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Book Review: The Mountain Within

Alex Huber, author of The Mountain Within: The True Story of the World’s Most Extreme Free-Ascent Climber. [Photo] Alexander Huber collection

It is reasonable to say at this point in history–now that popular climbing media has existed for decades–that there are climbing superstars: athletes that combine a definitive personality with difficult and stylistically charged climbs. Alexander Huber is certainly one of those superstars, becoming incredibly visible after countless notable speed climbs, difficult alpine and sport routes, and free solos around the world. He is also well known for his outspoken traditional ethics.

Huber recently released an autobiography, available in English, called The Mountain Within: The True Story of the Most Extreme Free-Ascent Alpine Climber in the World. The book is an authentic and serviceable description of Huber’s development as a climber, from his origins in Bavaria, climbing the German Alps with his father and older brother Thomas from an early age. Each chapter, with certain exceptions, builds upon the experiences of the last, describing each ascent with great detail while avoiding the “and then I put my hand here” school of climbing literature. While there are certainly vivid accounts of Huber’s most notable (and reported upon) ascents, there are also some excellently descriptive tales of climbs in his youth (“Chapter Four: The Small Watzmann” is particularly good in this respect) as well as accounts of the growth of the nascent sport and alpine climbing scenes in Europe during the 1980s.

Huber sprinkles a few interviews with notable people through the text, including a very personal interview with his mother late in the book that offers a relatively predictable parental perspective on climbing at the high end of the sport–predictable but nonetheless welcome for the infrequency of it being discussed in most climbing literature.

It is here, though, that some of The Mountain Within‘s problems come to the fore. The interjection of interviews, while interesting, do take away from the chronology and continuity of the text, as do Huber’s occasional forays into excoriating the ethical failures of other climbers and the failures of Alpine Clubs worldwide to maintain clear ethical standards for their members. These asides are simultaneously welcome, in that they offer a deeper and more complete picture of the man, and unwelcome, in that they do not really fit into the broader structure of the book. Huber’s strong, and often overlooked, academic background in physics is clear during these asides, as they are written in a much more structured and formal prose than other sections of the book.

It is also worth noting what the reader might wish the book to be about. At moments, Huber appears to be a rather humble and self-conscious (though admittedly selfish and driven) man who is slightly off-put by his fame. This is contradicted and belied by the cover, the promotional materials that accompanied the advance copy, and some of the text of the book, e.g. an interview wherein Pepe Danquart (director of the film Am Limit about the Huberbaum) sounds excited about the fact that his film was intentionally marketed and filmed for women, playing up the sex appeal of the handsome, be-ponytailed Huber brothers. Some readers will most certainly be seduced into reading the book hoping for much more discussion of this aspect of Huber’s public persona. Those readers will be, for the most part, disappointed.

But for any reader expecting an honest, open and straightforward account of the growth of one of the world’s most talented climbers, The Mountain Within will not disappoint in the least.