Book review – Learning to Breathe

Learning to Breathe – Andy Cave

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Arrow; New edition edition (2 Mar 2006)
Language English
ISBN-10: 009947266X
ISBN-13: 978-0099472667

Like many others who spend time in the hills and wilderness areas here in the UK or across the world, I often dream about climbing bigger mountains. I often wonder whether I would have had the strength, determination and single-mindedness to tackle and succeed on the really big climbs. I don’t think so, however I like to read about others who do.

Andy Cave‘s memoir shares some of his exploits on the big mountains and some technically difficult routes up these big bits of rocks. But before he started climbing, he spent some time 3000ft underground.

He left school at 16 to become a miner near his village in Yorkshire and this book relates some of his experiences down the mine in Grimethorpe. As expected, this was a hard life and the descriptions are frank and vivid.

To escape the dark, damp underground world, at weekends Andy Cave escaped the pit and went rock climbing.

When the 1984 miner’s strike started, Grimethorpe was one of the most militant of the striking collieries, so everyone including Andy and his father were out on strike. Andy describes the hardships suffered by his family – and all the others in the village – from trying to live on next to nothing.

The one good point of the strike for Andy was he had time to climb. He, and his climbing friends, hitched around the country, going from crag to crag in the summer and tackling ice climbs in the winter.

Andy finally left the pit in 1986, and set off to climb bigger and harder stuff. He describes accounts of routes in the Alps – chiefly the ascent of the Italian side of Mount Blanc. In passing, he mentions his climbing of the North Face of the Eiger, but does not expand on this, despite being the youngest Brit to climb it.

He tells of his attempt on Gasherbrum IV in the Himalayas when bad weather meant 3 weeks of hanging around waiting for the weather to clear and eventually giving up. The third major climb covered in the book is the 18-day ascent of 22,500ft Changabang. This climb results in the death of his climbing partner in an avalanche.

The photographs in the book illustrate some of these mountains wonderfully and further illustrate the hardships described by Andy in the narrative.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which is definitely one of the best memoirs I’ve read for a while. Andy’s writing style is easy to read. He writes with enthusiasm and humour and never comes across as self-important. He has since written a second book, Thin White Line and I have very high expectations following this.

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One comment on “Book review – Learning to Breathe

  1. I,ll look out for it.Looks like a good read.Was watching some old footage about the miners strike with the police and miners fighting each other in Yorkshire just two days ago.They were really knocking lumps out of each other to a level the police would never get away with today.You just accepted it as almost normal practice back then though.So much for the good old days.

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