A few years ago, Bernadette McDonald published Freedom Climbers: a book on Polish alpinists and their achievements climbing in the Himalayas during the Cold War. This year she followed it up with Alpine Warriors, which recounts the experiences of Slovenian climbers from the 1960s through the disintegration of Yugoslavia and subsequent wars and into the 1990s. Throughout the book, McDonald describes the deep and sometimes traumatic impact of history on the alpinists she profiles. The Slovenian climbers, she writes, shared “a self-sufficiency and drive forged by the history of a country under almost constant political threat and deeply wounded by internal conflict.”
Freedom Climbers was particularly interesting for the way it explains how the Polish climbers both fought to get free of the Communist state and were forced to rely on it for support and assistance. Alpine Warriors addresses many of the ways in which the state and alpinism were entangled – from mandatory military service in the mountains and employment as climbing instructors for police or soldiers to the government’s financial support to the Alpine Association of Slovenia – but McDonald spends less time on this than she did in Freedom Climbers.
Instead, the book discusses the philosophy and experiences that drove so many Slovenian alpinists to climb to such heights. McDonald quotes extensively from Nejc Zaplotnik’s Plot, a poetic account of Zaplotnik’s climbing experiences, and offers a fascinating, lyrical history of the Slovenians’ many mountaineering triumphs.