I picked up a copy of a new book, The Calling: A life Rocked by Mountains, a autobiography of one of North America’s legendary alpinists, Barry Blanchard. What an adventure!
In the context of mountaineering literature, the body of works, in my experience, and I collect and read a ton of this stuff, really is concentrated on the European climbers with an emphasis on the Alps. With good reason; the Alps is really where mountaineering was born and evolved. Just google world class mountaineer, and while there are instances of North American’s the bulk of what is out there is most definitely European based. However, growing up in America, and starting my own mountaineering career before the advent of the internet, through mentors and meeting people living and driving through Colorado, my base camp, I have always sought the stories of North American elite alpinists. Through that, I have been exposed to many super hardcore elite alpinists, their stories and even a handful of super books. I have known about Barry Blanchard for 30 years through various articles by and on him in various portals for stories, in relationships depicted in other books, and on and on. The man’s reputation precedes him. While I have never met Barry, he is without question a legend not just in North American mountaineering, but on the international stage.
When his latest autobiography came out, I was immediately interested on getting a copy. Not only for a personal collection of this type of literature, but to learn more about the man. In very general terms, I could tell you of his major accomplishments with great enthusiasm. I won’t mention them here; it’s all in the book. But as I started to read the book, I found that this was a lot more than just a chapter by chapter recap of his notable climbs. The book gives you a history; pre climbing Blanchard, his roots, his background, through his entire life, and immediately makes clear why he titled the book the way he did.
Laterally from the first climb Blanchard ever managed, the book then chronicles his entire career with a body of work that by the end of the book, leaves you in utter awe. He is a master, and I mean one of the best, story tellers I have ever read! In detail down to conversations from even that first climb, he paints a picture of his career, his personality, his likes, dislikes, everything about what makes him tick. He opens himself up to some of the most personal and basic aspects to what it is to be a world class mountaineer, but also what it is to literally be a human being named Barry Blanchard. This is all key because without this part of the picture, what he did in the mountains would possibly be difficult to believe, and at a minimum render him nearly insane. The rhyme and reason for what he did in those peaks, on all those climbs, “the calling”, makes perfect sense. The book flows and leaves you waiting for not only the next adventure, but the next aspect to this guy’s life in general. This is not just an autobiography with a demographic of mountaineers as an audience; it’s an adventure book with not only a world class climber, but an enormous character.
From a mountaineer point of view, the book left me with even more admiration for the guy. Growing up in the generation of alpinists after Barry, I always recognized Blanchard to be one of the hardest alpinists in North America. The book proves this, but it also adds to that, with the details of first ascents and climbs many people without reading the book would have no clue about. The depth of what Blanchard accomplished is revealed in his stories and accounts, and in my view, leaves him to be arguably one of the greatest alpinist in history. This book is a literal page turner that makes the history of his career known, and with that, will make this book a total mountaineering literature classic.