33 brief mountain tales – from angels on summits to ghosts on ledges, from madmen on diamox to malevolent gurus on mountain tops – these intertwined and very short peeks at the mountains tell tales from the past, present, and future.
“These are no ordinary mountain stories: they are tales of the mystery that lies at the heart of ascent. And not just the ascent of the rock climber and alpinist, but the ascent of the monk, the stone mason, the goat, the cobbler and the office worker. In his magic way, Jerry Auld reveals the secrets of our need to reach for something intangible, something sacred, something forbidden.”
— Chic Scott, Mountaineer and Historian
“Short Peaks is all about the business of staying alive. Edgy and evocative, these 33 short stories capture the lure of those dangerously seductive narrow ledges up in the thin air, where style is the currency, but where ego is the cost.”
— Bernadette McDonald, Freedom Climbers
“These short stories, celebrating mountaineering and mountain culture, can be savoured individually, like boxed Callebaut chocolates. However, in order to follow the beguiling thread that links the whole, the book must be read in its entirety. But not necessarily chronologically.”
— Pat Morrow, Everest: High Expectations
A meditation on the age-old question about why we climb.
In the height of the Ottoman Empire, the common people, Muslims, were forbidden to climb mountains. How one who was pious but a mountaineer at heart dealt with this edict.
Trapped high on a hard new route, a young climber is visited by a woman who once shared his fate, urging him to make the decisions to save himself.
A High Refuge
Languedoc, the Pyrenees, and an old hut high on a mountain. An older porter smiles at the impatience of his younger acquaintance, remembering himself, but now feels surprisingly comforted by a new sensation: wisdom.
A startled goat finds himself high on a crag that he recognizes too late as the fearsome eagle’s aerie. But it is not the Monarch of the North Winds who comes to guide him down.
Ascent to Repent
In the middle ages, the time of the inquisition, southern France. Mt. Ventoux was the highest mountain but the summits were feared as the abode of devils. A fearless inquisitor of the Cathar heretics makes the journey into disaster, and wonders who motivated him to climb.
Did Mallory and Irvine manage the summit of Everest 29 years before Hillary and Norgay? What if you had a chance to see proof of it? What if that would vindicate you as well? How far would you go?
Between two mountains on the Columbia Icefields, mysterious calls from his missing companions tempt a climber out onto the ice.
Speak softly when the sky is like a drum and the earth is an ear, for powerful spirits circle outside the sacred ceremonies that kept you safe. Where you gonna hide?
A young cobbler in an ancient walled city grapples with the indomitable forces of this world: the power of a river as shaped by mountains, and the power of shoes in a woman’s mind.
On Every Up
Ever have someone who pushed and cajoled and manipulated you? Year later they still whisper in your mind, but ironically, they now push you farther than you could alone.
Look up from your computer: five years have passed without memory. How are you going to get back to the dream-state of your youth?
The forces that deceive us also come softly and make us feel empowered. A young man in New Zealand’s Southern Alps discovers this threat the hardest way.
Photographs capture life in a way never seen before and reveal detail s to careful observers, but everything else hides outside the frame.
The Need For Gear
Caught between the arguing milieu of the human-infested valley, and the open calm tranquility of the cliff tops, is the gear. The rope always has two end.
Say the Words
Read this one aloud. A group of climbing friends refrain from growing-up by holding each bound to a childish game.
After the loss of her husband, a woman searches through the Andes as her recollections of him slowly break apart.
Brewer’s Buttress Pointillism
The mountains can seem so large and solid, massive lumps of rock, until the tiny difficulty rubs our noses into their reality. They never look the same again.
Even retreating to the mountains to gain back the promise of our youth, the circular damage of addiction can make it hard to know where we started from and where we’ll end.
Why carry water just to quench your thirst from hauling all that water? If you strip away everything, how far can you go before losing yourself?
In 1967, seven men of a twelve man expedition were trapped just below the summit of Denali (Mt. McKinley) by a massive storm that outlasted their supplies and energy. If you were the team leader, what would you say to motivate your friends to push back at the unrelenting cold and exhaustion and crawl out and get off the mountain?
Walking Stick on Spiral Road
Imagine achieving a first ascent of a significant peak. You’re exhausted, and no one’s watching. At your foot could be evidence of someone else’s passage. It is a simple think to kick it aside, off the edge. What would you do?
Only at times of life-and-death do we really reflect on the multitude of choices that we’ve made that lead us to the situations we find ourselves in, for instance, underneath an avalanche.
A tent perched high on an snowy crest, a man gibbering on diamox (an anti-altitude drug), a famous mountaineer pressing up – the lengths we go to grasp that which we desire.
At high altitudes, where there is 30% of the oxygen we have at sea-level, what fills that empty space? And why do some climbers claim to have seen angels on the summits above them?
What is reflected in the quiet isolated tarns are not the mountains, but our own desires, because the mirror has no reflection of its own.
A boy tries to rescue his uncle from a the dragon’s curse that’s been cast upon him from the highest point in Africa.
Short Talk with Long Axe
A bitter interview with the forgotten Long Axe, once the mainstay and emblematic of alpinism, but sullied by intrigue and international murder.
If you had a choice between integrity and happiness, knowing that choosing one meant you could never have the other, which would you choose?
We always imagine the gurus on top of mountains full of dispensable wisdom if we can only reach them to ask our questions, but what if they had an agenda of their own?
Imagine of the biblical Tower of Babel, that which was to reach right to the vault of heaven, not only existed, but still did.
When humanity is at the end, what will our obsessions be? Perhaps the race to be the last to do something of significance?
At the end of our time, the afterlife is a vast world of every city and wilderness in every age. To which would you gravitate towards?