Mont Blanc Lines – book review
- Tuesday 10th January 2023
By Alex Buisse – Vertebrate Publishing £40.00
Review by Ken Daykin
Every now and then a mountaineering book comes along that is unique and stands out from the crowd as truly exceptional. Such is Mont Blanc Lines. Fascinating photo topos, brilliant photography, history and climbers' stories.
How to do justice in words to this magnificent book? Every day for a week I looked forward to getting up and spending an hour studying it before starting my day. I write ‘studying’ rather than reading because you really need to spend time with this book to appreciate the depth of its content. Alex Buisse has photographed all the major faces of the Mont Blanc Range, and so-armed sets out to show the lines of all the routes and some of the more significant ski descents. The lines are drawn and numbered on top of the photographs; grade and first ascent details are included. At first, it seemed a heresy to me to draw lines over the superb images, but gradually the realisation grew that in doing so he has increased their depth of content. Famous routes I have known about for over forty years came to life before my eyes.
First I must say that every image in this book is a first-class photo, not a single duffer or filler shot. Alex must have spent a lot of time wandering around the Mont Blanc Massif in the dark because they are all taken in the magic time either side of dawn and dusk. This means that the colours are glorious and the detail in the features stands out, enhancing the opportunity of studying the lines in detail. It is hard to pick out one image as best, but the one that smacked me in the face is Mont Blanc Du Tacul East Face. The outrageous pinnacles and spires and the contrast between the snow and rock... just looking at it you can almost feel the icy chill.
In addition to the photographs Alex fleshes out the book with a short history of each face and ‘A Climber’s Story’. These stories range from a non-mountaineer’s first experience of roped climbing in the Alps, through historical accounts, to cutting-edge ski descents, and mixed first ascents.
The last chapter of the book concludes with an account of climbing Paciencia (F8a) on the Eiger by Roger Schali. This is a bolted route with belay chains and an abseil descent – about as far away as you can get from classic Alpinism. Over four days Roger manages to climb each pitch free, but not in order from bottom to top! No doubt a fantastic experience but alien to many Alpinists. It is a superb way to end the book, demonstrating the modern extreme of Alpine climbing, and is so well written that I couldn’t help being transfixed.
This book deserves to win every award going. It will be fantastic for Alpinists sitting at home planning their next summer or winter campaigns, and an inspiration to many. Also a superb aid when reading the classic books by the likes of Cassin, Rebaffaut etc. or revisiting the biographies of Brown, Bonnington, Whillans and others because to see in detail where these classic tales were played out only adds to the pleasure of the reading experience.
Unreservedly recommended and worth the cover price, it is, without a doubt, the best mountaineering book I have come across in many years. It is a magnificent achievement and Alex can be heartily congratulated on producing what is sure to become a classic book. In addition, we should thank him for the enormous amount of effort he has put in to bring all this information and these images together for our enjoyment.