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Sports & Recreation Mountaineering

Freedom Climbers

by (author) Bernadette McDonald

RMB | Rocky Mountain Books
Initial publish date
Oct 2011
Mountaineering, Eastern
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2011
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Jul 2011
    List Price

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About the author

Bernadette McDonald is the author of Okanagan Slow Road as well as eight books on mountaineering and mountain culture. She has received numerous mountain writing awards, including Italy's ITAS Prize for mountain writing (2010), and is a two-time winner of India's Kekoo Naoroji Award for mountain literature (2008 and 2009). In 2011, Bernadette's book Freedom Climbers won the Grand Prize at the Banff Mountain Book Festival (Canada), the Boardman Tasker Prize (UK), and the American Alpine Club's H. Adams Carter Literary Award. She has also received the Alberta Order of Excellence (2010), the Summit of Excellence Award from The Banff Centre (2007), the King Albert Award for international leadership in the field of mountain culture and environment (2006), and the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal (2002). Founding vice-president of Mountain Culture at The Banff Centre and director of the Banff Mountain Festivals for twenty years, Bernadette was born in Saskatchewan but has lived in the mountains all of her adult life. Visit her online at

Bernadette McDonald's profile page

Editorial Reviews

Talk about labour of love! A book like this takes years. Writing with authority from inside mountaineering, and also as a woman in a fiercely male world, Bernadette McDonald has crafted a real-life page-turner about dangerous heroics and obsessive derring-do. This work is built to last.—Ken McGoogan, author of Fatal Passage, Ancient Mariner, Lady Franklin’s Revenge, and Race to the Polar Sea

This important book is about the significant Polish contribution to Himalayan mountain climbing made during a period that, paradoxically, was one of adversity for our nation. It is the story of how Poles, in their quest for freedom, challenged others with the new standards they set—all the while carrying the Polish flag to the world's highest summits.—Krzysztof Wielicki, renowned Polish alpine and high-altitude climber

This well-researched book fills a big gap in mountain writing and will be a revelation to many afficianados of alpine literature. In describing how Polish climbers outwitted their Communist leaders and came to dominate Himalayan mountaineering in the 1980s, Bernadette McDonald introduces us to the country's key mountaineers, taking the reader from deep within Communist controlled Poland and into the lonely, dramatic landscapes of the world's most formidable mountain ranges.—Jim Curran, artist, climber and author of High Achiever: The Life and Climbs of Chris Bonington, K2: The Story of the Savage Mountain and The Nameless Tower

With this fourth mountain history book, McDonald climbs right up into the ranks of the best mountain chroniclers. Freedom Climbers builds around the elements that have made all of McDonald's books so good — superb research, deep access to the climbers themselves, even deeper passion for and understanding of the mountain world — and then becomes so much more: this is a history of a nation, a time, and a very unique tribe whose story is finally told, and told very, very well.—Geoff Powter, author of Strange and Dangerous Dreams incredible book that celebrates climbing's highest ideals.Gripped

McDonald deserves special praise for bringing to light the stories of these remarkable men and women, and doing so in a manner that does honour to their memory.—Wade Davis, author of Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest

Painstakingly researched and well crafted, this remarkable book acknowledges the significance of Polish mountaineers during the Golden Age of Himalayan exploration. Resourceful, stoic and visionary, these climbers seem to draw strength from the adverse political system they find themselves in. Fascinating.—Andy Cave, author of The Thin White Line and Learning to Breath

The book offers an unflinching examination of the psychology of risk, the extent to which one’s personality is shaped by one’s time and place, the connection between nature and spirituality, and the danger of egotism. McDonald ... shows the lengths to which these climbers went to imbue their lives with meaning, and then asks: was it worth it?—Angie Abdou, Quill and Quire

This is certainly McDonald's best book. Her writing is more nuanced and complex, and she is less of a cheerleader for her subjects than she has been in the past. She deserves great credit – and I have to admit to envy here – for bringing this subject to a wider public. Pursuing the same aim, editors told me that there wasn't a market for this kind of thing. It seems McDonald is proving them wrong.—Ed Douglas, UK Climbing

A brilliantly crafted tale of mountain and political adventure that reveals a golden era in Himalayan climbing that was as glorious as it was tragic.—Sir Chris Bonington, author of Chris Bonington’s Everest

Page turning accounts of suffer-fests on bold new routes, many of them done "fast and light" in winter, from the golden age of Polish mountaineering in the Himalaya and Greater Ranges. Heart-wrenching tales of friends and families who were abandoned to their dreary Soviet era lives when the mountains claimed their loved ones. Best of all, this book lays bare the complex mix of patriotic fervor and ravenous egos that led to a legacy of insanely difficult climbs on the 7 and 8000ers unmatched by any other nation before or since.—Pat Morrow, mountaineer, photographer and author of Beyond Everest

Hard to put down, Freedom Climbers is expertly and engagingly penned by Bernadette McDonald, the author of a number of prize-winning books on mountaineering. This time she has painstakingly pieced together a story of the over two decades of Himalayan exploits of Polish climbers, women as well as men, many of whom she knew personally. The figures and events of the glory days of Polish mountaineering are brought vividly to life. Both story and book are fully deserving of the years of attention lavished on them.—Patrice M. Dabrowski, The Cosmopolitan Review

Freedom Climbers gives some much-needed attention to several of the under-recognized superstars of high-altitude climbing.... I highly recommend this book.—Everest Book Report

McDonald succeeds in bringing together all the elements of what is an epic tale.—John Appleby, Footless Crow Blog

A gripping read, bound to become a classic of mountain literature.—Maria Coffey, author of Explorers of the Infinite

McDonald’s greatest gift remains her ability to tap into the complexities of her characters. Freedom Climbers is a versatile text, but it is at its strongest when it plays up the human drama at hand: nothing rings truer or hits harder than the euphoric triumphs or the crushing defeats these characters face along their respective arcs, from their first moments at the peak of Mount Everest to the very edge of doom.—Craig Manning, Independent Publisher

For many years, we in the climbing community have stood in awe of the accomplishments of Polish climbers. Relatively late into the Himalyan game due to political and monetary restrictions enforced onto them within their own country, the Poles sought the mountains as their escape. It was in fact the hardships they endured within Poland that hardened them physically and emotionally to seek out and endure the toughest climbs in the world. Freedom Climbers is a very enlightening and captivating look at the Polish climbing superstars, what drives them, their amazing accomplishments and their continuing role in pushing the limits in the mountain arena.—Ed Viesturs, author of No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks and K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain

It was felt, according to this year's judging panel, to be one of the most important mountaineering books published in the English language for many years.—Lindsay Griffin,

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