Best Of/Favorites

Charlie Houston's classic 1985 article on the moral hazards of climbing.

Charlie Houston's classic 1985 article on the moral hazards of climbing.

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Welcome to the best of the American Alpine Journal.

The idea here will be to feature the most fun, best written, exceptionally exciting, historically interesting, inspiring, or just plain useful articles and reports that have been published in the roughly 25,000 pages of AAJs since 1929.

Remember that the AAJ is first and foremost a journal of record, where people who climb report their own new routes, in their own words. It has never pretended to be a literary journal. And yet we’ve published some masterworks.

Whenever an AAJ piece is worth re-reading several times, we’d like to keep it alive. Soon we’ll be developing categories of good reads among the ten million or so words that the AAJ has published in the last 80 years, and we’ll be looking for your help in the process. If you’re interested, please leave a comment below, or send an email to john [at]

In the meantime, have a look through your AAJ collection. Start with 2010 and tell us your favorite feature articles and Climbs & Expeditions new-route reports. Some of those reports are little jewels. Pretty soon we’ll list our recommended reads, and we’d love to add yours.

Also, try searching on topics and downloading pdfs from the AAJ Search site which you can reach here.

Here is a very preliminary list to help get you started. Once the collection grows we’ll begin organizing it by topic.

Feature Articles:

Agonizing Decisions, by Charles S. Houston M.D. (1985). A deep and warm essay on the moral dilemas inherent to climbing (and the rest of life).

The Art of Bouldering, by John Gill (1969). This article is less a great read than it is an historical document by the first true master of American bouldering. Considering how popular bouldering has become, it’s fun to see how long it has been recognized by the AAC.

Modern Yosemite Climbing, by Yvon Chouinard (1963). One of the great defining documents of our sport, with classic pronouncements on the future of climbing.

Club Historical Arcana:

Proceedings of the Club (1929). This little piece of historical arcana notes the first publication of the American Alpine Journal.

Climbs & Expeditions Gems:
These reports don’t necessarily document ground-breaking historical achievement. Instead, they are little jewels of clever writing scattered through the scree slopes of less entertaining reports that will always dominate the AAJ—after all, the AAJ is primarily an information resource, which is as it should be. But most of us also enjoy a good tale well told. Here are a few recent examples:

2010 AAJ C&E Gems:

Utah: Zion National Park, Sentinel, Red Chamonix Ridge. By Nathan Brown
Bolivia: Cordillera Real, Illimani, Pacha Brava. By Robert Rauch, Germany and Bolivia
Chile: Cerro Kristine, first ascent. By Jeff Johnson
Yemen: Socotra Island, Mashanig Towers. By Mike Libecki, AAC
Norway: International Winter Meet. By Marten Blixt, Norway
Norway: Six ascents. By Lukas Marecek and Jirí Svihálek, Czech Republic
Norway: Gloppedalen, south face, Civil Twilight. By Juha Evokari, Finland

2009 AAJ C&E Gems:

Alaska: Hayes Range, Peak 9,336′, West Face. By Jeff apple Benowitz, AAC

In Memoriam:
These selected obituaries do not imply that we consider the person being remembered as more important than others. The criterion for inclusion here is the beauty and warmth of the writing itself, and how elegantly and movingly the author portrays his recently lost friend.

2010 AAJ In Memoriam:

Micah Dash 1977–2009. By Timmy O’Neill

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  18. jharlin says:

    I found this posted on and will take it as another nomination:
    The direct link to Richard McCraken’s Mount Hunter North Face article in the 1965 AAJ is below dfrancom’s comment:

    by dfrancom » Mon Feb 14, 2011 3:52 am

    For those of you who love the journal why don’t we share postings of some of the best trip reports from the online journal archive. I have enjoyed searching first ascent stories of my favorite routes. Searching the archive can be tricky at first, but then you get the hang of it. The link below is about the first ascent of Mt Hooker, Wind Rivers WY by Royal Robbins in 1964. Please share!

  19. jharlin says:

    This interesting letter came to me by email from Alan Nagel, so I’m sharing it here:

    I’m one of those old-timers who find a certain refreshing quality in our escape from the grand British style of laconic understatement, superior perspective, and rhetorical elevation that characterized alpine prose a hundred years ago, but tire accordingly from the constant barrage of a recent alternative habit of locating the reader on the edge of her chair, as if gripping tiny crimps making up the pages, ever at the extremes. And a compatriot at the Climbers’ Ranch recently asked why we don’t see more prose in the climbing magazines reporting on routes done for the sheer pleasure and of classic climbs ever worth repeating. The answer is surely in large part a demand for novelty and the obligation to report new routes (the AAJ in particular, and Alpinist likewise, carry a burden of reporting on new routes which reasonably enough are most frequently difficult). And who wants to report putting up a new 5.6 in the ‘Gunks or the Tetons? I don’t expect the AAJ to pile on by reporting the 7,459th ascent of the Durrance on Devils Tower.

    Turning our readers’ eyes to the past however has real promise to encourage a greater variety of stances, styles, rhetorics, even ‘attitudes,’ in climbing prose. And there is little chance for revivifying a repertoire that is broader than either the supernal 19th century British, or the ‘peak experience’ 20th c. American habit. I can’t believe teenagers and twenty-somethings are completely immune to Mummery or Dorothy Pilley or G. W. Young.

    Oh, and a small favorite: the obit. for Noel Odell ….
    (pdf download: 3MB file)

    Alan Nagel
    Iowa City

  20. beverly boynton says:

    i suggest the article jack tackle wrote in the 2010 aaj–don’t have it handy for the name. a very warm and joyous piece that resonates with why we climb, why climbing is not just a game of tennis, and written by someone who has been around the block and back.

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