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Anderl Heckmair: My Life

by Anderl Heckmair

Translated by Tim Carruthers. Foreword by Reinhold Messner.
Seattle: The Mountaineers Books, 2002. 304 pages

“The late 1950s through to the early 1970s proved to be a 'Golden Age' for classic European climbing autobiographies. Pierre Mazeaud, Lionel Terray, Gaston Rebuffat and Walter Bonatti were busy turning out portentous works of climbing 'literature'. All were loquacious climbers of Latin extraction who exemplified a particular brand of earnest scribbling; one which tended to depict alpinism as some kind of higher calling. Heckmair, being a Bavarian on the other hand, proved an exception. His Teutonic street-fighter's prose remains a largely unsentimental version of events enacted during the renaissance of modern alpinism between and just after the war. And although the ridiculously overwritten books of the French and Italians can be enjoyed today as pretentious products of their age, Heckmair's down-to-earth style has arguably survived the test of time better than most. (…)His story forms a terrifically entertaining book of an old school macho variety, full of blood and glory - but also lots of laughs. (…)
Heckmair, as well as being rather a good climber, turned out to be rather a good survivor - and a rather splendid yarn teller. In My Life he recounts his rocks-to-riches life story; from orphanage to the Eigerwand, to being feted by Adolf Hitler; to toughing it out on the Walker Spur. And much, much more. They simply don't make 'em like ‘big nose’ Heckmair any more.”
Colin Wells, „On The Edge” 2003, March, p. 66-67

“After reading the autobiography Anderl Heckmair: My Life, I decided that Heckmair is one of my all-time climbing heroes. Before I read this incredible account of his life and climbs, I only knew of him as a member of the team that made the first ascent of the Eiger Nordwand in 1938. What I didn't known was that Heckmair had led the entire route. Reinhold Messner describes the climb in the book's forward: "The way he led the rope of four through the Traverse of the Gods, the Spider, and the Exit Cracks, dependable and determined, responsible to the point of self-sacrifice, is one of the glory hours of alpine mountaineering."

Before he climbed the Eiger, Heckmair lived an adventurous, vagabond existence. Perennially broke, he spent many seasons tooling around the European Alps by bicycle and foot, tackling one difficult route after another. The Eiger may have propelled Heckmair to international fame but it was only one of countless big routes that he climbed from the 1920s through the 1950s. He was also a gear pioneer, being the first to test out and use double ropes, which allowed him to aid through previously unthinkable overhangs.”
Mark Synnot, “Climbing” No 219, p. 95

“One of the difficulties of climbing autobiographies lies in making them seem interesting to non-climbers. In the case of Heckmair, though, we have long discussions of learning to ski, his friendship with cinematographer Leni Riefenstahl, his resulting indirect relationship with Adolph Hitler, and, finally, some long chapters on travelling in Africa, South America, and the United States. His emphasis throughout is on adventure and satisfying his innate curiosity about the world, and it is in those sections that his personality comes through most clearly. (…)
There are some difficulties with the tone of many passages, but it is hard to tell how much of that comes from the ordeal of translating German into English and how much is actually the result of what seems to be a very real difference in attitude towards climbing in Europe as opposed to America. Throughout the book the many references to friends and acquaintances who lose their lives climbing are brief and somehow unsatisfying, but whether that is due to Heckmair's privacy and reticence or to a more general insouciance is unclear. (…)
For most people, the book's central appeal will come from the chance to read a new first-hand account of the Eiger Nordwand ascent, and that is certainly one of its strongest chapters.”
Ron Matous, “American Alpine Journal” 2003, p. 452



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