciate this book. The book is a celebration of a famous road trip and climb. It should be found on the bookshelves of every alpine clubhouse.
This book will no doubt appeal to people for whom these climbers are icons. Without the little research I did, and subsequent treasures I found on the Internet, I would have given this book a very average review. But by now I have learned about the impact these heroes have made on the climbing industry and environmental movement. I would have liked to have seen more narrative dedicated to the importance of this trip in shaping their future. It would have made the book accessible to a wider audience. Still, if you are looking for a weekend on the couch rather than on the vertical walls, getting this book and finding the old movies will make for a very enjoyable excursion to the past.
Win a copy of Climbing Fitz Roy, 1968! To enter simply comment below describing where you would take your next epic trip. Would you hike the West Coast Trail? Explore Kamchatka? Or maybe camp out in your own backyard with your kids? A winner will be chosen at random on January 6, 2014, at 5pm MST.
About the Author
Martin was pulled out of the clay, below the sea level in his native Holland. In 2001, he moved to the daunting elevation of 4500 ft in Canmore and is still acclimatizing. After careers in hydrology, tour guiding, leadership development and construction, he is currently exploring topics such as nature and lifelong learning through the mediums of photography and writing. Martin enjoys scavenging garage sales, floating aimlessly on silent lakes and blending into the background of local coffee shops. His photography website and blog can be found at www.inspirit.ca.