As I’ve been getting into climbing, I’ve tried to find interesting climbers to learn and draw inspiration from. Steph Davis is one climber whose blog I’ve been reading regularly and whose attitude I admire. I couldn’t get enough of her blog, so I bought her first book: High Infatuation. This is a review of that book.
Often when I enjoy a book I’m reading I’ll try to read it more slowly so I have more time to savour the content. With this book the opposite happened — I couldn’t wait to get to the end so I could read it again.
Steph Davis has an impressive list of credentials: she’s one of the world’s leading climbers and the first woman to complete several milestones of the climbing world: free climbing El Capitan in one day, free soloing The Diamond on Long’s Peak and summiting Torre Egger in Patagonia.
The book starts with the story of how Steph first started climbing during her university degree, and went on to spend the seven years after graduating climbing and living out of her car with her dog Fletcher.
From there the book winds in and out of endless climbing adventures, as chronicled in her journals from the time. As well as endeavours in Moab and Yosemite the book tells of her weeks spent in snow caves in Patagonia waiting in vain for better climbing weather, doing a first ascent of Tahir tower in the military Kondus zone in Kashmir, a spur of the moment trip to Kyrgyzstan, rappelling and falling from Fremont Canyon bridge in Wyoming, and several weeks spent in the Arctic.
While these stories are fascinating in themselves, I found Steph’s reactions to the events even more interesting. She provides detailed insight into how she came to be in these situations, and what drives her to keep going. She has a very open-minded approach to life largely driven by kindness, presence, minimalism, and self-improvement.
My pursuit of climbing was initiated by impulse. In reality it was never a choice, but rather a surrender to the inevitable. Even now, supposedly older and wiser, I make my most fundamental life decisions impetuously, based on what feels right inside, and I never look back. It’s the only thing I can do.
While the focus of the book is obviously on climbing, there are times when it touches on philosophy and almost ventures into self-help. Describing her discovery of Sufism and approach to mindfulness, Steph also gives glimpses of her thought process throughout the stories in her book. At one point she spends two days travelling across the Arctic sea ice in a skidoo to get to a climbing site, and can’t stop worrying about encountering polar bears. Until she encounters one.
I am deeply impressed and instantly stop speculating about how to survive a polar bear attack. One look has shown me that if a polar bear wants to eat me, it will, and there’s no point worrying about it.
Given the magnitude of her achievements, Steph’s humility is refreshing. There isn’t a hint of boasting to be found in the book. She embodies the growth mindset, emphasising determination and persistence over genetics or natural skill. This aspect in particular made for great motivation, as it leaves no excuse not to get out there and give everything.
As a climber, I have always felt like the pesky little sister chasing after the older, faster, bigger kids… For me, it has been hard to let go of attachments, hard to let go of self-doubt… But slowly I’m starting to understand that it’s not just a fluke when I succeed. And I’m starting to realize that in climbing, as in life, determination and a commitment to learning are qualities as invaluable as unusually strong body parts. Persistence and fanatical hard work are powerful assets not to be underestimated.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone with even the vaguest interest in climbing or life. I’m happy to lend out my copy — get in touch if you’d like to borrow it.
If you’re interested in climbing, check out some of my other posts: