Shipton’s mountain travel classics now available as sensibly priced ebooks

I can’t remember precisely when I first became aware of Eric Shipton’s writing, but I think it may have been 2002, when I was climbing Mt Kenya (or more accurately, trekking to Point Lenana, its third highest summit).

Shipton had a long and significant acquaintance with Mt Kenya. He arrived in Kenya in his early 20s, intending to spend his life as a tea farmer, but the first view he got from his plantation changed all that:

The whole northern horizon was filled with a gigantic cone of purple mist. The cone was capped by a band of cloud. Above this band, utterly detached from the Earth, appeared a pyramid of rock and ice, beautifully proportioned, hard and clear against the sky. The sun, not yet risen to my view, had already touched the peak, throwing ridge and corrie into sharp relief, lighting here and there a sparkling gem of ice.

In 1929 he made the first ascent of Nelion, Mount Kenya’s second highest point, with Percy Wyn Harris, as well as the first ascent of Point John, one of its satellite peaks. The following year he traversed the mountain with Bill Tilman, climbing both its main summits, Nelion and Batian.

Mt Kenya has several features named after Shipton, and we stayed a night in one of them, Shipton’s Camp, the night before my climb of Point Lenana. When I returned home from that trip I decided to find out more about the man whose name had been written large across the mountain I climbed.

I picked up a copy of The Six Mountain Travel Books, a compendium of most of Shipton’s books (though, curiously, not his main autobiography That Untravelled World). Much of the next two or three years was spent working my way through this weighty tome, heavy enough to anchor a tent.

Shipton’s writing gave me a window into another world. He was a legendary mountain explorer who travelled through the Himalayas and Karakoram at a time when many peaks and valleys remained unmapped and unexplored. His books were evocative and humorous, and I yearned to visit many of the same places.

Over the next few years as I explored the greater ranges of the world, perhaps not by coincidence I kept finding myself in places Shipton had been. Kilimanjaro, the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda, and Patagonia. In Central Asia, I climbed Muztag Ata, a mountain Shipton failed to summit after contracting frostbite. In Nepal I crossed Shipton’s Pass on my way to Makalu Base Camp, and I climbed Everest from the north side, where Shipton had spent four expeditions in the 1930s.

Eric Shipton's six mountaineering classic are now available as reasonably priced digital editions
Eric Shipton’s six mountaineering classic are now available as reasonably priced digital editions

When I came to write Seven Steps from Snowdon to Everest, about my journey from hill walker to Everest climber, I wanted to included snippets of mountain history to help illustrate the story. Many of the mountains I chose to climb on that journey had been influenced by books I’d read.

If you’ve read my book, then you will know that Shipton, and his frequent travelling companion Bill Tilman, keep appearing. Perhaps you were intrigued enough by these passages to read some of his books yourself, in which case I have some good news.

Sheffield-based publishing company Vertebrate Publishing are a favourite book publisher for lovers of mountain writing. Not only do they take a chance on many new mountain writers, but they have been systematically buying up the publishing rights to many mountaineering classics. Some of these books have been out of print for years and only available second-hand, while others have been super-expensive if, like me, you prefer to read digitally. Sadly, the traditional publishing industry is going through a phase of charging extortionate prices for ebooks, because they believe the unstoppable tide of digital progress can be held back for a little while longer. It’s a battle they cannot win, but in the meantime readers suffer.

Vertebrate are wiser than this, and kinder to readers. I contacted them about using several Shipton and Tilman quotes in Seven Steps, and although I was publishing my book independently, they helped me out very quickly. They’ve been selling many of their historical digital editions at a reasonable price, and I’m delighted to say all six of Shipton’s mountain travel books have just been made available in this way. I was very excited when I found out.

I don’t have to lug my weighty six-volume compendium around any more. In the course of delving into Shipton’s archive, Vertebrate interviewed his son John and dug up this rough sketch of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary.

If you’ve not read any of Shipton’s books but you like mountain writing, I recommend that you head over to Amazon right now and start loading up your Kindle. These six are classics:

  • Nanda Devi. About Shipton and Tilman’s legendary lightweight expedition with three Sherpas to the Garhwal Himalaya in India, where they discovered a route into the fabled Nanda Devi Sanctuary.
  • Blank on the Map. A visit to the remote and unmapped north side of K2, in what is now the Chinese Karakoram.
  • Upon That Mountain. About many of Shipton’s early travels in Africa, and his expeditions to the north side of Everest in the 1930s.
  • Mountains of Tartary. In the 1940s Shipton spent a few years living the life of a diplomat as governor of Kashgar, in what is now Chinese Xinjiang. During this period he naturally took the opportunity to explore the mountains of Central Asia.
  • Everest 1951. About his reconnaissance of the newly-opened south side of Everest, when he and Edmund Hillary discovered a route up the Khumbu Icefall.
  • Land of Tempest. In his later life, Shipton became fascinated with Patagonia, and led several expeditions there in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

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3 thoughts on “Shipton’s mountain travel classics now available as sensibly priced ebooks

  • August 17, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Great author and cheap for eBooks. But you can buy a good second hand copy of the Diadem compendium for about the same price as leasing the six eBooks. And the hardback idoubles as a door stop. The kindle version of That Untraveled World is barely cheaper than the paperback

    But full marks to Jon Barton for making these available to those who prefer or need eBooks. Tillman next?

  • August 17, 2016 at 11:19 pm

    Thanks a million!

  • August 18, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    I have read ‘Upon that Mountain’ and ‘Everest 1951’ both which I enjoyed very much. Not having read Shipton’s other books I may be tempted at this, thanks Mark for bringing it to are attention.

    Mount Everest Facts

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