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Aspiring, by Kieran Kelly

6 May 2010

Mountain climbing is no cure for middle-age

Non fiction

“At the age of 54, Kieran Kelly, a man terrified of heights, decided to learn climbing mountains. It was a decision taken to ward off his fear of growing old, and to fill the void in his life left as his children grew up and moved away from home”

Kieran Kelly is not a climber. Grown up in Australia, a long way away from the nearest mountains, his only connection with mountaineering is what he’s learnt from books, Maurice Herzog’s “Annapurna” among other works that inspired him. He flies to New Zealand to climb Mount Aspiring, the biggest mountain where a guide will take someone who’s never worn crampons before. The relationship with his guide, Anton Wopereis, proves to be a difficult one. As soon as he sets foot on the mountains, Kieran Kelly’s ideals and unrealistic expectations about mountaineering are destroyed, and the author finds himself facing a lack of self- esteem that has accompanied him since childhood.

This book needs reading with a very open mind, and is likely to elicit conflicting reactions. Climbers will find it hard to identify with the author, since he lives in a different world. And non-climbers are unlikely to be lured into mountaineering by Kieran Kelly’s account. Yet, I liked this book a lot – for the very reason that it’s written from the perspective of a non-climber, which makes it different from any other mountaineering book I’ve ever read. The author might come across as right-out naive in his expectations – what on earth was he thinking? – but we must accept that most people are not into climbing. It is most interesting to follow the flow of thoughts in a non-climber who tries to come to grips with something that would seem so natural to most of us. While Kieran Kelly’s take on the events that unfolded on Aspiring is clearly a very subjective one, he blames himself ahead of anyone else for anything that goes wrong, and he comes across as thoroughly honest. “Aspiring” is both highly introspective and well written, and a very worth-while read for anyone who’s after something other than an account of explorations and first ascents.


Kelly, K. (2008). Aspiring: mountain climbing is no cure for middle-age. Published by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd. 286 pages.

One Comment leave one →
  1. kieran kelly permalink
    17 August 2011 5:29 pm

    Just came across your review. Thanks very much for your balanced opinion. You are right I tried to write a book about mountaineering from the perspective of someone who is not a natural or experienced climber. It’s in a different league than Herzog, Diemberger etc.

    I went to the US and back to NZ twice more and climbed but my guide Johhnie Morgan whom I got on very well with and who seemed to understand the troubles novices have, was killed in Methven.

    Thanks for reading my book

    Kieran Kelly

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