Climbing: The Unbreakable Bond

Mountaineers Books just released The Bond: Survival on Denali and Mount Huntington. The Banff Mountain & Wilderness Literature Award winner is a gripping story of two first ascents and the bond forged between climbers. Read a review from one of our members.
Peter Dunau Peter Dunau
Peter's been climbing for a little over a year. He just completed Leading on Bolts with The Mountaineers.
October 28, 2016

As author Simon McCartney recovers from a climb plagued by altitude sickness, hypothermia, crevasses, avalanche, and famine, a doctor tells him, “I don’t understand what drives guys like you to do what you do.”

As a relatively new climber who still has to swallow my heart before starting a rappel, I’m inclined to side with the doctor. While I may not yet understand the world of dangerous first ascents, McCartney’s The Bond provides riveting insight.

The book details two climbs that are decades ahead of their time and, at least for me, unfathomably ambitious. He and partner Jack Roberts venture to the Alaska Range where they make history, summiting Mount Huntington’s north face in 1978 and Denali’s southwest face in 1980.

The book stands alone as a page-turner complete with crashing cornices, bottomless crevasses, and death-defying summits. But what really set it apart for me was the author’s nuanced portrayal of vertical obsession and the bond between those who share it. Rather than being the literary equivalent of a Red Bull adventure film, the book delves into the humanity of two young men trying to accomplish super human feats. They are as humbled as they are victorious.

Roberts reflects in his journal, 

For my part I have chosen to be crazy in order to cope with a crazy world and have adopted craziness as a lifestyle. Only on becoming convinced that the world I left behind in Los Angeles is sane, could I give up my craziness… There is some comfort to know that I am tied into somebody that’s crazy too.”

But this comfort is tested. Out of options at 19,000 feet, Roberts writes that he’d like to “concentrate on other things in life…have a stable house with the best woman I can find…” McCartney is even more shaken and disappears from climbing entirely after the Denali trip. 

Aptly titled The Bond, the book explores the limits of commitment. The strength of the bond is measured only by its ability to withstand adversity. Robert’s and McCartney’s friendship is pushed to the limits. We also learn the bond extends to the greater climbing community as strangers on Denali perform acts of heroism for others at their own peril. Finally, the greatest test of the bond is a climber’s internal relationship to climbing itself. 

The climbs go on to become shrouded in mystery. Decades go by. Roberts doesn’t speak publicly; McCartney can’t be found. While Roberts remains a figure in the Alaskan climbing scene, McCartney’s connection seems to be lost, until a chance encounter draws him back. Forty years later, he’s emerged to tell the tale, the bond unbroken.