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Learning To Breathe by Andy Cave

At age sixteen, Andy Cave followed in his father's and his grandfather's footsteps and became a miner - one of the last recruits into a dying world. Every day he would descend 3,500 feet into the Grimethorpe pit - and for £1.25, spend up to seven hours in thigh deep water, in the pitch black digging for coal.

But at weekends Andy inhabited a very different world - thousands of feet above the pitheads of the colliery. Introduced to his local mountaineering club while a miner, he soon learned to cherish this new-found freedom, high above the slag heaps of his home town. Living through the strikes of the mid-eighties - the guilt, the broken friendships, the poverty - Andy continued to indulge his passion, and in 1986, after much soul-searching, he quit his job as a miner in order to take up mountaineering professionally.

In the Himalayas in 1997 Andy achieved one of the hardest climbs ever recorded on one of the steepest and most difficult summits of the world - the north face of Changabang. Seventeen days later, he and two of his teammates - his best friend had already perished in an avalanche - crawled into basecamp, frostbitten and emaciated. His account of this terrifying experience provides a dramatic climax to this extraordinary story.

Learning to Breathe is, first and foremost, a lively and humorous memoir, written with energy and insight, about two very different groups of men, each navigating equally inhospitable worlds. Finally, on a larger scale, it is an examination of our ability to draw on inner strengths and the strengths of others.

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