Usually stories of setting out on adventure unprepared are frustrating—it can be hard to feel sympathy for the adventurer who doesn’t understand what they’re getting into. Gordon Stainforth’s account Fiva: An Adventure That Went Wrong of his disastrous attempt on Store Trolltind doesn’t elicit this frustrated and judgmental response from me at all. Although Stainforth and his twin brother John drastically underestimated the time (and the food) their route would take and also overestimated their route finding capabilities on the mountain, I instead felt myself willing them up the wall as I read. In his preface, Stainforth explains that he’d tried to start the book several different ways before settling on writing the story in the first-person present tense as his nineteen year-old self. Sometimes I found the perspective a bit forced but I believe it was also what allowed me to cheer for Gordon and John in their misadventure rather than feel disapproving.
Gordon and John’s introduction to climbing and mountaineering had begun three years earlier when their father had taken them to Switzerland in the wake of their mother’s death. Although they were not allowed to climb the Matterhorn, they found themselves enthralled by the freedom of the mountains. Upon their return to the UK, their father enrolled them in a beginners’ rock climbing course in Wales, they obtained a little snow travel experience on subsequent trips to the Alps, and practiced their climbing anywhere they could (including on trees). They had no big wall climbing. On their trip to Norway in 1969, while waiting for their friends to join them, they decided to climb the Fiva route on Troll Wall. Armed with a barebones guidebook route description, a couple of cheese sandwiches, some chocolate, and a “Space Blanket” they headed up the wall. As can be expected, they faced hunger, cold, injury, and route uncertainty on the way.
Fiva is a page-turner. Like many adventure books, you know the ending but learning just how that ending happens becomes your singular focus. With each switch of the belay, I found myself even more deeply invested in just how Gordon and John were going to extricate themselves from their seemingly bleak situation. Despite looking more than forty years into the past, Gordon Stainforth has written a fast-paced engrossing story of a misadventure that takes the reader along on a harrowing series of events. John’s pictures from the assent along with his Afterward fill out the story. Fiva won the “Best Book—Mountain Literature” at the Banff Mountain Festival in 2012, an honor that seems quite deserved.
Fiva: An Adventure That Went Wrong was provided by Mountaineers Books to 3Up Adventures for review. All opinions are Beth’s.