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Item #: BK2526A-784
FREEDOM CLIMBERS Bernadette McDonald 2012 Hardcover DJ Fine
By McDonald, Bernadette
Price: $29.99


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Canada, Rocky Mountain Books, 2012 reprint. 352 pp, b/w and color photos. Hardcover with dust jacket. Fine.

Winner of the Grand Prize at Banff Mountain Book Festival 2011
Winner of the 2011 Boardman Tasker Prize

Renowned author Bernadette McDonald weaves a passionate and literary tale of adventure, politics, suffering, death andultimatelyinspiration. Freedom Climbers 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 worlds 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 adventureto 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. 
 
From the Boardman Tasker Award Speech in November 2011:
Freedom Climbers by Bernadette McDonald we felt to be one of the most important mountaineering books to be written for many years. Freedom Climbers is the story of how Polish climbers emerged after the 2nd World War and the rigours of the Russian occupation to discover, and then dominate, high altitude climbing in the 1970s and 1980s.

Bernadette McDonald draws upon her extensive interviews with climbers and their relations to paint a vivid picture of the stifling social, political and economic background faced by Polish climbing communities on their extraordinary journey from local outcrops and testing climbs in the Tatras to the highest, and most difficult climbs in the world.
 
The author describes how this was achieved, not only by their toughness in the mountains, but also by how they turned the economic situation to their advantage by trading on their prestige value to the establishment and by creating a system within the system to allow them to travel outside their borders, experience new cultures and make a living from climbing that gave them what they valued most freedom. The book touches upon many issues including the rise of Solidarity and a meeting with Pope John Paul but concentrates on the social backgrounds, domestic circumstances and climbing careers of five of the countrys most outstanding climbers.

Though the book covers the extraordinary high altitude and Himalayan winter mountaineering achievements of Polish climbers, Bernadette McDonald concentrates on the personalities of the main activists. These are Wanda Rutkiewicz, Jerzy Kukuczka, Voytek Kurtyka, Andrzej Zawada and Krzysztof Wielicki.
 
The author, in delving deep into the personality of Wanda Rutkiewicz, one of the worlds foremost female mountaineers, does not shy away from the sad and tragic elements of this driven womans life. Freedom Climbers is meticulously researched and, by bringing together the stories of some of the key players, fills an important gap in the history of Polish Mountaineering written in English and will be compulsive reading for anyone with an interest in mountaineering history.

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