While rummaging around in the Guardian/Observer digital archive the other day, I came across an obituary for the French mountaineer and guide, Lionel Terray. It's 45 years this week since he died while climbing in the Dauphine Alps. Terray made the second ascent of the Eiger north wall in 1947 with Louis Lachenal, and then returned to take part in a dramatic rescue on the same mountain in 1957. As well as being part of the 1950 French Himalayan expedition to Annapurna, he climbed Makalu, Nilgiri and many other summits.
The alpinist, regarded as one of the finest climbers of his time, also wrote Conquistadors of the Useless, his much acclaimed autobiography in 1963. Here he defined his love of mountains as "This mass of grandeur and mystery...this world of ice and rock where there is nothing to be plucked but weariness and danger."
In a review of the book for the Guardian, Patrick Monkhouse (a climber, and a writer/editor on the paper for some 30 years who features in the Guardian Book of Mountains), while praising the content, thought the title "irony overstrained". Perhaps, but four decades on the and the phrase regularly crops up in mountainering essays and articles. In fact, I'd say that it's up there as one of the greatest titles for climbing/adventure books.