Jesus wept: A review of ‘Learning to breathe’

I saw Andy Cave lecture in 2007 at the RAW Outdoors Festival in Hillsborough. Listening to the unassuming man before me talk of his adventures, on the great mountains of the world, inspired me as I prepared to head off on an adventure of my own.

It took 2 years before I remembered to buy his acclaimed book, Learning to Breathe, so having just read it here is my quick opinion: It’s as brilliant as they claim.

The book tells of Andy’s upbringing in a northern mining community and mixes his introduction to life at the pit with his discovery of his true passion – climbing. The tales interweave, looking at the abundant practice time facilitated by the strikes, his early forays to the Alps, leaving the pit to study English, training to be a mountain guide and finally, the epic expedition to the north face of Changabang: To quote a line from the book, “Jesus wept. It’s outrageous.”

I have heard that some people found the mining side of the story to be more interesting, but I was firmly gripped by the exploits on the end of ropes. A true talent in the vertical world, it was both heartening and humbling to recount the adventures; every page-turned making my own little excursions seem less grand, while fuelling the urge to test myself more.

Written with a perfect blend of honesty, feeling and well placed humour, this is a climbing book that can be enjoyed by a wider audience.

I was delighted to notice Andy has a new book out, Thin White Line, and quickly added it to my long list of reads. I will be sure to let you know how it stacks up in comparison.

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