The risk game is addictive.
‘Quest for Adventure’ describes 17 bold expeditions: crossing oceans, flying, climbing mountains and caving. It’s definitely a fascinating read for anyone interested in the broader spectrum of adventure and exploration.
The book moves between different adventure spheres: crossing oceans to deserts to rivers, mountains, the poles, flight, and finally to caving. Perhaps inevitably given Bonington’s background, the mountaineering section is by far the longest. I felt there was quite a mix in the different expeditions captured: some of the chapters are utterly gripping, but occasionally the history of the expedition starts to feel a bit longer than necessary – particularly in the chapter discussing the first ascent of Everest. Some chapters focus solely on one expedition, and others recount several teams or attempts before eventual success. I found Bonington’s writing to be at its strongest and most empathetic when focusing just on one expedition, although of course it’s always difficult trying to cover multiple attempts succinctly.
Bonington’s extensive knowledge of planning expeditions allows for some interesting insights. He goes on the expedition to the Blue Nile himself, and in other chapters he’s able to recount conversations with members of the expedition teams. Blue Nile was one of the standout chapters for me, even though I know very little about canoeing or the skills required to explore unknown rivers. I found myself tensing up just reading it; it definitely felt like the tale of an expedition survived by sheer luck, but it’s impossible not to admire their determination and grit in continuing despite several near misses.
The book finishes with a chapter describing Dead Man’s Handshake: the quest to link Kingsdale Master Cave with Keld Head. I always find reading about deep caves or cave diving a bit chilling, and this was definitely no exception. There’s one horrifying scene in particular which has lingered in the back of my mind ever since reading it.
The longest polar journey was another highlight, recounting an expedition run by Wally Herbert. The expedition took fifteen months(!) to complete which must make it one of the toughest expeditions in the book – almost understated by Bonington, I thought. It’s not difficult to imagine the inevitable tensions that would form within a small team over such a long period of time, even without dealing with the constant risks of the ice breaking up or attack from a polar bear.
Although most of the chapter were wholly engrossing, there were a couple which didn’t really seem to fit within the book. The climb on El Capitan and the first microlight circumnavigation of the world both seemed to lack the risk and isolation that the other chapters capture. These are both undoubtedly huge technical accomplishments, but they felt like strange inclusions compared to the complete inaccessibility of high mountains or the open ocean. The microlight account in particular felt quite slow with long discussions of complex logistics that stalled the expedition.
I still found both chapters interesting reads though, and definitely enjoyed reading about types of exploration that I’m not very familiar with.
(I was provided with a free copy by Vertebrate Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)
Predominantly climbing/outdoors literature, mountaineering history and nature writing.