A Book Affected Him Deeply: The Climbers

Jim Herrington's book, "The Climbers," affected reader Mitch Solomon in ways he wanted the author to know. Here's what Mitch wrote to Jim.
Mountaineers Books Mountaineers Books
June 06, 2018

Books can affect us deeply and in meaningful ways. Many of us have that feeling about one or more books we consider treasures. Because of that, Mountaineers Books and our authors receive fan mail on a fairly regular basis. The following is correspondence that Jim Herrington, author and photographer of The Climbers (© 2017), received recently from Mitch Solomon. We thought Mitch's letter was touching and, with his permission, that you would enjoy it, too. 

From Mitch Solomon to Jim HErrington:

I had the pleasure this morning of listening to the story that WBUR (NPR) produced about you and your book The Climbers last December, and was moved to send you this email.

I am sitting in an office in the suburbs of Boston on a beautiful spring day, the big ranges of the world — the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Brooks, Rockies — quite some distance away.  More of a mountain dabbler than a mountaineer, I have visited some of these places and had the pleasure of standing on a handful of high summits. The mountains have always been in my blood, and true mountaineers always captured my imagination.  Perhaps had my own road forked in slightly different ways I would have been one.

I marked my 50th birthday this past March, and during the year that led up to it I rededicated myself — as much as a father of three growing children can — to my love of the mountains.  With a close friend, we set off to climb The Grand Teton last July, some smaller peaks in Utah in last October, and then just a few weeks ago to the Alps to make a high alpine ski mountaineering traverse called The Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt.  The experiences were everything that I had hoped for and more. Our suburban friends followed our adventures with great interest. And when my 50th birthday actually arrived, one particularly astute and resourceful friend of mine presented me with a copy of The Climbers.

You do not need to be a mountaineer, a mountain person, a hiker, or anything other than a human being to grasp the specialness of this book.  I still recall my first encounter with it; what began as mildly curious and distracted page-thumbing at the kitchen counter rapidly progressed into a deep, all-consuming study of each and every image, that kept me in my chair for the better part of an afternoon.  For in every picture you capture a story of incredible athleticism and halting frailty, of youth and vigor along with age and infirmity, of strength and perseverance checked by the unstoppable march of time. And the eyes, set deeply into weathered faces, telegraph a lifetime of stories — epic cliffhangers written down in the pages of dog-eared journals — that the subject has perhaps now grown tired of telling as their days begin to wane.  Each arresting image is a searing reminder to fill your days with meaning, because even the fullest life it still a finite thing. You do not need to have climbed a mountain, or even seen one, to appreciate and benefit from that message.

"Fred Beckey", by Jim Harrington

In the weeks since I first received the book, I wondered from time-to-time about who might take it upon themselves to produce such a special thing and why.  Bright color photographs of young climbers clad in the latest Patagonia gear, on big walls and high peaks around the world are everywhere today. But who would take pictures of the pioneers, in black in white, in their simple homes, struggling to make their once superhuman bodies perform the most basic of life's functions?  The idea struck me as equal parts brilliant, creative, unique and perhaps even a little strange. Well, now I know. It was someone who perceived the uncanny contrasts that these pictures would convey, the timeless messages that should resonate with every human being looking for meaning in their days and inspiration from their fellow man.  Someone with the conviction to pursue a project because it resonated with them and not for commercial success or fame. Someone who, like the subject on his pages, pursued a passion to its illogical end and delivered something special to the world.

The Climbers occupies the center of the coffee table in our family room.  And when people visit our home, it is invariably a topic of conversation.  "Let me show you this book..." I say to friends and family alike, whether they care about mountains and climbing or not.  And with just a little explaining, they get it. Everyone gets it. Because your pictures tell a story that is as heartfelt as it is transcendent, that is as much about the passage of time as it is timeless.

The Climbers is a gift Jim.  And I thank you for it.

— Mitch Solomon

Photos by Jim Herrington: (top) Jim Bridwell; (center) Fred Beckey. 

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