Bernadette McDonald

I am a writer and mountain culture consultant based in Banff, Alberta.
Welcome to my website and thank you for taking the time to explore it.

Latest Book

Maurice Herzog is well known in mountaineering circles and beyond as the first man to reach the summit of Annapurna, but how many people know about Ang Tharkay, the Sherpa who carried the severely frostbitten Herzog for miles on that 1950 French expedition? Although rarely mentioned in published accounts, local climbers from the Himalaya and Karakoram, such as Tharkay, have long been significant members of expeditions and first ascents across the world’s tallest and most challenging peaks.
Alpine Rising sets the record straight by presenting a compelling account of achievements by Sherpa, Balti, Ladakhi, Hunza, Astori, Magar, Bhotia, Rai, and Gurung alpinists. From the survivors of disastrous early attempts on Nanga Parbat to Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent of Everest in 1953 to the feats of countless lesser-known climbers, Alpine Rising gives recognition where recognition is due, both historically and in the present day.
In the twenty-first century, local climbers are stepping onto center stage. A team of Nepali alpinists recently became the first to summit K2 in winter—and they sang their national anthem as they took the final few steps to the summit together. All of Pakistan united to mourn the death of beloved climber Little Karim, an accomplished mountaineer best known for his high-altitude rescues of foreign climbers and his generosity to his community. Yet the journey has not been easy: decades of tradition have established a dynamic that favors foreign climbers over locals, and emerging from the shadow of this systemic colonialism takes time and enormous effort.
Alpine Rising will fundamentally change how readers understand the history and legacy of mountaineering in the Greater Ranges.

Recent News

The last four years of the pandemic have been interesting, as I watched my world shrink, one mountain range at a time, until I was confined to my bed.
In Banff, where I live, residents were discouraged from moving about unnecessarily during the early confusing and frightening months of Covid. Visitors were asked to stay away completely. So, we strapped on our xc skis and slipped out to the strangely empty trails. Just the ravens squawking, as they do, and the reassuring swish of skis sliding on snow. We watched the snowpack slowly disappear as the temperatures warmed, lost in thought about the strangeness of the quiet and the solitude. There was increasingly dire news from around the world. Messages from friends in Italy and Spain that chilled us with stories of their version of lockdown that sounded impossible.
When the air began warming and the snow turned to slush, we cleaned the old wax off the skis, stored them away for another season, and transitioned to walking. Chickadees began changing up their repertoire from their cheerful winter tunes to their more melodious mating serenades of spring. We wandered the trails around town, binoculars in tow, marvelling at the annual avian migration just beginning to pass through the valley on its way to the far north.
Weeks passed. And then months. Friends became ill. Events were cancelled. International travel was completely off limits. But within Canada, the lockdown seemed more like a slowdown. “Stay close to home” was the mantra. And home was the mountains, the forests, the birds. Summer flowers faded and larches turned golden. The first snows arrived and once again it was time to prepare for the longest season – winter. The trails were still empty, the town only half awake. It felt like the entire valley was breathing a sigh of relief. A chance to heal. A chance to think clearly. A chance to slow down.
When the second Covid summer arrived, it was a cruel one. A heat dome descended on Western Canada like a hammer, crushing everything in its path. Forests and grasslands ignited, people died of heat exhaustion, gardens and vineyards withered, an entire town burned to the ground. The air turned into a toxic mess of fumes and smoke. “Stay close to home” took on another meaning: do not travel, do not clog the roads, do not make it more difficult for the fire fighters to do their job. We hid inside, windows shuttered, trying to avoid the ash and the smoke. Climate change had taken on a new meaning. It was personal now.
And then my personal world became even smaller. With a partial knee replacement at the end of March, I spent the rest of that spring in or near my bed. Pain killers, ice packs and physiotherapy punctuated the long, boring days. Luckily, I had a book to write. Surprisingly, I realized that I could find contentment in a singular spot in the world.
But the imagination doesn’t rest. I continued to dream of warm rock, fresh vegetables, Greek hospitality, the sea. And 2023 was the year to make it happen. We finally returned to the Peloponnese region of Greece where the Feta was just as salty, the sun just as caressing, the sea just as warm and the rock just as sharp. Bliss